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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

12th October 2017, Munich

BMW Landshut celebrates 50 years

The tremendously positive influence BMW’s i electric vehicle programme has had on Germany’s carbon fibre composites industry has been very apparent at the Smithers-Rapra Go Carbon Fibre 2017 conference held in Munich this week.

It’s no coincidence, for example, that the German government-backed €80 million Mai Carbon series of 35 R&D projects and its clustering of businesses was launched across Germany in parallel with the car company’s roll-out of its ground breaking i3 and i8 vehicles.

On Tuesday, a visit to BMW’s Landshut plant was organised. © Adrian Wilson

Mai Carbon has led to many significant new developments in terms of the faster and more efficient processing of carbon fibre composites projects and truly served as a vehicle for linking up Germany’s supply chain.

On Tuesday, a visit to BMW’s Landshut plant was organised as part of the programme.

It’s truly a small city, stretching over an area of 320,000 square metres and employing 4,100 people, with all of the associated social services on site to ensure their welfare.

BMW Landshut is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, having been acquired in 1967 as an already-established car plant formerly belonging to Hans Glas GmbH. It has been considerably expanded over the last half century, with plastics production introduced in 1973 and BMW’s foundry relocated to it at the end of the 1980s. Since 2010, the foundry for steel, aluminium and magnesium has operated with zero emissions and its central service for engine components and repairs ensures that every BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce car produced contains at least one component manufactured in Landshut. Around 86,000 tons of largely aluminium and magnesium is now handled by the foundry annually.

BMW Landshut is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. © Adrian Wilson

The Landshut plant is also the site where carbon composites have been manufactured for i3 and i8 vehicles since 2013.

In the hugely ambitious global manufacturing chain BMW established for the i Programme, carbon fibre is being manufactured at the company’s joint venture with SGL Moses City site in Washington, USA, with the precursor raw materials supplied from Mitsubishi in Japan. Moses City is now the world’s largest carbon fibre manufacturing plant and its fibre is then shipped to BMW’s Wackersdorf plant in Germany and turned into a wide range of fabrics.

From there, the fabrics are shipped to Landshut, to be turned into preformed parts via RTM, prior to being shipped to further BMW component and car manufacturing sites.

The Landshut plant is the site where carbon composites have been manufactured for i3 and i8 vehicles since 2013. © Adrian Wilson

It should be emphasised that the Life Cell car body for the BMW i3 weighs just 145kg, and that for the i8 180kg – truly unbeatable achievements in terms of lightweighting.

However, on succeeding vehicles such as the new 7 series models, BMW has moved away from purely carbon composite bodies, and is now using hybrid structures based on combinations of carbon fibre, steel and aluminium. Quite what this will mean in terms of recycling at end of life is the subject for a future article.

At Go Carbon Fibre 2017, it was emphasised that carbon fibre is still too expensive to be used extensively in its pure form, and this has resulted in a stumbling block for the BMW i programme – the vehicles have proved simply too expensive to gain mass traction.

The latest BMW 7 Series vehicles feature around 16 carbon composite components. © Adrian Wilson

Nevertheless, the latest BMW 7 Series vehicles still feature around 16 carbon composite components and the company’s commitment to the composites industry has been cemented with the formation of its new Centre for Lightweight Design, established at the Landshut plant in 2016.

BMW is planning to release a succession of new electric vehicles over the next few years and carbon fibre composites will play a crucial role in them.

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