MUNICH - BMW says that a leaner project team and better communications helped it cut development costs for its new 3 series by 20 percent over the previous model.
The management structure was as flat as possible. The core group of 150 was split into five teams assigned to specific areas of the car. The teams occupied one large room at BMW's development center in Munich.
One layer of managers separated project manager Wolfgang Ziebart from engineers and designers. Ziebart reported directly to Wolfgang Reitzle, the BMW board member responsible for development.
'We really had a lot of trust from the board,' said Ziebart. Previously, he was in charge of BMW's body design department, and before that electrical and electronics design.
The five area teams were responsible for the engine compartment, dashboard and interior, underbody, rear trunk, and doors.
Within each team, groups of five-15 people worked on sub-modules, such as climate control. Bigger elements, like doors, involved up to 20 people.
Communications were improved because project engineers were in the same room instead of being based in their departments.
The 3-series fuel tank provided an example of how well the process worked, according to Ziebart.
He said the fuel tank usually requires adjustments at the end of a project because of modifications elsewhere.
'In this project,' Ziebart said, 'the fuel tank fitted perfectly into the body from the very beginning. This was mainly because the person designing the gas tank was sitting beside the person doing the design of the door panel.'
In the year before launch BMW set up 15 problem-solving teams that included manufacturing and purchasing people from BMW and suppliers. The teams focused on either a component or a specific problem, such as noise.
Pilot assembly was done by workers from 3-series production lines at the Regensburg and Munich plants, rather than by assembly specialists as on previous models. Ziebart said that contributed to cutting assembly time and increasing quality.
For example, assembly time for the climate control module is half that of the old model, said Ziebart. Major modifications were made to the door assembly process as a result of the pilot assembly.
Ziebart said that overall assembly time is 20 percent faster than for comparably equipped versions of the old 3 series.
Three to five months before Job One, BMW teams visited 40 key suppliers to make sure that they were ready for full production. Three months after the start, the new 3 series has achieved the same quality level as its predecessor did after four years, said Ziebart.
Because four plants are involved, full production will not be reached until early 1999.
Munich will take six months to reach full production, but other plants will ramp up faster. Regensburg started production on 1 March, Dingolfing will start in the summer and South Africa in October.