If you’ve never been to an engine factory, it might come as a surprise to find there are more multi-million pound machining systems than people: JLR’s brand-spanking new facility in Wolverhampton, the Engine Manufacturing Centre, is no exception.
In the machine shop at the 120-acre site close to the M54 motorway there are 180 cube-like boxes, each equipped with a robotic milling, grinding or drilling machine, all quietly humming away while being run by a staff of just 50.
The staff are probably humming away, too, comforted by the bright and clean, high-tech working environment. The bulk of the shop floor staff have never worked in a car plant or manufacturing, joining from all walks of life.
This is a green plant, too. As JLR’s overhead pics show, the roofs of the three main buildings are festooned with solar panels, generating a claimed 6MW of electricity, much of which is fed back into the national grid.
Reputedly, JLR also did a good deal on this huge greenfield site - just about the only one that was suitable and available post-2008 - when other industrial companies were cutting back on investment. Since then, investment has poured in and it is now in the middle of a £500m injection.
But the nitty-gritty of an engine plant is inside the sheds, where 100 top-end five-axis, computer controlled milling, grinding and polishing machines work their magic.
This technology-packed machining hall feeds alloy blocks and heads into two assembly lines for the Ingenium family of engines, which is currently limited to four-cylinder diesels, but is nearly ready to start pumping out four-cylinder petrols. The first 110g/km Ingegium AJ200 diesel rolled out last year.
Unfortunately on our press visit, news of the rumoured straight-six Ingenium is thin-on the ground.
But the machining shop is working hard, on two shifts, starting each day or night with part-machined, or ‘super-cubed’ blocks, heads and crankshaft forgings mostly supplied from German foundries. Super-cubing reduces the weight and volume of the block and head castings and crank forgings, making them cheaper to truck to the UK.
The complex oil pan casting has a simpler route to Wolverhampton, chugging up the M6 from Coventry.
The first step is to double-check that the castings are not porous and don’t suffer shrinkage – dimensional inaccuracy – before feeding them in to the machines where the intake ports, bearing faces and bores for the dry-liners are machined to accuracies of 3 microns – fractions of a millimetre. A human hair is 50 microns.