Day 3: Factory Tour: Sheer Walking Pleasure

Today at breakfast, I started to find out what I really liked to eat at breakfast. One delicacy that I discovered was, while attempting to get orange juice, I came upon a unique mango juice. The juice machine had two spouts and I couldn’t read the German labels on them, so I went for the one on the right. When the juice came out, it looked like orange juice but slightly darker in color. I was slightly suspicious, but I tried it anyways and my taste buds had a party. From then on I tried to have “mehrfruchtsaft” with my breakfast every single day. We departed for our first company visit at SGL and when we arrived at their plant, we were cordially greeted and were given a presentation about the chemistry of carbon fibers and then about the business model of the company. After the end, we absolutely grilled the presenter with questions. He performed admirably, even in the face of intense questions, partly by our group and especially from the German students. We then saw the pilot factory, where the new technologies for manufacturing carbon fibers were tested and it was a very amusing dynamic between the Business and Engineering students. The three engineers in our tour group, including myself, were like kids in a candy shop when we were seeing the production of the fibers. Meanwhile, the business students, while interested, were slightly less enthused. It was cool to see that some of the principles we learned in chemistry and physics were thrown around by the tour guide.

Next, we got a tour by two workers who showed us how carbon fibers are made into useable parts using a variety of different machines. After that we got to see their showroom of different finished parts and their applications.

Then, we journeyed by bus to Munich where we first visited the BMW museum. One thing that jumped out at me was a really fantastic animation of how a four-cylinder gas engine works. It seems nerdy and insignificant, but I have searched long and hard for a way to visualize it and the animation was great. Of course, there was lots of old motorcycles and cars, but something I found cool was a line of engines dating back to the early 1900s from different machines, including cars and motorcycles, but also containing more interesting engines from planes and one plane-boat hybrid. Later, we found a room with five engines and five spots on the floor. When you stood on a spot in front of an engine, you heard the noise of the respective engine playing from the ceiling. I tried to play Ode to Joy by jumping around the room from spot to spot but unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

The last stop in the museum was a big spiral ramp of intriguing statistics of the environmental impact of petrol cars and it all led to BMW’s vision for the future – electric cars and autonomous cars.

Afterwards, we had our plant tour of BMW and we saw the production line from raw materials to a finished product. It is eye-opening to learn how many steps it takes to make a car that you don’t often think about. It was also cool to see the robots working in close proximity to each other. The tour guide told us that since there is no room to build out in the Munich plant, the plant engineers had to devise ways for the machines to work closer to each other; The final result looked somewhat like a dance.

Another interesting thing that I learned was that businesses like BMW purposefully buy robots from multiple different companies and materials from different suppliers so that it causes competition and lowers prices. I had never given that much thought before. Another fascinating part of the tour was the paint room. The tour guide explained to us their method of using canisters to dispense the paint instead of tubes to minimize overspray. To me, this was a perfect example of engineering. The idea is simple but someone along the line had to think of it and put it into action. The next day, we all learned some more about sometimes overlooking simple solutions from a peculiar source: number games.

 

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