The Mechanical Engineering department departed for its first factory visit of the year to the notable and renowned Castle Bromwich production plant for Jaguar Cars on the 2nd of October. Whilst originally built for constructing Spitfires and Lancaster bombers in war time Britain, Jaguar took ownership in 1977. The Castle Bromwich plant is a base which, over the illustrious history of Jaguar, has produced timeless classics such as the XJS and iconic Series 3 XJ.
Whilst the journey to the Midlands wasn’t exactly ‘glamorous’, the warm welcome we received followed by the ‘Spirit of Jaguar’ presentation gave us an insight into the deep heritage of Jaguar, along with the immense pride which the employees feel when working for such a celebrated marque. Today, the Castle Bromwich plant assembles the elegant XK, the businessman executive XF, and the stately XJ.
Our very knowledgeable guide, who himself had been a worker at the plant since it was acquired by Jaguar informed us that, whilst this plant produces more cars than it ever had in its history, the number of employees from the time he was part of the manufacturing process had reduced from over 15000 to only 2200 today. The main reason for this was the substitution of human labour for autonomous machines. We witnessed this first hand; the factory was uncannily quiet.
The machines are capable of lifting chassis which earlier would require 3-4 people. Once programmed, a single robot can make the exact same holes in the body panels with the aid of lasers to guide it, down to an accuracy of ±0.05mm – a level which is near impossible even for the most dextrous of employees. To ensure safety and quality of the highest standard, just 100 robots apply over 3100 self-piercing rivets to each car along with epoxy resin sourced from the aerospace defence industry to form a very stiff and durable structure.
Speaking of chassis, one of the unique and distinguishing features of all Jaguar cars today, is the all-aluminium alloy chassis and body work. Aluminium has been used in all Jaguars since the legendary X120 of 1948. From a performance point of view, this gives ‘Jags’ an edge over their equally impressive German rivals. A lighter chassis results in nimbler handling as well as greater performance due to the higher power: weight ratios – the chassis alone is 150kg lighter than when a steel frame was used. From an ethical and environmental viewpoint, the flagship XJ is 85% recyclable. Using recycled Aluminium in the production of the various panels also means that Jaguar save 3.3 tonnes of CO2 when producing each XJ, compared to a car using 100 per cent non-recycled aluminium.
The production line runs as sublimely as a Swiss watch. Each section needs to be in sync with other sections to avoid delays and failures on the production line. Car chassis are designated individual numbers and their own unique QR codes. Each with detailed information such as the engine the customer specified, followed by interior specifications and the destination of the vehicle. Automated scanning machines at important points on the production line read the QR codes and redirect the cars along the line to whichever station they are required to go to. The best comparison to such a ingenious system would be how check in baggage is automatically sent to a plane in modern airports.
We got to observe the main stages of the assembly line; from the point the bare chassis arrives at the plant like a rack of skeletons, to when the powerful heart of the car is lowered into the engine bay, right up to when the upholstery is hand stitched and fitted to the interior.
With the emerging markets growing rapidly, our guide informed us that the largest markets for Jaguar are now Russia, China, and the native country of the owners of Jaguar Land Rover, India. During our brief time at the factory, we oversaw the engine blocks being installed on cars heading to far corners of the world including; Australia, India, USA and Brazil. The guide also mentioned how successful the rebranding of Jaguar LandRover by the TATA group had been worldwide. With demand growing exponentially in the Chinese and Indian markets for city cruisers such as the Evoque (waiting time for a new Evoque stretches into six months), there is a strong future for the Jaguar Land Rover brand.
On behalf of the Society, I would like to Ms. Laura Wigley and her team for extending a very warm welcome to us and to all of the tour guides who shared their insights and into how mass – scale car manufacturing occurs in leading luxury marques such as Jaguar.
Blog about past MES events.