12.05.2016 - 12.05.2016
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Thursday, May 12, 2016
There must be something about Europe or vacationing or vacationing in Europe. B4 and I sleep so well; better than at home. No alarm was needed this morning because we had no commitment until 11:30 at which time we were to be back at BMW Welt for our delayed tour of the manufacturing plant.
B4 tackled email and I set off for the Englischer Garten (English Garden) which abuts our Hilton Munich Park Hotel. It's a park, not a garden; large but not much of a park actually. There is a lake with ducks and geese and bike paths and walking paths but there is nobody doing much mowing or cleaning up. Anyway, I got an hour’s walk in before we met for breakfast and set out by taxi for our plant tour.
We were with a group of twenty people which seemed to me to be almost a greater number of visitors than there were employees in the plant we saw. Here, they put approximately one car per minute off the end of the assembly line which is virtually identical to what we did at the Kansas City Leeds Chevy plant fifty years ago when I worked on the assembly line there. But, instead of many hundreds of workers as there were there, here there are many hundreds of robots. "Science Fiction" is what B4 called it. For me it was reminiscent of my time as the second shift driver's side hood hanger building Chevelles.
My emotions were mixed. I marveled at the precision and speed of the choreography that the robots danced and quickly discerned one reason that today’s quality is so much better than it was in “my day.” However, for each robot, there are three or six or more families who aren’t supported by a paycheck from here. Certainly, this is also true at Ford’s Claycomo Kansas City Assembly Plant or General Motors’ Fairfax Kansas City Assembly Plant. It is just that here, I saw it with my own eyes. These robots—which assuredly required workers to assemble and program them—don’t buy cars or diamonds or groceries or go on vacations or out to dinner. They save money. The problem is that the money they save doesn’t get plowed back into a consumer economy because the robots don’t consume. One job lost begets other jobs lost. They sure make great cars though—inexpensively and precisely and without strike or complaint or accident. They just don’t buy the cars they produce. Henry Ford would struggle with it as do I.
From time to time we would be perched on a catwalk over a process in which I had been involved five decades earlier. One example is called “marriage.” The chassis of the vehicle has been assembled to include the frame, drivetrain, engine and axles. That sits upon a cradle. The body of the vehicle has been stamped, welded together, painted and sub-assembled. That hangs on a “claw.” The “claw” lowers the body onto the chassis in a process called “marriage.” At the BMW plant, that is all done with no human workers in sight. At my old Chevy plant, there were eight of us close at hand to get the task done. We all made a great wage. One other difference, however, is that we didn’t do it as well as these machines do.
Later in the tour we came to an assembly position farther down the line where a “colleague” held an air wrench attached to an air hose. He would use the tool to tighten screws or bolts—I couldn’t tell which—holding one piece of the car to another piece of the car. I did that as well. It was, for me, mind-numbing work repeating the same operation over and over and over once a minute for a nine hour shift. Here, watching this man, I would react the same as I did then—I am certain.
One other point of difference is that there were no “pits” beneath the cars that I could see. That is to say that when something or other needed to be done to the undercarriage of the car rather than having a worker standing beneath it in a pit as it moved along the assembly line holding an air wrench above his head to bolt this to that, here they rotate the claw that holds the partially assembled car so that the undercarriage moves from horizontal to a vertical position for a “colleague” to deal with at chest level with nor arms holding tools above one’s head. What an improvement in “colleague” quality of work life that is. It is just too bad that there aren’t more “colleagues” to enjoy that improved quality of life.
After our tour ended, we returned to the museum to take a movie of a kinetic sculpture which B4 wants to use for a business example. Quite amazing, it is a work by Joachim Sauter consisting of 714 metal spheres suspended from the ceiling on hair thin wires that are animated individually to create three dimensional images that morph from one to another. The work moves from randomness to recognizable and then back again. Of course, there is a car theme which holds it all together. It was quite beautiful to behold. I was unable to upload the video for this blog. Try Youtube: Kinetic Sculpture BMW. You'll find it there. It is quite amazing.
Afterwards, we made our way via taxi back to the Hilton where email and a call to trusted Jimmy, our contractor now finishing the remodel of our new home occupied a couple of hours. Nobody on the planet would warrant my trust to do what Jimmy is doing during these weeks that we are gone other than Jimmy himself. After doing five projects with him, I have come to love him. Should you ever require a fine and capable and conscientious contractor, I have him for you.
Next it’s dinner at our German Italian restaurant and then packing. We’re off to the airport at 9:00 tomorrow morning.