Tuesday, October 19, 2010

BMW to Biltmore

October 19, 2010
Here are some amazing statistics: BMW has invested $4.5 billion dollars into making cars in South Carolina. They just finished a $750 million dollar expansion to their assembly plant here this year, bringing their roofed plant area to 2.8 million square feet. All the cars they make here are pre-ordered, and 75% of them are shipped overseas.

I listened well to the BMW Factory Tour, as you can tell. Too bad they wouldn’t let us take photographs on the factory floor, because the process is fascinating. There are lots of robots twirling huge chunks of the cars around in the air to be spot welded (shooting streams of sparks that sometimes shower down breath-takingly close to us). They apply adhesive to parts, and hold their work up for cameras to check before they continue assembly. They transfix us.

There are also lots and lots of uniformed associates (as BMW employees are called) performing assembly tasks as the car bodies slowly progress by them on a moving line. There are 7,000 employees at this plant, working four ten-hour days each week. They change assembly stations every two hours, to avoid repetitive motion injuries and boredom, and to cross-train for flexible scheduling of the workforce. Each day, each of the two shifts has a goal of completing 310 cars, and the workers can see how they are progressing against that objective by looking at tickertape signs lit up throughout the plant. When we toured, the shift was running two cars behind objective.

We enjoyed a small museum featuring historic BMW cars and motor cycles in the Visitor Center. This is a photo of some one cylinder cars produced following World War II. They could get up to 63 miles per gallon (less when towing the claustrophobic travel trailer featured behind the first car).

After our tour, we headed to the Biltmore along a route featuring beautiful scenery and twisty mountain roads. We ate lunch on the patio of Larkin’s on the Lake, overlooking beautiful Lure Lake, created in 1926, and made famous when the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed there. We enjoyed the fall colors and the rural scenery, occasionally stopping to try to capture a moment with a photograph. One of our favorites was Bear Wallow Baptist Church.

We settled into our luxurious room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, and joined our Automobile Society friends for cocktail hour and dinner in the loft of the Stable next to the Biltmore Estate. We should get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight—we have a very full day planned for tomorrow, exploring the many highlights of the Estate and Ashville. (You will probably note from the posting time that I failed to meet my "early to bed" objective, once again.)

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