Tuesday 14 April 2015

ABB stakes robot claim in XE facility

Swedish robot maker and systems supplier ABB Robotics of Milton Keynes is the principal supplier of robots to the new Jaguar ‘plant within a plant’ at JaguarLandRover’s (JLR) Solihull facility.

JLR’s Solihull Manufacturing Plant marks a further significant milestone in its 70 year history as it welcomed the Jaguar brand to the site for the first time.

The West Midlands based plant marked the beginning of production of the all-new Jaguar XE with the official opening of its state-of-the-art £500m ‘factory within a factory’.

The Jaguar XE, which represents the culmination of more than £2 billion of product, infrastructure and technology investment, has been heralded as vitally important for the British automotive supply chain thanks to an additional £4 billion worth of contracts committed to 55 UK based tier one suppliers.

Together these suppliers, which cover the length and breadth of the country, have provided 55 per cent of the components to this all-new model in the Jaguar line-up.

JLR purchasing director, Ian Harnett, said of the impact of Jaguar’s latest model: “Jaguar Land Rover is one of the UK’s success stories, not simply because it has seen an upsurge in demand thanks to sustained investment, but because it has been able to support a burgeoning, high-tech, highly skilled supply base here in the UK. With each successive new or upgraded model, we are seeing the positive impact felt amongst the entire automotive sector which is great news for everyone committed to ensuring the UK remains truly competitive on a global stage.”

Amongst those suppliers besides ABB Robotics (ABB robots illustrated above), which have felt the positive impact of JLR’s continued investment in product creation include Rosti McKechnie, a Yorkshire based plastics specialist awarded a £75 million contract for the Jaguar XE.

The company has taken advantage of the opportunity presented by the growing UK automotive industry, installing a host of new robotic machinery following an investment of £18 million from its new Swedish owners. Their work force has doubled and is set to grow further in support of this contract award.

In the Midlands, Rugby-based Automotive Insulations, a company which manufactures thermal and acoustic insulation has invested in a new 65,000 sq. ft. premises to accommodate its expanding workforce in preparation to supply the Jaguar XE.

Birmingham based Sertec Group has invested £15 million in new presses, robotics and site upgrades, primarily at its Tyseley plant. This in turn has led to the creation of 107 new jobs to work on this vehicle alone.

Among  suppliers JLR has chosen not to highlight is of course Henrob, recently having become part of Swedish air compressor company Atlas Copco. Henrob supplies JLR with self-piercing rivets (SPRs) for the XE body-in-white illustrated above.

The SPRs form an important part of JLR’s shift to aluminium-intensive (AI) body structures as set out many years ago in Jaguar’s “Road map” for the future. This “road map” is now being implemented across the platform range, not only in this country but in JLR plants abroad following the company’s acquisition by Tata Motors of India. Henrob has been supporting JLR’s AI structures programme since the writing by Jaguar’s Mark White of the “road map”.

The arrival of the XE at the Solihull manufacturing plant is significant for both the Jaguar and Land Rover brands. Renowned for producing some of the world’s most iconic saloon cars in history, the advent of XE production at Solihull marks a key milestone for Jaguar, in this, its 80th year.

Of course, it was not always thus at Solihull. When BMW owned Land Rover, initial plans called for the Mini to be made at Solihull, but later of course production was sited at Rover’s Oxford plant, which became known as Plant Oxford in BMW speak. When the new Range Rover arrived at Solihull, BMW not surprisingly selected German robot maker KUKA GmbH of Augsburg to supply the robot equipment. KUKA even supplied the robots for the five-station Muller Weingarten press at Solihull – the first time Land Rover had enjoyed the facilities of an in-house stamping press for body panels. KUKA also supplied the robotic equipment for Mini production at Plant Oxford.

At the time, KUKA held a strong position in the UK as a robot supplier even though in its early days it occupied only a small office in Bedford under the control of one man – the general manager. From there it supplied the automation equipment – like the body framing line – and robots for the Austin Metro. The first major application of robots in the UK. KUKA also enjoyed close relations with Ford Motor Company – KUKA supplied the robots for Ford’s Halewood plant on Merseyside.

Since then, from modest beginnings, today ABB Robotics has assumed a pre-eminent role in much of the UK-based automotive industry, having effectively ‘seen off’ KUKA. Indeed, other robot suppliers have made attempts to penetrate the UK automotive sector – such as Comau, Fanuc Robotics and Kawasaki – but none has made the grade on the scale as ABB Robotics which is JLR’s principal robot supplier.

For Land Rover, welcoming the Jaguar brand to its home is the latest in a series of significant developments which have seen the site undergo a major transformation in just five years, and certainly since the days of BMW and Ford Motor Company. In this short time, Solihull production has almost trebled and the workforce has doubled.

The opening of its new body shop and trim and final facilities – which represent the largest single investment in the Solihull plant in its 70 year history, was commemorated today by employees who took part in a celebration of the company’s rich and world-renowned motoring brands.

Solihull operations director, Alan Volkaerts, was joined by Sir Stirling Moss OBE, Jaguar’s highly-regarded test driver Norman Dewis OBE, who developed no less than 25 significant Jaguar cars, and Land Rover aficionado Quentin Willson.

Speaking at the official opening, Volkaerts said: “This really is an incredibly special day for Jaguar Land Rover and the team here at Solihull, many of whom have witnessed the plant change beyond all recognition in recent time. The arrival of the new Jaguar XE marks a new chapter in the history of this plant and showcases the flexibility of our manufacturing operation thanks to a strategic investment in aluminium technologies and infrastructure.

“I speak on behalf of the whole team when I say what an incredible privilege it is to be producing not one, but two of the world’s best loved motoring brands.”

The start of XE production at the Solihull plant is the first step in making the site a dual-branded manufacturing operation. Earlier this year, the company confirmed its breakthrough Jaguar performance crossover, the F-PACE is to be built at the site.

Capitalising on its £1.5 billion investment in a technically-advanced aluminium vehicle architecture, JLR says it continues to push for “increased competitiveness, flexibility and efficiency to deliver more new and engaging products to customers around the world.”

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