For the person who adores driving, you cannot beat the feeling or the smell of sliding into a brand new car. The anticipation of waiting for delivery evokes those childhood memories of Christmas Eve and my better half has recently taken delivery of her brand new car – and for a fortnight, it was living with an excited child as she counted off the days akin to a mental advent calendar. But I wonder how many of us actually consider the toils and efforts of those many unsung men and women who collectively play their part in assembling your brand new car back at the factory. It’s also a great shame that so many good cars end up in breakers yards through abuse and neglect way before their time and I wonder if more people would love and cherish them a litter better if they saw the amazing operations that take place on the assembly line.
Toyota GB has been very supportive of AUTOBRITANNIA.NET and we were not going to turn down the chance to visit its UK manufacturing facility located in Burnaston near Derby along with another motor related forum. Now home to the Auris and Avensis production lines, the plant has been producing cars since 1992 when the Carina E became the first UK built Toyota to roll out of the East Midlands factory. But this is not the only Toyota factory in Great Britain; another facility in the North Wales area of Deeside produces engines not only for the Derbyshire factory, but other Toyota operations around the world. Their approach to manufacturing reflects the modern industry norm by operating what it calls a “lean manufacturing system” whereby strong relationships are built with suppliers to deliver and supply components only as production rates require rather than keeping huge stocks of componentry on site.
The sight of steel coils in the press shop is amazing with a smell of hot oiled steel that’s incredibly evocative to engineering minded people. To the layman, it’s difficult to comprehend that these coils of grey sheet metal will eventually come out the plant as a brand new car just a short while later. The ground thumps with the rhythm of a mechanical heartbeat as machine presses make their mark on the steel – some of which operate at a pressure of over 4000 tonnes. Each pressing or sub assembly is matched up and welded by the automated robots that go about their work with ruthless efficiency. I found myself wondering how these robots never sway from their task, not having to worry about the mortgage, the Wife’s affair with the milkman or little Billie getting suspended from school – just swift silent efficiency all in the name of customer satisfaction.
The same continues on the assembly line where the manual labour comes into effect – quality is the word and of course Toyota has a reputation to defend. Every worker (or “member” as they are known) has the right to stop the line if they see or suspect a quality related issue during final assembly. Each member is assigned to a task that must not be deviated and every aspect of the cars build up has its own precise method with each process taking 67 seconds at the time of our visit. When operating at full line speed, one car rolls off the production line every minute. Regular meetings take place whereby production methods are discussed and members are encouraged to submit ideas where efficiency or quality can be improved – many have been implemented in the plants history to great effect.
The manpower is well utilised and one thing did surprise which was the lack of manual handling of parts and supplies to the folk on the tracks. The members have made battery operated mules that follow coloured lines delivering parts to each work station and to see them quietly go about their business is amazing to see. No doubt similar ideas and tactics take place in other car assembly plants in the UK but at Toyota you can certainly sense the pride and ruthless battle for never ending improvement for quality. The vehicles tested by AUTOBRITANNIA.NET so far produced by Toyota at Burnaston have all felt well made and robust. Japanese owned and yet British made, it makes you feel proud that we are producing vehicles for the world – and long may they do so!
Thanks are due to Bob Burr at Toyota for organising the factory visit and we will have a review of the new Burnaston built Toyota Auris Hybrid – coming very soon!
You can read more about Toyota and its UK manufacturing facilities by CLICKING HERE