Spies Hecker

Story & pics by Jay Groat

BMW Group’s R6.1 billion upgrade to Plant Rosslyn has turned it into a state-of-the-art X-manufacturing facility. The first BMW X3s rolled off the production line in April this year, for sale in global and local markets. BMW SA felt it was time for their BMW X3 to stretch it’s legs and learn more about it’s country of origin. The BMW tour took us from Plant Rosslyn through three provinces in three days to experience the superior build quality.

The BMW X3 xPlore kicked off from BMW X Lifestyle Park – a 4×4 park based alongside the Mall of Africa in Midrand. Guests got to put the new BMW X3 xDrive through some particularly impressive off-road obstacles. This facility will be open to the public at the beginning of November this year.

Next up on the tour was most certainly the most interesting for me during the three-day launch. On arrival at Plant Rosslyn guests were hosted at their new R73 million Training Academy facility. The training academy will see 300 apprentices pass through it annually but is in place to upskill BMW’s dedicated staff and managers too. Every aspect of the production process is available for learners to study, from electrical engineering through to supply chain management. It even affords them the opportunity at the ultimate in assembly line automation first hand: robotics.

It’s a fantastic facility that will surely nurture and groom our South African learners for years to come.

The first production area visited was the new body shop: Body-In-White (BIW) area that was completed in January 2017, and took just six months to complete. The space is now 50% larger, and the equivalent of 60 Olympic pools! It houses 288 robots – all spot-welding, gluing and drilling – to create the X3’s outer body shell. This construction process consists of seven major process steps (be it rear, front end or underbody) and incorporates eight different types of joining technologies. The body shop currently produces 15 X3’s an hour and ends the day at a staggering grand total of 285 units. This all happens before moving over to the newly upgraded Rosslyn paint shop for coatings application.

Since the atmosphere in the paint shop is 50 000 times cleaner than the everyday air we breath, we were unable to see the paint shop upgrades for fear of contaminating the area. Similar structural modification themes – like raising the roof height and line lengthening to accommodate the X3’s size – in comparison to its 3 Series predecessor, was evident in the overall upgrade. More production line modifications such as the extension of ovens in the paint shop and the inclusion of more robot cells inside the spraybooth area, were among the many and varied changes.

A new end-of-line detection robot has been added too. Its sole job is to check the colour and gloss of each BMW X3 as it exits the paint shop. An automatic defect detection area is still in the process of being completed. This space will allow for better quality control of the finish leaving the paint shop and will be completed by year end.

Another massive upgrade and integral addition to the production process between the manufacturing of body shells and the paint shop is Rosslyn’s new Combi-Stacker. This houses 126 cars at a time, either painted or not, and is hard to miss at 40 metres high. Here cars wait to be placed into the final part of the production line where drivetrains are mated to their specified coloured bodies. All the other external components are added and brought together in the “just-in-time” methodology system. With left and right hand drives in succession, it was interesting to see how each model gets its own individual treatment. Currently Plant Rosslyn (BIW) has the best value stream within the BMW Group Plants, thanks to the process sequence being better located.

Our next stop was BMW’s renewable energy source, Bio2Watt. Situated on the premises of one of South Africa’s largest feedlots, Beefcor. The location provided Bio2Watt with close proximity of key fuel supplies, grid access and sufficient natural water. Creating energy from Biogas, Bio2Watt is capable of generating enough renewable energy to electrify 3 000 house-holds and currently supplies Plant Rosslyn with 25-30% of its energy powering X3’s production line. It’s an incredible partnership which sees Plant Rosslyn planning to go completely off the grid and be reliant on only renewable energy by the end of 2018!

Managing director Sean Thomas, who has an engineering degree in fluid mechanics, mentioned that with the help from BMW and guidance from an outsourced Dutch company who trained our local technicians, he would never have been able to get the ball rolling and be up and producing energy with an all-South African team in such a short space of time.

Out on the road again we began to explore the ride and drive experience. Drivers found themselves spoilt for choice with the array engine derivatives. We chose the top of the range 3.0d model of course, with 195kW and 620Nm of torque, and a claimed 0-100 sprint time of 5.8 seconds. Powered by a six-cylinder turbodiesel and driven by its ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox – performance is faultless. It has immense mid-range torque and rapid direct drive thanks to the xDrive (all-wheel-drive) and 50:50 weight distribution.

The handling is effortless, but switch the Drive mode into Sport through the bends and you realise just how robust our local build quality is as you enjoy solid performance. Occasionally we found time to test Economy mode, although it was a bit of an afterthought, thanks to the amazing routes BMW had chosen. We did manage to get a positive 7.6-litres/100km on some parts of the tour – which wasn’t too far off BMW’s claim of 6.0-litres/100km.

The BMWX3 xPlore tour took us from indulging in Belgian waffles in Dullstroom, down the popular Long Tom Pass and onto some of the best sightseeing roads Mpumalanga has to offer. This, together with BMW’s incredible infotainment command system and standard iDrive controller in all X3’s, made this lap of luxury experience pure bliss. Further on we found time to enjoy some of the breathtaking scenery Blyde River Canyon boasts before finishing our second day with a safari game drive.

Day three was another blur of magnificent scenery and handling in the X3 as we made the final stretch bound for home.

It was an all-out X3 experience which took us through three provinces and saw international journalists come to South Africa to explore and enjoy everything there is to know about our proudly South African-produced BMW X3!