BMW is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary here in South Africa, having achieved incredible production milestones since its establishment in 1973.
Its main plant, which is located in Rosslyn, Gauteng on the outskirts of Pretoria, is one of 30 BMW production facilities around the world. It’s also one of just three locations where the highly-popular X3 is built – the other two facilities being located in China and the United States.
This month, Rosslyn celebrated the creation of its 300,000th X3 and, to mark the occasion, invited the media to a tour of its impressive 32,000 square-metre premises.
A major operation
The German carmaker has invested a total of R12.6 billion in South Africa since 1995, steadily ramping up its production to keep up with growing global demand.
In 1999, the plant had a two-shift rotation, which was then expanded to a three-shift cycle in 2012, meaning the facility is now operating 24 hours a day with 2,200 workers on an eight-hour timeline.
Rosslyn previously made the 3 Series sedanbut production was shifted to the X3 in 2018 in response to a shift in the market, as SUVs have been growing in popularity while sedan sales have been on the decline.
As many as 1,191,604 3 Series units were made in South Africa before the switch to the X3, and since then the facility has been responsible for another 300,000 units, making for a grand total of 1.6 million cars making their way off the assembly line at Rosslyn.
Prior to the X3 and 3 Series, the plant was also responsible for putting out classics like the 325i, and even a handful of South African-exclusive models not sold anywhere else in the world. One such example is the BMW 2000 SA, of which it is estimated that less than 5,000 were ever made.
Today, the plant is capable of producing around 62,000 cars per year – 95.9% of which are for export, while the remaining 4.1% stay in South Africa.
Given that the units are primarily exported to Europe and the USA, roughly 80% of the X3s are made in left-hand drive, while the other 20% are right-hand drive.
Touring the facility
Rosslyn is split into five main areas – the logistics offices, body shop, paint shop, assembly line, and quality control.
After putting on protective dust coats, we were first taken to the body shop, which is almost entirely automated. Consequently, we weren’t able to walk around the ground floor but were instead taken to a glass viewing balcony overlooking the fabrication process.
From behind the glass, we were able to witness the roughly 330 robots and machines at work, moving the skeletal frames of dozens of X3s along multiple tracks.
Robotic arms would pick up a door frame with ease and swing it around to the main line, while other machines would lock a body frame in place for highly accurate welders to go to work.
The sheer speed at which the machines worked was quite spectacular, illustrating how it’s possible for the facility to crank out an average of 164 cars per day.
Our next port of call was the paint shop, though again we were unable to enter the building itself.
This time the concern was less about sparks and giant machines moving about, but rather about contamination, as the only workers allowed in the paint shop must wear full-body hazmat suits.
Behind another glass balcony, we saw the automated colouring process in action once again. The cars are first run through a series of pressure washers before a mechanical appendage picks up the whole vehicle frame and submerges it in a giant vat to apply the first undercoat of paint.
From there, the cars are plucked out of the vat, only for the process to repeat itself several times as various undercoats are applied.
The final stretch of the tour involved a walk through the assembly line, where employees were hard at work installing various components.
There were rows of seats still wrapped in plastic, and further down the line crucial items like the batteries and shocks were sitting on shelves waiting to be fitted.
The entire drivetrain, including the engine, axles, and front and rear suspension, are assembled separately, whereupon they are added to the body in a process that BMW refers to as “the marriage.”
At the end of the tour, we passed an electronic board tracking the total number of cars produced, which was sitting at 302,679 units as of the time of writing. It also listed the monthly output of 5,407 units and the month’s target goal of 5,515 units.
BMW Rosslyn Plant South Africa
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