The Mini Location

If you studied the locations mentioned in The Mini System you may be wondering why assemble the cars in Oxford.  With 200 truck deliveries of parts arriving each day and 2 trains of cars departing each day, wouldn’t it make more sense to assemble the cars in Birmingham, Swindon or Southampton and reduce some of the transport costs?

The answer is largely historical.  Cars have been built at the Oxford factory site for more than 100 years.  The first was a Morris Oxford in 1913, with the factory producing around 20 hand-built cars per week.

By 1932 there were 4 mechanised production lines, producing cars for Morris Motors, such as the Morris Minor.

When the Mini was launched in 1959, the site was the largest in Europe.

In 1966, a branch off the main railway line was constructed, so that trains could pull right into the factory site.  The outputs (cars) could then be transported easily.

Later construction of the Mini was moved to Birmingham, but the Oxford site continued to be used for building cars.

Then in 2000, production moved back to Oxford, to a newly completed factory built on the original site.  The MINI was relaunched, with an updated design for the car and capital letters in the name!

The new factory was built at Oxford because the site was already established.  The road and rail connections were already in place.  The 100+ year history of innovative design and engineering meant that skilled workers could be found from the local population.

With its army of robots there are only 4000 employees today, but the Mini factory is still the largest industrial employer in Oxfordshire.

The Mini Process

Last week we saw how car assembly is a system, with inputs, processes and outputs.  Let’s find out some more about the processes involved.

The Oxford Mini factory is in three parts with three separate buildings on site.  Visitors are allowed in 2 of these.  Photography is not allowed in the factory, to protect the privacy of the workers, so I only have a few pictures from the visitor centre exhibition.

The first process is called the “Body in White”.  The body panels and sub-assemblies are trucked in from Swindon and delivered to a building the size of 14 football pitches.  Over 400 different parts are put together by robots, like this one posing for photos in the visitor centre.

Groups of robots are caged in production cells.  They can handle, weld or measure.  An overhead track brings the partly built car to the cage, where it is taken by a robot handler.  The next part is then brought into position and a robot welder fixes it into place.  The measuring robots make various checks to ensure quality.

This picture, taken of a board in the visitor centre, will give you some idea of what it looks like.

As you can see, the result is a basic white body shell.

This is then moved to the next building – the paint shop.  Here various paint layers are applied, from corrosion protection, through to the clear gloss finish.  Visitors are not allowed.

Now one of 16 colours, the body shell moves on to the last building – the assembly hall.  The first thing that happens here is that the doors are removed.  This allows easier access inside the shell.  The doors go through their own assembly process, being reunited with the rest of the car later down the line.

Every Mini is made to order, with choices for all kinds of parts.  Each shell has a transponder fitted to its bonnet and this contains the specific individual details for the car.  His means that the cars can be in any order on the assembly line and still be fitted with the right parts, as the transponder is consulted at each stage.

And after 3 days of moving through the factory, out rolls a new Mini.

If you are interested to see for yourself, you can find out more here.

The Mini System

I have a soft spot for the Mini.  It was my first car!

So when I got the opportunity to tour the Oxford factory where they are assembled, I jumped at the chance.

A factory industry is a system, with inputs, processes and outputs.

At Oxford the cars are assembled – all the components have already been made and are here put together to produce the car.

The components are inputs to the factory.  The engines are made in Birmingham, while a factory in Swindon makes the doors, the body panels and does some sub-assembly, putting smaller parts together so that they are already ready to go onto the car when they arrive at Oxford.

Components are delivered to Oxford by truck.  Stock is carefully controlled so that the right things are in the right places at the right time.  200 truck deliveries per day keep the assembly line supplied.

Other inputs are less obvious, but anything that is essential to production counts as an input – labour (about 4000 workers), machinery (1000 robots, plus conveyors and other equipment), electric power (from solar panels on the roof, which also supply 850 houses), the buildings themselves and the money that has been invested to set up the factory.

As for the outputs, a new Mini rolls off the end of the production line every 67 seconds.  Up to 1000 cars are produced per day and 80% are sold overseas in 110 different countries.  A branch from the railway comes directly into the factory and 2 trains per day are loaded with new cars and sent to the port of Southampton for onward shipment.

Other outputs include profit and maybe some waste.

But what actually happens at the Oxford factory?  What are the processes?  I’ll tell you more about that next week.

Meanwhile check your inbox for a worksheet to use with this post.


Solution Mining

The rock salt mine at Winsford is not the only way that salt is removed from underneath Cheshire. The nearby town of Middlewich has a salt factory, but they get their supply of salt in a very different way.

Salt dissolves in water. If the salty water is collected and the water evaporated, then the salt crystals reform.

Quite a pile there.

Hot water is pumped into the ground to dissolve the salt. It is then pumped out again bringing the dissolved salt with it. The water is separated from the salt by evaporation. There is a nice animation here that shows the process.

Sounds like a good idea doesn’t it. The salt is brought to the surface without the need to send any people underground. But this method needs to be controlled and monitored carefully. Find out why next week.

Pass the Salt, Please!

Salt is in daily use in most homes, but where does it come from?

One source of salt is from underground and extracting it and using it has formed the basis of much industry in Cheshire for many centuries.

“Wich” in a place name can refer to a salt works. On a road map find the “wich” towns of Cheshire – Northwich, Middlewich, Nantwich. This is the area we will be looking at.

The Romans were the first to really tap into the salt supplies at these locations. They discovered that the springs in the area were bringing salty water out of the ground; water which was saltier than the sea.

At Middlewich, which the Romans called Salinae, (from the Latin word salis meaning salt) the Celtic people already extracted salt, but the settlements of Nantwich and Northwich date from Roman times.

The Romans collected the salty water in large pans. These were then heated to evaporate the water and leave the salt deposit behind.

As the demand for salt grew other methods were developed to get hold of it. Join me next week to find out more.

Incidentally Nantwich’s salt spring still flows today. It feeds the outdoor swimming pool, which is open in the summer.

There is a cross-curricula activity sheet to go with today’s post. Use the form in the side bar to get yourself added to my email list.