Newly Excited to Fold Myself Up German Pretzel-style (May 8)

It’s all business today, at least where our attire is concerned. Our first site visit was to SGL. A presentation was given by an upper level member of the company and focused on both the engineering and business components of SGL. As the son of a mechanical engineer, and an engineering student myself, it’s probably no surprise that I really enjoyed the discussion on the creation of carbon fiber and the process through which raw materials are turned into final products. I also appreciated that our presenter highlighted the abiding connection between engineering and business. The interplay had been discussed many times freshman year at Pitt – at least in concept — but it was neat to hear about it in terms of an actual company and see it in practice. A fascinating factory tour guided us through the processing and creation of carbon fibers for a variety of final products. I was impressed by the level of automation of the factory and how few people were necessary to run the facility.

Following a surprisingly American lunch (chili, salads, etc.) graciously provided by SGL, we hopped back on the bus and rode to Munich to visit the BMW museum and tour one of its facilities. As a lover of vintage cars, I found the BMW museum to be an inspiring walk through the company’s history and the automotive industry generally. Hence, it was hard to choose my favorite part, but because of my interest in sustainability, I’d have to say that my favorite was the section which highlighted BMW’s steps for the future. Electric mobility was obviously a highlight of the exhibits as well as sustainable car-making and driving. BMW showcased the impact that humans are having on the environment and how we can slow this harm with the use of renewable resources. I’m behind BMW 100% in that regard. The big bonus is that BMW’s concept cars are undeniably awesome looking too! I think BMW is well on its way to its 100-year plan to galvanize the next century as the leader in automotive engineering. You better believe I’m cheering them on!

While the SGL visit and BMW museum were both terrific, I’d have to say that the BMW factory tour topped them both!  Thoroughly enjoyed being led through the massive facility seeing the progression of creating a car from sheet metal to the street-ready final product. All throughout the factory, robot arms from companies such as KUKA and ABB moved quickly and precisely to perform assigned tasks. I was literally blown away by the sheer number of these robotic arms and the remarkable lack of human hands in the process. I had no idea that the assembly of a car’s body could be nearly 100% automated! Mind blown. This difference is astonishing when compared to U.S. factories where much of processes remain in the hands of humans. I found seeing a car assembled piece by piece fascinating! As a mechanical engineering student with definite interest in robotics, it also boosted my appreciation for the engineering behind each component. Today was an amazing opportunity for which I am so grateful. On a lighter note, it also made me excited to go home and drive my Mom’s 2006 BMW 330i, which she keeps in pristine condition and I’ve never driven. She says that’s because — quote unquote — I’m tall and won’t fit well behind the wheel. It’s time to work some magic (i.e., sweet talk her), fold myself up German pretzel-style and give that ultimate driving machine a go!

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