The Krauss Khronicles Tag 5: Roofs and Robots

Today was both an exhausting and exciting day. We visited my favorite two companies thus far: Webasto and BMW.

We kicked off the day today just before 7 am, but I made sure to nourish myself with the consistently impressive hotel breakfast. Our first stop was Webasto, who fed us well with an array of buttered pretzels, although the butter they use in Germany tastes much different (and is probably less fatty) than butter in the U.S.

Webasto presented to us about the future of their company through charging systems. I felt kind of bad for the group reporting on Webasto, as the presenter wasn’t able to answer most of the questions he was asked.

Webasto also produces sun roofs and heating and cooling systems, and we got a tour of the facility which tested the durability of their sun roofs. Our tour guide showed us that the sun roofs were placed in heating and cooling chambers, as well as a chamber where roofs were tested for durability with heavy rain. The roof could be mounted and placed at different angles under a large sprinkler system. The simulated rain contained an indicator, which can be easily identified if it got through the roof and into the car. The roof also had a gutter system to prevent leakage.

There was also a sound-proof acoustic room, where an audio camera shaped like a fan ensures whether the roof doesn’t make odd noises while driving. I believe this was done by vibrating the roof and listening to the sounds captured by the audio camera.

Our tour of the Webasto facility continued with a video revealing the durability of these roofs. A bowling ball was dropped on the roof from above, and the glass shattered. But an additional elastic layer prevented any glass from actually getting inside the car, keeping its passengers safe.

The tour of the Webasto tour was consistently entertaining, and their roof designs repeatedly impressed me. It was nice to see real-world applications of simple concepts I learned in my engineering classes, from the use of indicators in testing roof durability. Everything about the facility tour felt like something I could see myself doing. I would love to have an internship at a company like Webasto, and be able to test prototypes like the roofs we saw during our tour by testing out various combinations of materials.

After our quick Webasto tour, we drove to the BMW headquarters in Munich. Everything about BMW was so cool. The first part of our time at BMW was a factory tour, which was probably among the coolest things I’ve ever seen. I would have taken endless photos if not for BMW’s strict policies against it.

The factory housed about 1500 massive orange robots, each working together in assembly lines to form car bodies. Most of the robots had a cathode arm and soldered certain parts of the car. Once the robots were done with their section of the car, the body would automatically shift to the next step of assembly. The car bodies were also passed up and down from different floors of the plant to maximize space and coolness factor.

As we walked through the factory, we watched the entire assembly process, from the materials to painted car bodies. Towards the end of the plant tour, we watched as the upper and lower bodies were mended together, described by my tour guide as being “married.” I watched the process multiple times with a few people on my tour, and we almost lost our tour guide! The only problem I had with my tour was that my tour guide moved too fast. I would have watched the car bodies being assembled all day if I could.

According to our tour guide, the smaller soldering robots that made up most of the factory cost 100 to 120 thousand euros, and were replaced every 7 years. Other larger robots could cost up to a quarter of a million euros. BMW is easily set apart from all the companies we’ll visit on our trip, just because of their massive scale and impact on the automobile industry that it has. No other automobile company that we visit will be able to impress me more than BMW in terms of its ability to manufacture entire car bodies in a singular plant without many outside suppliers or human labor.

The cars were lastly coated with 4 layers of paint, which was positively charged and could stick to the negatively charged car body.

After the factory tour, we had a museum tour on the history of BMW. I said “donkey” (instead of danke) to our tour guide for handing me an audio headset, and he compared me to his American coworker who did the same.

I learned that BMW was a large player in the motorcycle industry until motorcycles started to lose their popularity to cars. BMW also produced plane motors, and I finally got to take some pictures!

The most interesting part of the tour in my opinion was about the BMW 507, which was often driven by royalty. It was only produced for 6 years, from 1953-59, and it became extremely rare. A man who collected battered cars happened to own the missing 507 car driven by Elvis, and his family amassed a small fortune (the collector died in the process), after BMW restored the car.

During my tour, I snagged an awkward photo of Zach taking a selfie with the 507 car, and we continued to have a series of selfies and photo sniping.

After the tour, we listened to a BMW tour guide talk about how BMW is trying to reduce their carbon footprint. We then returned to Augsburg to enjoy Döner Kebab for the second time. I was much more comfortable in ordering my kebab, and I feel as though I have sort of evolved in my basic understanding of German language and adjusting to such a vastly different culture.

Today was so much fun, and will probably be my favorite day on the trip. Bis morgen!

I’d also like to add in one of my favorite photos of the whole trip, featuring Jason:

Jason rides a modern motorcycle

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