The factory — about the size of 30 football fields — handles all the inline-fours for the S models, the inline-sixes for the K bikes and the boxer engines for the R 1250, R nineT and R 18s range. The latest addition is the CE 04 production line, and BMW Motorrad announces plans to add at least one more electric model within the next two years. BMW’s photo.

BMW handed me a Hi-Viz vest (ATGATT!) and an earpiece to help me hear the tour guide above the noise of the factory shop. A short walk led to the factory entrance near the loading docks where a line of trucks unloaded parts and raw materials. This cargo is automatically sorted and stored using one of the most exciting systems in the entire facility: a new and fully self-contained “high” storage area approximately 120 feet high. Between these high shelves circled robotic elevators with containers full of spare parts. These elevators could move both horizontally and vertically with amazing speed, storing and retrieving all kinds of motorcycle components.

BMW Storage
A high storage area is vital for plant inventory and logistics. BMW’s photo.

With this system, only the computer knows where the container is on the shelf. There are no specific sections or divisions. Each inbox is stored on the nearest suitable shelf, its location is registered by the computer, and the parts sit there until they are needed. According to the guide, this seemingly chaotic approach was actually found to be the most efficient storage solution for BMW plant logistics. The only downside seems to be that it requires some serious climbing gear to service and maintain.

Let’s say one of the assembly lines needs a box of bolts. The computer recorded the location of the appropriate container when the automated elevators placed it on the shelf, so the elevator is dispatched for the bolts. It takes the container off the shelf, lowers it to ground level, and from there the parts can be automatically sent to the production line. Every day, more than a million parts move through the enterprise. Engines and frames are mated (“married,” according to BMW) together, and then hundreds of additional parts will be requested for immediate delivery from the area.

Robots and automation

So far, we have not encountered many employees of the plant. Their expertise will be needed later on the assembly lines and test stages. When it comes to simple, repetitive tasks like stocking shelves or moving boxes between production lines, BMW is obsessed with optimization through robotics and automation. There’s even a mail sorting robot. Human intelligence is better spent on the finer points of motorcycle manufacturing. I notice a repair shop filled with parts and devices – people are needed to maintain automation.

BMW robot
A cargo robot flies across the floor, electronically watching for obstacles. BMW’s photo.

The most common mobile robot looks like an industrial scale on wheels with a single long antenna. Each of these units is fully self-contained and capable of carrying over 500 lbs. It rolls under its load, raises the main platform to reach the load, and rolls to its designated destination. The tour guide showed how the robot’s peripheral sensors can detect a worker nearby or an obstacle, slow down and eventually stop until it’s safe to move again. Small cargo robots sometimes ride aboard large “trains” for transportation around the factory on a regular schedule.

Mail sorting robot
This robot can sort mail around the clock. BMW’s photo.

Elsewhere in the plant, complex components such as crankshafts, connecting rods, fuel tanks and frames are manufactured in-house. More than 560 transmissions are created here every day. A typical engine takes about two hours to assemble as it passes through technicians and inspection stations. Important engine parts are installed by hand, and a computer at each station records every step. If a motorcycle has a problem at any time, BMW can check more than 1,000 inspection points during the motorcycle’s assembly process.

Most of the welding on gas tanks is done by machines. The final welding is done by a professional welder with sure hands. The aluminum used in these containers is only 1.5 mm thick. BMW’s photo.

Other rooms I didn’t see were the welding shop and the paint shop. By this point, you won’t be surprised to learn that most of the welding and painting is done by robotic arms. Each body part is custom built and marked so that it can only be fitted to one specific motorcycle. Racks and racks of freshly painted parts lined up for installation when the tour reached the start of the production line.

BMW conveyor
Each stop brings the bike closer to completion. Note the fabric protectors on the valve covers to prevent scratches. BMW’s photo.

Bare frame all the way

A large yellow support, called a C-hook, extends down from a track on the ceiling to hold the combined engine and chassis, the start of a new motorcycle. A C-hook and track carry the motorcycle through all the assembly stations on the production line. When factory workers swipe their cards to start each shift, the height of the yellow hook automatically adapts to each worker’s height for optimal ergonomics. Even factory floor materials are designed to reduce stress and injuries in the workplace. Other devices are used to lift and place heavy components such as wheels.

BMW C-hook
It’s easy to see where the C-hook got its name. BMW’s photo.

The tour follows the C-hooks as workers add wiring harnesses, gas tanks, wheels, handlebars and headlights. All the parts that need to be installed with a particular bike move with it on the racks. If you’ve ever taken apart a BMW motorcycle or car, you’ll find markings on almost every part. The same equipment at the factory. Every container, cart and shelf had a label. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

BMW conveyor
Several models are produced simultaneously on each line. The main sorting factor is engine type. BMW’s photo.

On the CE 04 assembly line, instead of motors, frames receive batteries and motors. Workers were trained to assemble the new model using a combination of face-to-face training and augmented reality (AR) self-training. Special glasses superimpose real-time instructions, warnings, procedures and even torque values ​​on the user’s vision. BMW says AR will allow staff to quickly learn new models at any time. This may come in handy soon as BMW adds its own electric car manufacturing capabilities.

Motorcycles come off the assembly line looking unfinished, and for good reason. Parts that scratch easily, such as the windshield, mirrors and fairings, are not installed until the final dyno run. Inspectors test every feature of each bike, then go through the gears and rev range for a final check. Coolant and fuel systems are checked for leaks well before this part of the process, but a final fluid check is also on the list.

The final test of a BMW motorcycle
Experienced technicians check every feature of the bike while making sure it “feels”. BMW’s photo.

Most of the motorcycles produced at the Berlin plant are exported to other markets. The finished bikes are packed in boxes, loaded onto trucks and shipped to customers around the world. However, some workers in Berlin managed to build their own motorcycles with clever planning of changes. Not a bad bonus.

As the finished bikes are being crated, I have a sudden urge to rub my eyes. I realize I haven’t blinked in a long time trying to take in this experience, which was somehow even more…BMW than I expected.

BMW hives
BMW supports plant life in small recreation areas around the premises. 150,000 bees live in and around the factory. Their honey was delicious. BMW’s photo.

Environmental impact and sustainability

BMW’s emphasis on efficiency at the Berlin plant benefits more than output and workplace safety. Environmental impact also matters, especially if zero-emission vehicles play a larger role in the brand’s future planning. That’s why BMW’s 2030 CO2 targets call for a 20 percent reduction in emissions in the supply chain and an 80 percent reduction in emissions during production. The plant already produces all of its electricity with one of the largest generators in the city. The third target is to sell 100,000 electric two-wheelers in the next eight years. The development of more efficient internal combustion engines will continue in tandem, and BMW has shown no plans to abandon gasoline engines entirely.

How to visit the Berlin BMW factory

If you’ve ever been to Berlin and you like motorcycles, I think it’s worth a trip across town for the Berlin Factory Tour. BMW has a well-deserved reputation for quality, craftsmanship and industrial sophistication, and I was still in awe of the processes involved in creating Motorrad products. Of course, my experience is slightly colored by being attached to one of my personal bikes, but whether you ride a Honda, Harley or Hyosung, I think the tour will be worth your time.

Factory tours are available from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Later tours starting at 7.30pm are also available by appointment. Write to or visit to learn more.

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