BMW recently started production of its fifth-generation drive units at the Competence Centre for E-Drive Production in Dingolfing. This is the beginning of a much larger push to produce drive units and battery packs at more and more BMW production facilities, with a goal of 50% electric drive production by 2030.
“We expect at least 50 percent of the vehicles we deliver to our customers worldwide to be electrified by 2030. To achieve this, we are relying on our extensive in-house drive train expertise: We are increasing capacity at existing drive train production locations – like here in Dingolfing – and developing capabilities at others – like recently in Regensburg and Leipzig,” explained Dr Michael Nikolaides, Senior Vice President, Production Engines and E-Drives, BMW Group.
The company plans to invest 500 million euros in the Dingolfing facility alone so that they can push it to produce drive units for 500,000 EVs starting in 2022. They’re also investing the better part of a billion euros for production expansions at other facilities in Europe.
Drive units and battery packs from the Dingolfing Competence Centre for E-Drive Production will feed full assembly of the BMW iX SUV next door, and will also supply these parts for i4 production in Munich. Because demand for EVs is increasing, BMW Group is also upping production at its Landshut and Steyr factories for the drive units’ housings.
How BMW Builds Its Electric Drive Components
BMW plans to scale EV production centers around flexibility. Instead of producing the same thing for every vehicle, they set up their production lines to be able to quickly switch to different drive units, battery modules, etc .
BMW EVs use one or two drive units, which combine the electric motor, power electronics and transmission in a single housing. Because the company uses a current-excited rotor, its fifth-generation drive unit needs no rare earths for production. From what BMW is saying, it appears that only minor changes are needed to produce units with different levels of power for different vehicles.
The same is true for its battery modules. BMW has engineered battery modules (the sub-assemblies that make up a complete battery pack) for maximum flexibility. Like other automakers, it is including different numbers of modules to fit in battery packs of different sizes for various vehicles. This allowed BMW to start production of vehicles like the low-range electric mini and then move on to production of more serious EVs.
BMW also says its individual cells are tailored to different vehicle needs. It doesn’t give much detail on how it varies the cells, but the company seems to be talking about using different chemical compositions.
Keeping People Employed Is A Priority For BMW
Another exciting thing (assuming you like people) is that BMW is working hard to make sure its employees stay on the job as the company transitions to making more and more EVs. Instead of hiring new people for electric vehicle and EV component plants, they do as much as they can to retrain people who already work on BMW production and them move them from a gas plant to an EV plant.
“We are growing our staff for e-drive production almost exclusively through personnel restructuring. We are actively shaping the transformation process and leveraging our employees’ skills so we can develop long-term sustainable jobs,” explains Nikolaides.
The Dingolfing plant currently has 1400 employees, and BMW is expected to up this to 1900 by the end of the year. To get there, the Dingolfing plant has a built-in school. Learning, like in most other things, starts in the classroom, and then moves to simulations involving some sort of augmented reality technology. Finally, they start practicing on the actual assembly line before moving on to doing real production.
“The learning centre takes a holistic approach that supports employees throughout their professional development and further education, from their first day in production,” reports Dr Sven Jochmann, head of Production E-Drives Dingolfing, Landshut, Regensburg, Leipzig. “As well as trainers and managers, new colleagues are also supported by trained mentors who help them quickly find their way around their new working environment,” adds Jochmann.
Keeping Production Green
Another thing they’re putting a high priority on is keeping their production as clean as possible to lower a BMW’s overall lifetime emissions.
One way they do this is to simplify and try to keep things as efficient as possible in supply chains, production, and on to sales. Every company wants this for profitability, of course, but BMW considers this the first step in sustainable practices. The fewer things there are to offset, the cleaner everything is.
They’re also prioritizing the use of the cleanest energy they can for production. When possible, this comes from renewables directly, but in other cases, they purchase clean energy from power companies. Starting this fall, they’re going to even use electric trucks, driven by renewable energy, to move things around their plants.
They count up and buy offsets and certificates for whatever’s left.
Some Great Things Here
While we’d all like to see BMW owners use their turn signals more, it’s good to know that the manufacturer is taking the right things seriously.
The focus on employees is particularly important. Disruptive innovation is great, but disrupting household incomes for people who work hard for their living isn’t great at all. People who have been loyal to a company shouldn’t have that loyalty thrown back in their face when the company wants to change things up. People with spouses, children, dreams, and aspirations deserve our support even during times of great change. It’s good to see BMW taking that seriously.
Keeping things green is important, too. Sure, you can churn out more EVs at a better profit with dirty energy and dirty production practices, but that’s just paying lip service to the problems EVs are supposed to help solve. All of these things need to go hand in hand to make sure the problem gets solved instead of shifting it from one problem to another.
Serious production while doing all this is hard, but worth it. Being able to actually make the parts needed for all of the EVs they’re going to make while not dropping the ball on people and the environment is impressive.