On the 24th of November, fourteen of us ventured to Cowley to see how MINIs are made. The plant was originally set up by William Morris in 1913 with one of the earliest models being the Morris Oxford, more commonly known as the Bullnose Morris. After WW2 a popular model was the Morris Minor and the original Mini was launched in May 1959 in both Morris Mini and Austin Seven versions.
In later years while under the ownership of the Rover Group the site manufactured the Honda Civic (being similar to one of the smaller Rover designs) and even Rolls Royces before being bought by BMW who invested some £150 million to develop the MINI plant.
We were given an overview of the plant and shown some old models and some specials including one covered in cow skin and some from “The Italian Job”, before being transported in a mini bus with safety glasses and personal audio system (to enable us to hear our guide over the din), to a huge shed where the pressed steel parts were assembled. They were pre coated and silver although referred to as white and the assembly involved about 900 bright orange twisting and nodding robots making 6000 spot welds per car. The large parts seemed to arrive from holes in the ceiling from an upper floor but the smaller pieces were loaded at various stages into hoppers by hand. The pressed metal components were produced by the plant in Swindon or elsewhere and transported here for assembly.
The Probus group then went in the mini bus again to the main production line where the painted and baked body shells arrived for the fitting of the rear axle, fascia, glass etc. by more robots but also people. Of interest was the fact that each car was made to a specific order so that the production line might have a blue 4 door followed by a yellow 6 door with a sun roof followed by a red 3 door. The engines are produced at Hams Hall in Birmingham and were pushed in from below. Only then was the pre-made front of the car connected. Cowley only has a supply of all major components for two hour’s production at any time so the logistics of “just in time” supply is critical. The seats, trim and eventually wheels were fitted and exactly 11 litres of fuel before each car was thoroughly tested. A car comes off the assembly line every 68 seconds and production continues 24 hours a day. They go straight to car transporters or trains to reduce storage for eventual delivery to over 110 countries
Retired RAF Wing Commander Bryan Jenkins commented, “I am really glad that I went, it was really amazing to see the technology in action. As a Chartered Engineer, I am amazed at how complicated each part of the car is, knowing that each part must be individually designed, manufactured (somewhere) and then assembled into the car to the customer’s specification. In parallel, the car assembly line must also be designed – all 1,000 robots plus a few people and that is even more amazing. So I will look at Minis in a different light now.”
Probus Club Vice President Nick Waring said “The future is here being able to produce cars so efficiently but with even more on the road it doesn’t bode well as this was a good trip spoiled by the horrendous journey home caused by too much traffic”!