IN mid-October the Phyllis Court Club computer section — one of the largest of the
IN mid-October the Phyllis Court Club computer section — one of the largest of the 30 interest groups at the club — went on an outing to the BMW Mini plant in Cowley, Oxford.
We arrived just before 5pm and for the next two hours, a new world opened up. A Mini-world.
Kitted out with overalls, protective spectacles and an audio-guide system, we were taken by mini-bus to the robot body shell assembly plant. Incredible. Amazing. Awesome! A huge modern factory seemingly occupied only by yellow robots working away within their pens.
The robots were twisting and turning and nodding as far as the eye could see in all directions. Passing components, made at BMW’s pressed steel plant in Swindon, from one robot to another within or between pens, they managed to gradually build up a whole welded body shell of a Mini with almost no human intervention.
One vital stage is when the completed car body is measured electronically to make sure that it is accurate to within a minute tolerance — less than half a millimetre — so that all other components will fit. It’s certainly impressive when the car body is lowered on to the engine and all the connections marry up exactly.
In a second enormous building, we saw the subsequent stages of production. Each Mini, ordered to individual specification by a customer somewhere in the world six weeks before, was now put together.
Through the paint shop and then two-door, four-door and new five-door Clubmans have the required parts delivered to them in turn and installed, either by more robots or by humans, in 68-second timed intervals.
Produced at the astonishing rate of 900 per day, the completed Minis are then driven off the assembly line straight on to waiting trains or lorries to go to their customers around the world.
We left the factory full of admiration for man’s ingenuity and looking forward to further eye-opening visits.