While in the Greenville area, I remembered that John and Pam of Oh the Places they go wrote a story about a BMW factory tour they took in Spartanburg. It turns out that the BMW Zentrum Museum and “Plant Spartanburg” were only 25 miles from our campground, and I just knew Steve would love the tour – I was right! The plant, where the X3, X5 and X6 models are built, is the only BMW manufacturing facility in North America.
This place is HUGE! There are 7,000 employees working at this plant, and it has been under almost constant expansion since it opened in 1994. They already have over 4 million square feet of factory space completed, and it will be around 7 million when the current expansion is finished.
We were extremely fortunate to get on this tour. We had reserved about a week ahead, and only got into their Thursday tour because of a cancellation. Then we found out that the next day would be their last tour for many months, since they had to re-tool the factory for the expansion and full production of the new X4. Whew, that was close! The museum will remain open, of course, but it was the vehicle assembly tour that we really wanted to see.
This was a great tour. Our guide took us from the point where the bare, painted body enters the assembly plant to where the completed vehicle is driven out the door. We would have liked to see some of the actual construction of the steel body prior to painting, but it was not part of this tour. We did learn that once the body is painted – with the doors attached – the first thing they do is remove the doors and send them via conveyor to another part of the factory that does just door assembly. We were told that door assembly is one of the most complex parts of building the vehicle. Once the doors are completed, they are put back on the conveyor and sent over to meet the vehicle they belong to near the end of the assembly line. The inventory control, scheduling, robotics and other complex machines were fascinating to watch.
We can’t compare this tour to other manufacturers, since it was our first, but it was very impressive. The non-union workforce seems to really take pride in their work, and the job benefits available to them are good. The assemblers work 4 10-hour shifts per week, and each of them is trained to do 4 different tasks on the line. During their shift, they are rotated every 2.5 hours to another one of their task specialties, which reduces the chance of repetitive injuries and boredom.
Unfortunately, cameras were strictly prohibited so we have no photos to share with you. This is a must-see if you are in the Spartanburg, SC area. But you must make reservations well in advance! We tried to reserve a tour at the Hyundai factory near Montgomery, AL while we were there and found it was booked for a whole month in advance. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who like factory tours!
Photography was allowed at the Zentrum museum and here are a few images.
We stayed at the Ivy Acres RV Park near Greensville during this stopover. Steve’s review of the park is here. We loved this quiet park with a view of a beautiful green meadow.
We both enjoyed downtown Greenville a lot – it has many miles of walking/biking trails, and sort of an old-town feel, even though it has a population of about 70,000. There are many excellent restaurants and other stores too, and parking is readily available.
We spent two days walking both directions on the 17-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, and the images below are what we saw along the way while eating yummy food. We would definitely come back here again!