BMW motorcycle
Bryant University MBA students visited Berlin's BMW motorcycle plant through the program's Global Immersion Experience. Photo credit: BMW Group PressClub.
Bryant MBA students explore the cutting edge at BMW Motorradwerk Berlin
Jan 30, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

The side door wasn’t working at the BMW Motorcycle plant in Berlin, Germany, necessitating a more dramatic entrance through the front gate. “Who wants to pull the cord?” the tour guide, Martin, a former motorcycle racer and test rider, asked the group of Bryant MBA students, gesturing to a red rope that would open the barrier.

Before he even finished speaking, Daniel Baruch ’24 MBA volunteered, barely able to contain his excitement. With a firm yank, he opened the way to a technological wonderland — and a glimpse of the cutting edge.

The Bryant contingent had traveled nearly 4,000 miles to the BMW Motorradwerk through the Graduate Immersion Experience, a 10-day trip to Prague and Berlin where MBA students explored other cultures, learned from international experts, and studied how business is done around the world. That very day also included a visit to the Reichstag, the seat of the German federal parliament, and a walking tour of the city, where students visited the Dresden Gate, inspected the remains of the Berlin Wall, and paid their respects at the Holocaust memorial.

At the BMW motorcycle plant, the students visited one of the most modern logistics centers in the motorbike industry and witnessed first-hand the entire production process of customized motorbikes. Manufactured from around 2,000 parts and components according to customer specifications, the bikes are produced through a mix of state-of-the-art technologies and the hard work of more than 350 dedicated employees.

“Very few people have ever seen this before. But it is too spectacular not to show you.”

For Brennan Hart ’23 ’24MBA, who studied Global Supply Chain Management as an undergrad student at Bryant, the tour was a chance to watch his education come to life. He apprenticed as an operations engineer in high school — “I’ve always liked to take things apart and put things together,” he said, and found a way to take that interest in a new direction in college.

The trip to the facility, Hart said, was an opportunity to learn from the best. “This is one of the best-known companies in the world and they’re revered for their engineering,” he noted. “We had to travel halfway away around the world to see this.”

Though they kept to a pre-assigned path, they still spent most of the tour within reaching distance of the men, women, and machines hard at work. At one juncture, a worker driving a forklift waved good naturedly as the students crossed the lane in front of him like a row of ducklings, bemused at the unusual introduction.

The students, dressed in yellow safety vests, bore witness to the entire production process from the automated warehouse — a towering skyscraper of shelves and components stored, maintained and picked by artificial intelligence — to the new engine production line only recently opened in November. “Very few people have ever seen this before,” Martin noted. “But it is too spectacular not to show you.”

Along the way, he gave the students an insider's perspective on the business, from what it felt like to ride one of the racing models at more than 100 miles per hour to how subtle changes in the aluminum “recipe” could make an important impact on overall performance.

"It’s like watching artisanal woodworking or custom carpentry, and how these innovative processes come together to produce something so complex.”

Olivia Fee ’23 ’24MBA, who also studied Global Supply Chain Management and consulted for Electric Supply Center through her practicum capstone course, appreciated the complete overview the visit provided, as well as the hands-on learning experience.

“We're able to learn so much in the classroom, but having an experience like this and actually being right there and seeing it all firsthand is really cool,” she said.

Throughout the tour, the students witnessed the carefully choreographed dance between worker and machine. Martin noted that automation and other advancements in technology had allowed the plant to double production in the last ten years, but that the human element was still a vital part of its operations.

“Don’t worry, he just wants to be friends,” he jested when an automated parts mover passed close by.

But if the human/machine interplay had become normal at the facility, it was still like another, more advanced, world for the MBA students. “It’s like looking at the future,” noted James Galleher ’23 ’24MBA. “If the people back home saw this, they’d be amazed.”

Part-time MBA student David Puleo ’24MBA, vice president of operations for GTR Protoplus, noted that his company manufactures some of the components used by the automated movers. Puleo, whose family has a history in the manufacturing industry, has seen it evolve over the course of decades.  “I grew up on a shop floor,” he pointed out, yet the trip was still thrilling. “Visiting this plant is completely immersive; it was a total sensory experience.”

The tour concluded with the assembly section, where disparate parts, selected from thousands of options, are put together to create one of BMW’s 36 motorcycle models. For Hart, it was a lesson in the power of lean processes and pinpoint engineering. “It’s very interesting to see how everything is all built to order. It’s like watching artisanal woodworking or custom carpentry, and fascinating to see how these innovative processes come together to produce something so complex,” he stated.

The message was clear: The future was here, and it would be following them home to the United States.

During a lull in the action, Martin pulled down an order sheet — a “recipe” for a finished bike — from the wall and showed it to the group. This particular motorcycle, a 1300 GS “Adventure” model, was headed to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, upon completion.

The message was clear: The future was here, and it would be following them home to the United States.

But for Hart, the conclusion of the tour wasn’t the end of the experience. His mind spinning, turning over the processes and procedures he witnessed in his head, he reflects on the visit — and the future possibilities. “They’re not done yet. They’re all still learning how this works and how to improve it,” he noted, impressed — and excited to see what comes next.

Plus, he admitted, seeing the bikes come together was pretty cool. “I wasn’t much interested in motorcycles when we started the tour,” Hart laughed. “But now I’m thinking, maybe I’ll own one of them one day.” 

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