Sustainability in China: the BMW Tiexi plant

The Tiexi vehicle plant near Shenyang in Liaoning Province is one of the BMW Group’s most sustainable and progressive production facilities. In terms of environmental awareness and employee-friendliness, the plant is setting standards worldwide and across the industry as a whole. Dr Anton Heiss, CEO of BMW Brilliance Automotive, the BMW Group’s Chinese joint venture partner, explains why.

Hendrik Lakeberg

One of your key objectives for the Tiexi plant was to create an employee-friendly working environment. How did you go about achieving that?
Anton Heiss: In the 18-month construction phase we turned a green field into a state-of-the-art vehicle plant. The single-roof design, the idea for which we borrowed to some extent from the Leipzig plant, covers a floor area of 410,000 square metres. By combining the press shop, body construction, assembly hall and logistics under one roof, we have been able to significantly increase efficiency and at the same time reduce energy consumption. One of our plant’s landmark features is the central building, where more than a thousand employees go about their work in the wall-free, open-plan office area. This does a lot to encourage social exchange. Employees can actually see the car bodies passing silently through the central building on their way from paint shop to assembly hall. In this way, they experience production at first hand – and on a daily basis. Tiexi is one of the most advanced and sustainable plants in the BMW Group production network.

The five-metre-high sculptures in the reception area at Tiexi form the Chinese word *ren* (“people”). “For us they symbolise the value we place in our employees,” explains Dr Anton Heiss (centre). Right: the “Art Project 10 + 10” creates an intercultural link between Chinese and German artists.

“We want our plant to serve as a model – and not just for the car industry. This notion derives from the belief within the BMW Group that innovation and sustainability will increasingly shape premium values in the years ahead.”

Dr. Anton Heiss

Art has also been given prominence at the plant. What is the thinking behind that?
Heiss: In the plant’s reception area, employees and visitors are greeted by five-metre-high steel sculptures. These sculptures are shaped to represent the Chinese word ren (“people”). They form part of the “Art Project 10 + 10” and symbolise the core value embodied for us by our employees. Launched in 2010, the art project has established an intercultural connection between Chinese and German artists. Other elements, including paintings, photographs and wooden sculptures, are displayed at points all around the plant building. The central building also houses the most important resources for our employees, including the basic and further training centre, the canteen and café, and a health centre with integrated fitness studio. We provide our staff with a high-quality on-site medical service. In addition, we liaise closely with leading hospitals in Liaoning Province. Our health management sets benchmarks for the Chinese car industry. And as a matter of principle, BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) seeks to maintain its reputation as one of China’s leading employers. In 2015, BBA was voted best employer by both the web portal, China’s most influential HR service provider, and LinkedIn. We have an attractive Employee Value Proposition aimed at recruiting new employees and high potentials. BBA has also developed a comprehensive talent and loyalty management programme with a view to retaining employees for as long as possible. This has proved hugely successful. The Tiexi plant currently employs over 6,000 staff from different countries.

Sustainability was one of the main objectives in the design of the Tiexi plant from the outset. But the focus was not just on environmental factors: employee-friendliness at the plant was also a key concern.

Strengthening China as a production location

With its Tiexi production facility, BMW Brilliance Automotive (BBA) seeks to underscore its reputation as one of China’s most popular employers and set new standards for state-of-the-art industrial production. Covering an area of 410,000 square metres, the plant employs a workforce of over 6,000. Great attention was paid in particular to sustainability issues. And from the outset concerns went beyond environmental compatibility, since the Tiexi plant also boasts optimum working conditions for ergonomics and health.
In addition, at the start of the year BBA opened a new engine plant very close to Tiexi with a light-alloy casting facility. This new site produces the latest generation of BMW TwinPower Turbo 3-cylinder and 4-cylinder petrol engines. In the long term the engine plant will provide work for around 2,000 BBA employees. As a result, local production will be expanded to include three new BMW models. One of these models, the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, will be launched in the first quarter of 2016. The engine plant also meets the most advanced production standards, with the light-alloy foundry enabling virtually emission-free production. The new facility supplies the two BMW Brilliance car plants at Dadong and Tiexi. Capacity there is linked to production volume at the two car plants and is currently running at up to 300,000 units per year.

What new possibilities does the Tiexi plant open up for BMW Brilliance?
Heiss: Tiexi is a fully dedicated production facility of the highest quality. In addition to having a cutting-edge production structure, the plant is equipped with a dispatch centre capable of storing up to 5,000 vehicles. A rail link built with support from the city of Shenyang and Liaoning Province means our vehicles can be shipped directly to dealers all over the country. In addition, many components can now be delivered by rail. Closely linked to our assembly hall, we also have a high-speed test circuit and a research and development centre, opened in 2013, which today employs 500 engineers. At the start of the year, BBA opened a new engine plant with a light-alloy casting facility boasting a direct link to the Tiexi plant. As a result, we are now able to accelerate the value stream enormously.

Sustainability is a very important factor for the BMW Group. What sustainability factors at the Tiexi plant are you particularly proud of?
Heiss: Tiexi was opened in 2012, so it is one of the newest plants in the BMW Group. The plant design incorporated findings from both research and development and sustainability issues. The summers are very hot and the winters very cold in this region, so the buildings must be equipped with an extremely efficient heating and cooling system which is also energy-saving. We installed two high-speed servo presses. These are much more efficient than conventional hydraulic presses and permit energy savings of 60 percent. Heat recovered by cooling the welding robots in body construction is used to generate ambient heating. And in the paint shop we use a state-of-the-art RoDip process, in which the entire body is dipped in a pre-treatment bath and rotated. This method saves both energy and space. For body painting we use an integrated paint process (IPP system), which enables us to bypass one step of the procedure. In this the primer and second coats are applied together, which removes the need to reheat the body. This saves energy, material costs and cuts the cycle time while simultaneously increasing throughput. We also recycle 90 percent of wastewater in vehicle assembly, and use this for internal water tests and car washing. In addition, our assembly facility is designed to maximise ergonomics and make the workplace as safe as possible for our employees.

Energy efficiency is a vital element at the Tiexi plant. How important is this for China in particular?
Heiss: We want our plant to serve as a model – and not just for the car industry. This notion derives from the belief within the BMW Group that innovation and sustainability will increasingly shape premium values in the years ahead. The facility in Tiexi provides a tangible demonstration of how this can work. BBA signed up to the UN Global Compact to give globalisation an increasingly social and environmental focus. In the wake of this, we have already published our second annual Sustainability Report. BBA is one of the most sustainable car manufacturers in China. That will strengthen our position in the Chinese premium market and at the same time help raise awareness of environmental protection issues.