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Editor: John Mortimer
Monday, 8 October 2012
Vauxhall Van Plant prepares for change
Van Plant at Luton, Bedfordshire, is undergoing exciting changes in preparation
for the launch of the new X82 van in second quarter 2014.
Introducing a new vehicle onto
the manufacturing floor is never easy; the more so if it is a van. Unlike cars,
new van models are rolled out only once every 12 years or so; the team that
launched the last one is unlikely to be that which launches the next.
And so it is at the
Vauxhall Van Plant, Luton where engineers are making ready for X82, scheduled
for 2nd quarter 2014. According to plant director Mike Wright, it is
important for the project team to be in place well ahead of launch. The X82
replaces the current X83 design.
‘We have to make sure the
team we have is capable of building the vehicle. Very soon, we will be off to
France with a hand-picked team of our most experienced people,’ he said. ‘They
will see the vehicle for the first time. In November they will see prototypes
when they go to Sandouville, near Le Havre. We expect our first build vehicles
here in June 2013. We have seen computer-generated images of the new vehicle.
It looks fantastic.’
The X83 Vauxhall/Opel
Vivaro is a joint venture of General Motors and Renault in France. Luton currently
supplies Renault with about 16,000 vehicles a year, but from 2014, the entire
output will be Vauxhall and Opel only. Renault will build its own version of
X82 at Sandouville. Indeed, from January 2013, Luton will be purely an
The launch date of the new
vehicle has slipped somewhat. The Luton plant expected to launch he vehicle in
January 2014. But agreeing final details of the design has delayed the launch
by several months and even now the design of the French version is evolving as the final design is believed to be not yet complete.
Although the base vehicle is the same for both
companies, the Vauxhall/Opel vehicle will have a different front end. The UK
company has a different styling strategy and its work is almost complete. Those who
have seen the design have expressed great satisfaction. Meanwhile,
engineers at Renault continue to work on their design; they have seen what the
Vauxhall/Opel vehicle looks like.
Some 12 years ago, plant engineering
at Luton was Renault’s responsibility but with X82, Vauxhall engineers have had
an opportunity to refine major production areas to optimise manufacture and
increase efficiency through TIP – throughput improvement process – used to
achieve targets of each individual shop.
In an iterative process, various
areas of manufacturing are being improved. New robot cells are being installed,
new lines laid, banks and buffers changed to allow more floor space, a new seam
sealing cell introduced in the paint shop, and in the press shop work on the
blanking line has prepared for refurbishment.
The bodyshop is where Wright
and his team had most work to do and in the summer shutdown some £4 million of new
facilities and robot cells were installed.
Already, significant flooring
work has been completed: an area the size of a football pitch was concreted
over to make way for the new standalone bodyside and framing lines that will
form part of the new X82 process route in time for Job 1. At vehicle launch,
scheduled for the 2nd quarter 2014, X83 lines will be bypassed and removed and
the new X82 lines opened up.
Last month, during plant
shutdown, four new robots out of 22 were introduced as part of a trial on the
body shop. Further robots will be installed in the bodyshop. New robots
In total, over 100 new robots
will be installed, forming part of the £95 million investment programme at the
plant. Already some robots have been installed as Wright and his team work
their way through their planned programme of work to update the plant ahead of
launch. But the main installation will take place next year – engineers are now
in the planning and trial phase.
The press shop, body shop,
paint shop and general assembly are the principal recipients of investment. In
the body shop, there will be new bodyside lines, new bespoke cells for X82, and
a new framing line. The existing underbody line will remain.
Nearly half the planned £95
million can be accounted for by the body shop that produces van shells prior to
painting. Planned investment in the paint shop is around £6 million as new
robots and equipment are installed. The press shop will call for a further £4 million
and the remainder will be spent in general assembly. About £1 million has
already been spent in the press shop where there will be no new presses.
Robots are sourced from
Fanuc, GM’s preferred supplier, as part of its global standard. The main robot
automation spend is not on individual machines but on controls, the infrastructure
and time to taken to adjust the robots and make them operational. Robot welding
guns, for example, can be more expensive than robots. Some robots carry tool
changers and anti-collision devices to combine two functions of welding.
In the press shop, 29 new
dies for X82 will be split so that two sets of panels are taken down the line. The
current facility accepts only single panels. Mechanical overhaul of the
blanking lines has been completed and electrical overhaul is due later this
year. The majority of dies will be sourced from China and Korea.
‘We have our specialist die engineers from the
UK going to China next month to work with the Chinese suppliers to improve the
quality of the dies and reduce costs. We are supported also by the GM China
organisation. This is when we really lever the full resources of GM as a global
manufacturer.’ said Wright.
Although most of the main
pressings are done on site, there remains a strategy to examine unused capacity
and effectively ‘fill up’ the press lines to improve utilisation. It may be
possible to introduce more work onto the lines.
Engineers are also looking at alternative; companies that can undertake small
pressings and structural parts. These companies help generate the local economy
and are long, trusted suppliers to the motor industry and Vauxhall. Hours per van
In any plant, hours per van
(HPV) and gross conversion ratios (GCR) are crucial performance yardsticks. If
Luton had run at its maximum capacity of 103,000 units in 2009 it could have
hit an HPV of 19.5 and a GCR of 4. Wright describes 4 as ‘fantastic’ and a
benchmark performance. In 2011, Luton hit 68,103 units with a year-end workforce
of 1,100. (GCR is a ratio of HPV to Basic Engineering Content (BEC) or the
total added value work content to build a van.)
At present, with the
current design, the
gross conversion rate is running at about 4.89 or between 23 and 24 hours per
van. So the new vehicle represents a significant productivity and cost improvement.
For example, general
assembly of X82 will be greatly simplified as powertrain options will be
reduced from nine to three. Some while ago, mention was made that diesel-only
vehicles would be sold, but currently engineers are not disclosing if there
will be petrol options also, though the option numbers suggest there will be a petrol version.
However, with X82 there
will be greater emphasis on SVO – Special Vehicle Operations – where additional
value-added can be introduced into what are effectively bespoke vehicles. SVO
will have new robots and a new spray booth to give better uptimes.
‘We will be able to put the
main line colours in the SVO booth,’ added Wright. ‘That will increase our
throughput in the shops. We will be spraying SVOs much more efficiently.’
For X82 introduction, Luton
is edging towards 1,013 employees with contract staff also well under the
previous level of 400. The Luton workforce may tip below 1,000 for the
Luton is not a highly
automated plant but it is nevertheless small and efficient. Space is at a
premium and several decisions regarding the location of vendors on site have yet
to be resolved, including for example manufacture of longitudinals and cross
members, tyre and wheel, and small structural parts.
As launch date approaches
there will be pressure on the sales teams to balance run-out sales of X83 while
generating new business for X82. Luton builds only to order, thus minimising inventory; it does not build for stock. Those days are long gone.
Ironically, Luton will play
an important role in helping Renault introduce its vehicle. In the past,
Renault has not built the Trafic but relied on Nissan in Barcelona and
Opel/Vauxhall in Luton to meet its requirements. Nissan currently builds about
900 high-roof versions of the van for Vauxhall/Opel and this arrangement is
likely to continue.
So Renault’s engineers at Sandouville
have no experience of building vans of the size of Trafic; clearly they are anxious
to learn as much as they can from the British company, a point not lost on Wright
and his team. Renault’s engineers will want all the help they can get. Just how
much of Luton’s shop floor performance data they will reveal to their French
colleagues remains to be seen.∎