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Pressing issue: Manufacturing the new Vivaro

26 June 2014 #Features & Interviews #News #Van

_DLS3056Wiper arms and inner door panels for Aston Martin and under-body parts for Bentley are among the OE parts MKP – Milton Keynes Pressings – turns out for some illustrious automotive clients.

Keeping such upmarket company does not mean that the Buckinghamshire business and its 210 employees are too proud to make items for commercial vehicle manufacturers however.

The three million or so components the family-owned firm turns out annually include brackets for Scanias and chassis cross-members for the all-new Vauxhall Vivaro, assembled less than 20 miles away in Luton. Volume production starts in August.

“We made the cross-members for the previous Vivaro too,” says MKP Managing Director, Michael Read. “In fact we’ve been working for General Motors for the past 30 years and used to produce parts for the Frontera.”

The dozen parts made for the latest Vivaro include bulkhead panels.

MKPMKP celebrates its 40th anniversary of its founding this year, and its contribution to Vivaro is but one example of the way in which Vauxhall is attempting to source as many parts for the latest Vivaro as it can domestically. Around 40% of the components the newcomer contains are made in Britain; a 60% improvement on the UK content of its predecessor.

New Vivaro should result in £600m worth of new business for British suppliers during its production lifetime, says Vauxhall. Among those benefiting are Tenneco- Walker (exhausts), International Automotive Components (carpets), Shape Corp (front cross-member), TI Group Automotive (fuel tanks), Mitsumi Electro (GPS antenna) and Kautex Textron (screen wash reservoirs and hoses).

As its long-established links with MKP indicate, Vauxhall is willing to stay loyal to suppliers that continue to prove their worth.

Even closer to Luton than MKP, Magna Seating’s Dunstable factory and its 53 employees have been kept busy making seats for the departing Vivaro, including rear seats for the passenger models, and are turning them out (albeit to a different, improved, design) for its successor as well.

Output has been running at a healthy 506 Vivaro seats a day – 426 single and double front seats, 80 rear seats – on a single shift. The shift pattern mirrors Luton’s own.

The seats are shuttled down to the Vivaro assembly line six miles away in the exact order Vauxhall requires so that production is not disrupted. The shuttle service has to be efficient; the buffer stock of seats Luton holds is small.

Magna has installed a new production line to build seats for the new van.

While the seat covers and internal steel work come from the Czech Republic and the airbags, seat belts and seat belt pre-tensioners are made in Hungary, the plastics and foam come from British suppliers.

“The booming British automotive industry is now big enough to encourage a much larger supply base,” says Vauxhall Purchasing and Logistics Director, Mark Poulton. “Local content benefits UK plc as well as making sound business sense, giving added flexibility and reducing our carbon footprint.”

Now the UK’s sole remaining van factory and its biggest producer of commercial vehicles by volume, Luton’s success in winning the contract to assemble the latest Vivaro has secured 1,200 jobs for the next 10 years. It has involved an investment of £185m including £76m pumped into improved manufacturing facilities and £90m into vendor tooling and special equipment.

Ultra-high quality standards helped the factory win the Vivaro deal says Plant Director, Mike Wright, who has spent 16 years working at Luton.

“We’ve received the BIQ – Built in Quality – Level IV award,” he says. “Only two other GM plants worldwide have got it and we’re the only one in Europe.”

A high level of efficiency clearly helped too.

“We have to be really lean,” he observes. “The UK is a comparatively expensive country to make vehicles in and Luton builds a fairly small number of vans, but we’ve got a flexible workforce and over the past 10 years we’ve managed to halve the number of man-hours it takes to produce each one.

“In other words we’ve doubled our efficiency.”

As things stand, Luton is building 44,000 vans on a single shift with 52% exported to 27 European markets. Almost 50,000 examples of the new Vivaros should be built next year, its first full year of production, and Wright and his colleagues are hoping to introduce a second shift as demand for the new van ramps up; but not before 2015.

“We’re looking at it, we’re juggling the numbers and we’re going to get there,” he says.

At the Commercial Vehicle Show back in April, Wright told TNB that he hoped to increase annual output to 54,000 units on a double shift as a precursor to building 65,000 to 67,000 vans a year with an ultimate target of around 75,000. Moving to a double shift will involve recruiting an additional 250 to 300 employees.

Suppliers will have to expand their workforces in order to keep up. Magna says that its Dunstable plant might have to hire a further 30 to 40 employees to keep pace; assembling rear seats for Vivaro is a particularly labour-intensive activity.

Offering more cargo space than the departing model and completely re-styled both inside and out, the new Vivaro is powered by a 1.6-litre diesel at 90hp, 115hp, 120hp or 140hp. The two most-powerful offerings are equipped with twin turbochargers.

Luton started building Vivaro and its sister models back in 2001, has now built 900,000 of them in their various incarnations and will probably see the millionth roll off the line in 2015. GM’s plan to double its van sales across Europe by 2022 will undoubtedly benefit the plant.

As well as assembling Vivaros the factory plays host to a conversion centre that can modify them to meet customer needs. It opened in 2009 and has handled over 25,000 vehicles to date.

“It has done work for the Royal Mail, BT and British Gas among others,” says Wright.

“Nor does it cater solely for the big fleets,” he adds. “It will convert as few as half-a-dozen vehicles for a customer; or even a one-off.”

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