Thinking about Flexible Production Processes Holistically

Interview on Manufacturing Systems and Production Control

Q & A with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Helmut-Joseph Schramm, BMW Group

What motivates you to make ­production processes at BMW Motorrad more ­flexible? 


We have the largest number of variants in the motorcycle industry. Individuality is virtually a trademark of BMW Motorrad. No two bikes are alike; every customer can put together his or her own individual motorcycle. At the BMW Group plant in Berlin, we work with around 11,000 living part numbers – the resulting complexity can only be handled with intelligent solutions. Flexibility is also a crucial tool for increasing resilience. Our flexible production system makes us successful as a team even in times of high volatility.

What kind of intelligent solutions are you thinking of? 


The range of possibilities extends from intelligent solutions for realizing customized designs within the series production process to networking production processes using artificial intelligence methods. One example from so-called smart logistics is intelligent robots that facilitate the production process. Such as »Sortbot«. It autonomously sorts around 5,000 empty containers a day, stacks them and makes them available to logistics for collection. In the process, the robot is able to identify various container shapes and types using a 3D camera and sort them onto the correct pallet using artificial intelligence. It is important that we always look at the entire production process. 

What do you mean by that?


The so-called intra-process logistics play a very decisive role. What I see is that in production, logistics between processing steps is often neglected. However, it is an important cross-sectional function: If production processes fail, it is usually not due to individual production steps, such as machining, but because coordination from one process step to the next doesn’t work – for example, if material is missing in the next processing step. That’s why we won’t get to self-optimizing systems without smart logistics.

Who we talked to

Prof. Dr. Schramm has since 2017 been managing the global production of BMW Motorrad as well as the BMW motorcycle plant in Berlin-Spandau. Since 2004, he has also been an honorary professor in logistics and production management at the Technical University of Applied Sciences Wildau..

The BMW Motorrad plant in Berlin is the flagship unit, i.e., the leading plant in the BMW Motorrad production network. Here, motorcycles are produced and exported to over 130 countries. Supported by Fraunhofer IPK, BMW Motorrad is developing a technology that integrates customized design into a series production process.