In 1994, BMW completed construction on its only manufacturing facility in the United States. Originally, the Greer, SC, plant was designed to produce 3-series sedans. Then, in late 1995, the Z3 roadster went into production, and the Greer plant was rolling out both sedans and the new roadster. At that time, the assembly workstations were using industrial shelving, which was adequate for the small number of parts needed. However, once demand for the Z3 increased, only the Z3 was produced at the facility. Subsequently, the industrial shelving couldn't handle the increased flow of parts. Management clearly wanted a better flow track, and it needed to be tough, flexible and able to perform under heavy use.
According to Chip McMillan, manager of manufacturing and operations control at BMW, the test areas chosen were branded as difficult areas in the plant. "There were two subassembly areas that were really a mess. A lot of the parts were difficult for the associates to move around," says McMillan.
Management finally chose Indoff (St. Louis) as the project integrator. Indoff installed Unex Manufacturing Inc.'s (Jackson, NJ) Span-Track flow track.
The deciding factor in choosing Span-Track is flexibility. "In my opinion, it's incredible. For the auto industry, with the amount of parts increases that we have, Span-Track allows us to increase the pick locations at a station by simply expanding the beam width and putting in more track," says McMillan.
Another big factor in Span-Track's favor was that the lanes can be used for various package sizes. It's not uncommon in the automotive industry to get the same part coming to the production line in an array of box sizes. BMW had to have flexibility when it came to accommodating different package sizes for the same part. Now, the company can change the widths and depths of the units. With the new flow track, the company can have the different pick faces offset where employees can reach into a box directly without having to reach underneath the rack. It can also have return lanes so that empty boxes can be returned to the aisle where the associate responsible for loading full boxes of product can remove them without interfering with the picking window.
BMW's picking window is based on a height range for an average U.S. man and woman. Currently, the picking window is 24 inches off the floor to about 54 inches tall.
One of the biggest problems McMillan saw during the demonstrations was the inability of the associate to pick at the pick face. "With the ability to run it over the top of the beam, we really increased the ability to get into the picking zone and pick the part out of the box," says McMillan.
According to McMillan, the competitor's racks were fixed frame flow tracks. "With the fixed frame, if you wanted to expand for another contract, basically you had to totally get rid of the whole rack and bring in a brand new one. With Span-Track, we were able to add just a couple of components when we wanted to expand," says McMillan.
"Plus, the associates were able to install the product themselves. That saved a lot of expense, and now there is a base knowledge out in the assembly department of people that know how to assemble Span-Track. The associates can make the changes they deem necessary at any given time."
For more information on systems integration, call 800-486-7867 or visit www.indoff.com.
For more information on Span-Track, call 800-695-7726 or visit www.unex.com.