Equipment upgrades result in improved training and standardization for BMW at its major US assembly plant

2014-10-15 - Upgraded robot controllers from ABB now enable the BMW plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to reap the benefits from having a standardized programming environment and one single platform when training employees.

Michael Owen, Robot Specialist, BMW Manufacturing Co, and Krzysztof Paczek, Service Engineer, ABB Robotics, USA.


At the start of the 19th century, the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA, was dubbed the “Hub City” because it was a railroad center and the fact that its many railroads made it look like a wheel hub on maps.

Over the last century the landscape has changed and the personal automobile has supplanted the train as the preferred method of transportation. So it’s quite fitting that now, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Spartanburg, we find BMW’s first full manufacturing facility outside Germany and currently the company’s only US production facility. Covering an area of 4.7 square kilometers, the plant was built in 1992 and employs some 8,000 people, with an average daily output of 1,100 vehicles, of which at least 80% is manufactured to customer order.

It is of note that BMW’s Spartanburg facility is the sole global producer of the following models, exported to more than 140 countries: X3 and X5 Sports Activity Vehicles, X4 and X6 Sports Activity Coupe, X5 M and X5 M Sports Activity Vehicle and the X5 xDrive 35d.

In this all-important manufacturing hub, more than 1,000 ABB robots are involved in spot welding, painting, sealing, arc welding, vision and material handling. The majority of the robots are connected to ABB’s newest robot controller — the IRC5 — however some were old enough that they still used the older S4C+ controller. In the past few years, BMW recognized that installing the IRC5 upgrade on more units could be incredibly beneficial. Aside from the obvious benefit of standardization on one controller system, BMW also saw an advantage in having a single platform when training personnel on how to operate the robots.


“We are very pleased with the controller upgrade to IRC5 from the old S4C+ controllers, bringing reduced down time, faster recovery plus common equipment for the maintenance staff to work on which means that less training is required.”


After engaging ABB to conduct the upgrades, new controller software was ordered for 74 robots, including several versions of the IRB 6400R that had been assigned for spot welding and material handling. During the quoting stage ABB conducted a pre-study on the controller requirements. Valuable instructions on how to update the S4C+ code were provided courtesy of ABB’s author of the original IRC5 code. Prior to installation BMW performed much of the programming and setup. The ABB Service Team first performed a pilot installation on two controllers adapted to BMW’s requirements. Based on the pilot installation it was then easy for BMW to assess the needs for the full installation.

“We work great as a team with ABB Robotics to resolve BMW issues and concerns to meet our manufacturing needs, with direct support onsite from ABB and bi-weekly meetings to address any issues and future needs.” says Darrell Carter, Supervisor at BMW Manufacturing Co. “We are very pleased with the controller upgrade to IRC5 from the old S4C+ controllers, bringing reduced down time, faster recovery plus common equipment for the maintenance staff to work on which means that less training is required.”

For us at ABB we are looking forward to a continued mutual beneficial relationship with BMW by providing world-class robots and services for years to come.

About BMW
With the three brands, BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, the BMW Group has its sights set firmly on the premium sector of the international automobile market. To achieve its aims, the company knows how to deploy its strengths with an efficiency that is unmatched in the automotive industry. From research and development to sales and marketing, BMW Group is committed to the very highest in quality for all its products and services. The company's success to date is proof of this strategy's correctness.

Summary of upgrade benefits:
  • Standardization of controller systems
  • One single platform for training
  • Reduced risk of failure
  • Easier maintenance and repair
  • Less spare parts needed



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