Automation: Join the race

Martin Walder, Rockwell Automation talks about the need for lateral thinking to support a resurgent UK car industry.

The UK is a great place to build a car. But it’s not long since, even car companies still making in the UK, would have snorted doubtfully such a claim.

The UK has long been associated with the high precision engineering of motorsport and the high quality finishes of some of the most luxurious hand-built cars on the planet. But, for a while, it became commercially more sensible to build mass-produced cars in cheaper labour economies.

Roll with the good times

Yet now we are in a position where, according to The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), 2014 will see the UK rise to the third biggest car manufacturer in Europe behind only Germany and Spain, with a car rolling off a UK line every 20 seconds or so.

This has been achieved with a number of factors working in concert. Advanced automation is at the heart of it all with the rejuvenation of classic emotive marques such as Jaguar and Land Rover also playing an important part.

But it’s not just about the top end motors that are being made in the UK and selling well around the world and this is very encouraging for the future of the automotive industry here in the UK.

More accessible models are also being made in the UK by Nissan and Toyota, among others. These companies have sent a signal to the world of large scale production that the UK can offer a viable, nay competitive, location for the mass-production of cars for the first time buyer and the family.

Respond to opportunity

Rockwell Automation recently worked with Toyota at its plant in Burnaston, Derbyshire on the refurbishment of AGVs that serviced the presses at the beginning of the production line.

It’s a great example of how the attitudes and capabilities of the UK automotive industry have changed.

Originally classified as a refurbishment, a sudden change in manufacturing priorities due to the introduction of the new Auris and Avensis models, immediately elevated the project to a critical level.

However, a relatively short window of opportunity to complete the work – just two weeks summer closure of the factory – put pressure on to achieve the necessary improvements to efficiency and flexibility.

Some lateral thinking by Rockwell Automation Solution Partner, AND Automation, coupled to Toyota’s willingness to entertain alternative technologies, quickly solved the problem.

Today, a Rockwell Automation-based solution which answers the immediate needs of the factory is in place. And furthermore, the solution offers a simple and effective upgrade path which to accommodate the potential for further capability in the future.

Needless to say – the benefits to the UK economy of a strong automotive industry go beyond the increased exports and balance sheets of the manufacturers.

The success of every OEM manufacturing in the UK relies on a capable supply chain and this offers massive opportunity to UK automotive suppliers to respond competitively to OEM needs.

Making high quality car requires high quality components, skills and value-add services.

The resurgence of UK automotive should lead to stronger supporting industries and job creation, not to mention a real force for economic rebalance. But the local supply chain must be ready to make the manufacturing and business innovations necessary if it wants a share of the prize.