Automotive Plant - Full Speed Ahead


Since the beginning of series production in March of 2005, over 100,000 BMW 3 series sedans have come off the line at the Bavarian car manufacturer's new Leipzig plant. BMW was even able to step-up production volume ahead of schedule. Automation technology contributed to this success not only by executing a smooth commissioning of the building services, but also by working round the clock to ensure reliable plant operation.

The body shop, paint shop, and assembly facilities are housed in an architecturally modern and award winning ensemble of buildings on 208 hectares (514 acres) of land. The plant complex forms a star shape around a central management, communication, and service building, which minimizes distances between any two points.

Much thought was also put into planning for future changes to production needs: The existing production buildings that make up the points of the star can be easily extended. Land has also been designated for adding new buildings in the future. The building arrangement enables smooth transitions between production steps and optimal material flow using modern logistics concepts such as Just-in-Time and Just-in-Sequence. To ensure that production can run uninterrupted and that the workers can enjoy the best possible working conditions, not only logistics, but also building automation and building services technology must meet rigorous demands.

Breaking new ground in building services technology:

BMW's goal for its new building services technology is to create an efficient, reliable, and safe system to monitor, control, and drive the technical systems in its Leipzig plant. In the process, the company broke new ground by selecting uniform technology to be used consistently throughout the entire facilities. The challenging task facing the control technology was no less comprehensive: It would have to handle a facility-wide network of more than 53,000 real data points - from sources such as sensors, actuators, and measurement systems - and more than 70,000 virtual data points - such as data from the PLCs. In addition to heating, ventilating, and air conditioning offices and production halls, the system would have to use collected information to distribute power, turn lighting on and off according to a time controlled and energy saving schedule, and provide media necessary for production such as water and air pressure at the right locations and in the right quantities. Due to the complexity of the task it was clear from the beginning that powerful and sophisticated control technology in combination with reliable automation systems would be needed to achieve these ambitious goals.

The evaluation process was based on technical features, modularity, the available software function blocks, price/performance ratio, deliverability, stock-keeping, and degree to which switching cabinet manufacturers were familiar with the supplier. In addition, the supplier was asked to provide necessary training for the automation systems.

Time-tested and modern:

BMW was confident that they had chosen a reliable automation technology. Configuring and preparing the systems in Leipzig proved to be a simple process, since BMW was already familiar with the necessary hardware and drivers. Automation systems' users profit from state-of-the-art technology that has proven itself over time. They can also reduce the number of critical factors as well as the complexity of the entire project. The robustness of automation technology has contributed to the fact that BMW has not recorded a single failure or disturbance since commissioning of the approximately 300 controllers responsible for measuring and controlling the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

This high reliability is partially a result of the use of technology that has already seen widespread success in the area of system and machine manufacturing. The high-speed controller hardware and software functions of PLC's have proven themselves a thousand times over and drive control circuits with cycle times of a few microseconds.

Fast software development included:

The software team has placed the specific control functions for heating, cooling, and ventilation systems into a special software block library. This library is an integral standard component of the automation specialist's engineering software. This is an important advantage for BMW, since the application software can be developed quickly and cost effectively with the help of the engineering environment and the technology blocks.

Every programmer involved in the project can access all technology blocks and control functions. Future expansion of the system or addition of new programmers will therefore not affect the uniformity of the programming structure. This ensures that the project will remain clear and easy to understand.

A strong technology - for years to come:

Although non-production control technology usually does not require refurbishment until after 20 to 25 years of operation, BMW can profit from innovative advances at any time. The auto manufacturer takes the updates that automation technology offers and implements them quickly into projects that, as seen in the case shown here, can serve as a benchmark for the entire industry.

Through an emphasis on continuous innovation, and with the help of automation control technology, BMW is able to ensure the efficient, energy - saving, and cost-effective operation of its facilities.

- PV Sivaram

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