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BMW’s early adoption of IoT in car repair branch reaps rewards

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BMW's early adoption of IoT in car repair branch reaps rewards

V3 spoke to Arthur Schmidt, head of IT at the BMW Niederlassung München, to get the lowdown on its use of the IoT

A large BMW branch building in Munich located a stone’s throw from the famous Olympia Stadion is, despite its unremarkable façade, something of a trendsetter for the Internet of Things (IoT).

The building is as a repair centre for BMW cars. It has 800 parking spaces and used to handle around 250 cars a day, a number limited by the logistics of locating the cars and getting them to an available mechanic.

Arthur Schmidt, head of IT for the BMW Niederlassung München (pictured above), explained to V3 that this was far from ideal.

“We had no system in place to track where cars were. It was all done manually with staff writing everything on paper and it was not very efficient at all,” he said.

The situation came to a head in 2010 when Schmidt helped a mechanic to find the next car he had to work on, which showed him the difficulties at first hand.

“Someone had issued a cleaning order for the car and we had the last position written down on a work order, but someone had already delivered the car to the washing area,” he explained.

By the time they had figured this out and headed to the washing area it had already been washed and sent back to the position the work order had originally intended. This confusion prompted Schmidt to improve the situation.

“I always wanted to take our company forward and after that day, realising how staff were working and the problems they faced, I said that we had to do something,” he explained.

So he set about the process of installing an IoT network at the facility to track the location of vehicles, something he knew would have a huge impact.

Show me the money
Of course, like any new IT project, the first hurdle Schmidt encountered was getting those holding the purse strings to splash the cash. This was no easy task in 2011 when the IoT was still very much in its infancy.

“Me and the boss had to go away and search for this money and convince many, many people it was worth investing in,” he said, before adding with some satisfaction: “Since then it’s paid for itself many, many times over.”

The next stage in the process was to find the right suppliers. Zebra Technologies was chosen after an evaluation of several potentials, and a company called Tagnology was selected to build the back-end software to manage the information delivered by the Zebra network.

This led to the next problem: deploying the network in a building that was never designed to host a large-scale IoT network.

“It was a huge challenge to install the system. Everything is dense, the ceiling is only two metres high, there are other items already installed like sprinklers, and there’s a lot of metal around the facility, so it took a lot of planning, but everything was tested and it all worked,” Schmidt explained.

Sensors were installed on walls throughout the facility, and the system requires every driver who brings a car in to be serviced to attach a tag connected to the network to the rear-view mirror.

This connection means that the location of the vehicle is always known while it’s in the building.

This makes it easy to locate and deliver the car when a mechanic has finished working on it and is ready for the next, saving a huge amount of time.

The image below shows a visualisation of the system to understand how the vehicles are monitored. Red means that work is in progress, yellow that the car is being delivered and grey that the working bay is idle.

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