Regensburg, Germany — In what is being considered an industry-first move from the German automaker, BMW announced Tuesday that its Regensburg, Germany plant has cemented an end-to-end automated process for inspecting painted vehicle surfaces.
The company says it has been using AI-controlled robots to process each vehicle individually to quality standards and has ultimately resulted in a “consistently high level of vehicle surface quality.”
“The scene resembles a well-rehearsed play,” BMW described in its press release.
“Four robots stand in the processing booth, surrounding a freshly painted body. As if on command, the robots begin working on the surface of the body. They sand it, apply the polishing compound, polish, change the attachments and switch out the sandpaper.”
“What is unique here is that the robots work on each body exactly where needed – because the tiny specks and bumps that can appear after the topcoat is applied and that we want to remove are in different spots on each vehicle,” said Stefan Auflitsch, BMW’s head of production paint application and finish at the Regensburg plant.
“Robots are normally programmed to follow the same pattern until they are reprogrammed. Using artificial intelligence allows them to work in a more tailored manner. With up to 1,000 vehicles going through the finishing process every working day, that adds up to 1,000 unique processes.”
The announcement goes on to explain the company’s Automated Surface Inspection and Automated Surface Processing procedures that go hand-in-hand with the work done by BMW’s AI-powered robots.
“In the Automated Surface Inspection, the system first uses deflectometry to identify deviating characteristics. While large monitors project black and white striped patterns onto the vehicle’s surface, cameras scan it and detect even the slightest variation in the reflective paintwork through the change in the striped pattern.”
According to project manager Daniel Poggensee, though these processes have been at work at Regensburg since March of 2022, this trifecta of automated paint inspection technologies marks a significant step forward for the OEM.
“The system already knows as much today as our best employees combined. We used the knowledge of our entire team to finalize the system; the functioning of the equipment relies on our associates’ unique expertise,” said Poggensee.
“We channelled their experience into the programming—on this basis, the algorithm now recognizes and objectively decides which features need post-processing.”