By the beginning of 2023, every BMW Group vehicle plant worldwide will have a digital twin. The company is thus consistently merging the real and virtual worlds via 3D scanning. This should offer advantages for all processes and the entire production planning, as all workflows can be fully simulated virtually.
BMW with 3D scan of all vehicle plants
“This opens up completely new possibilities for us to implement both extensive new planning and smaller conversions in existing structures in a highly efficient, precise and flexible manner,” says Michele Melchiorre, Head of Production Systems, Planning, Tooling and Plant Engineering at the BMW Group in the press release.
Using a highly innovative 3D scan, the BMW Group is creating photorealistic images of all building structures, facilities and associated outdoor areas at all of the Group’s vehicle plants around the world.
Virtual planning marks a cornerstone of digitization in the context of the strategic goal of the BMW iFACTORY. The goal is to provide all production facilities with a digital twin by the beginning of 2023 and thus to plan and simulate the entire production system 100 percent virtually.
According to the automaker, one advantage is that virtualization thus allows collaboration in real time across different locations and different time zones. Among other things, this would benefit the planning of all processes.
Virtual products can thus be integrated into the virtual image of the factories, reducing planning effort and investment. “At the same time, the efficiency of the processes and the stability in the start-up increase”, says Michele Melchiorre.
Digital Twins for the plant in Spartanburg, USA, the main plant in Munich and the Regensburg plant are already in place. The plants in Dingolfing, Leipzig and Tiexi, China, will be covered by September of this year. These will then be followed by spring 2023, as will other BMW Group plants in Mexico, South Africa, England and Dadong/China.
3D scan in collaboration with NavVis
The 3D scans are performed by the Munich-based start-up company NavVis. They provide mobile 3D laser scanners that create photorealistic panoramic images, floor plans and point clouds in all BMW Group vehicle plants, capturing every detail.
Approximately four million square meters of interior areas, as well as nine million square meters of exterior plant areas, have been scanned using portable mobile scanning systems as well as drone systems since November 2020, the company reveals. The NavVis IVION Enterprise platform generates a digital image of reality – the so-called Digital Twin – from these huge amounts of data.
The virtual data is already being used by around 15,000 BMW Group employees, who access the Digital Twins using cloud- and browser-based software (BMW Factory Viewer).
Here, it is possible to walk through the virtual factories with just a few clicks, find specific points of production through point-of-interests (POIs) and perform precise surveys.
Autonomous scanning robots keep data up-to-date
It is also possible to cut out individual areas from the 3D scans and make them available to external suppliers, for example. Potential conversions in the production facilities can also be tried out virtually. Autonomous scanning robots carry out these so-called re-scan processes.
They also ensure that the digital twins are always kept up to date without the need for additional personnel. For this purpose, the BMW Group uses, among other things, the Smart Transport Robot (STR) developed in-house by BMW Group subsidiary Idealworks.
Factory planning together with Nvidia
In planning new production structures, the company is also working with Nvidia and using its Omniverse software platform. This gives planners the opportunity to design new factories and plants virtually and walk through them directly. Manufacturing systems can also be developed jointly, while information can be shared quickly and easily on the network.
Based on Nvidia Omniverse, a new vehicle plant is already being built in Debrecen, Hungary, which is expected to open in 2025. “Already today, about three years before the start of production, we are able to virtually simulate the core processes in our future plant,” Melchiorre continues.