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From Sat Nov 20 15:12:59 1999
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 1999 17:12:53 -0600
Subject: //M5 factory tour

Subject: //M5 factory tour (long)
From: (Paul F. Kunz)
Date: 1999/11/18

Last Wednesday, 10 November, I was treated to a private factory tour at the BMW plant at Dingolfing. This is my trip report.

My host and I arrived at the factory in Dingolfing a little late. Partly is was my fault because the class I was teaching at a Max Planck insitute in Garching ran bit late and partly because it was raining enough to slow traffic on the 80 Km autobahn trip there. Two BMW engineers were waiting at the door of the visitor's pavillon when we arrived. We exchanged business cards and I found they were surprised that I didn't speak German. I guess since they were expecting a visit from "Herr Dr. Paul Kunz", they thought I would be German speaking.

Since they were advised I was interested in the M5, they had one near the door to show and take a drive. Since the total time I had for the visit was limited, we went immediately to the M5 and drove to the on site test track. The test track wasn't much, just two long straights and a real hairpin at each end. That is, at the end of the straight one make a long left turn of more than 180 degrees, then a short right to get parallel to the straight section.

The BMW engineer drove for a few laps. He didn't use the heel-and-toe technique for downshifting before the turns, but was smooth nevertheless. After a few laps, we stopped and let me take the wheel. I was shorter than him, so he moved the driver's seat forward for me. I then moved it back to get a proper driving position.

On the straight I accelerated in second until I could hear that engine sound that said: "shift". But it didn't come. The 4.8 l V8 was so smooth, I found myself at 7K RPM, just at the red line, when I decided to shift. It wan't that you couldn't hear the engine which you could and it sounded great. It was I didn't have the impression that I was at such a high RPM.

The acceleration of the M5 is very impressive. Even in third gear you can distinctively feel the push against the back of the seat. My host, who drives a VW Golf diesel, was very impressed, having never been is such a performance car before.

Coming out of one hairpin, I started to accelerate through the shallow right hander and we got just a touch squirely. The track was very wet, but all was under control. Before the next hairpin, the BMW engineer turned off the Direction Stablity Control. As I started to accelerate for the right hander, we spun and landed slightly off the track. Those that know me from BMW CCA track events know that I'm relatively quick but smooth, and they've never seen me with a wheel off the track. But the torgue on the rear wheels of this M5 on a wet slipperly track I had mis-judged. All was fine, no damage and I proceeded to do another couple laps.

We then went back to the Pavillion to start the factory tour. First stop of the office of the more senior engineer where we were given BMW white lab coats to wear. This turned out to be important because with them we were considered equal to BMW employees thus could cross painted yellow lines on the floor where visitors were not allowed to cross.

After a long walk on the third floor of factory 2.4, we arrived at the point where painted 5 series shells arrived by conveyer belt from the paint shop, without their doors. The ddors would be mated later with the exact same shell they were painted with. The first thing that happened to these empty shells was that a robot installed a wiring harness. Approximately, 2.4 Km of wiring is involved, if I remember the number correctly.

Piece by piece, things were connected to the wiring and this is all done by hand. Another Robot would not appear on the assembly line until much later.

In America, we buy a new car from what is available on the dealer's lot. This is not the case in Europe. There, a customer still picks the color of the exterior and interior and what options he wants before the car is built. The array of choices is enormous. At least 3-5 different radios, for example. The result is that on the assembly line is that every car is made to order. On the same assembly line you have all the options put together. I knew that they were doing this, but it was amazing to actually see it. On the same assembly line, I could see both left hand drive and right hand drive cars, both sedan and touring, and both normal and M5s.

Every car has a paper tag on it to tell the works what special parts go on that car. Of course for the //M5 this includes special stichted steering wheel, //M logos, sports seats, etc. All this arrives just in time to match with the //M body shell.

One of the few robots in this assembly line is the one that puts in the windshield and the rear glass. One robot arm places the glue, another puts the glass in place. There's no TV cameras with pattern recognization to correct for errors, rather everything is done by precise alignment.

The last robot does what the engineers called the "marriage". The body arrives from top conveyer belts, while from the lower floor arrives the drive train. It consists of the engine, front suspension, drive shaft, and rear suspension. The two major pieces are mate together, and works just do the bolting.

After the "marriage" there's a few more things added. One is the fluids. These are done under vacuum to insure that there are no air bubbles. With fluids added, and customer specified wheel/tire combinations installed, the new car is complete, This occurs at a rate of one new 5er every 1.4 minutes.

This may come as a shock to M5 owners who think their cars are hand built at an //M factory. Well they are not. They are built on the same assembly line as the rest of the 5er series. There is one difference, however. After they are built, the M5s are pulled over to a special Quality Control area and more are carefully inspected then their normal 5er brethen.

While in this area, one of the BMW engineers asked me if I knew how to remove imperfections. Before I had a chance to respond, he offered a demo. They called one of the workers to demonstrate imperfection removal. A problem was that there were no cars in the area that needed such work. So he picked a random M5 and banged his fist against the hood causing a dent. He then proceeded to show how he could remove it to restore a perfect finish. I hope some doctor in Atlanta is not reading this and plans to use it in a law suite case against BMW.

The last part of the tour took us to the seat manufactoring area on the top floor. The BMW engineers pointed out that with all the variations in color and fabric material, there were over 100,000 combinations. Each one was built just in time to match the car in the assembly line below. BTW, seats for the 5er and 7er are built in Dingolfing, while those for the 3er are made in America.

Time running out, we went back to the senior engineer's office to exchange gifts. We got books (in German) on BMW history, and I gave several copies of the BMW CCA Roundel and local newsletters.

So that was my quickie tour. The BMW folk asked us to come early for lunch, but my working schedule didn't permit it. I really appreciate it that they arranged the tour to fit my limited free time. A test drive of the //M5 and factory tour squeezed into a limited time was a feat of engineering itself.

Paul F. Kunz Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Stanford University Voice: (650) 926-2884 Fax: (650) 926-4335

(end of original message)

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