SOLIHULL, England -- Land Rover invested E250 million in its assembly plant here to boost manufacturing efficiency before starting production of an all-new Discovery in July.
The makeover was concentrated on the body shop to make it more automated and capable of handling more advanced-design features such as hydroformed structural parts. Land Rover also extensively renovated the trim and final assembly shop.
The manufacturing upgrades are necessary to produce the new SUV. The third-generation Discovery is the first Land Rover designed from the ground up under Ford, which bought the British company in July 2000.
The new Discovery, offered in either five- or seven-seat configurations, is based on a new vehicle platform that is exclusive to the Land Rover brand. Two further variations of the current design are already under development.
The new body shop uses more robots to increase automation to 73 percent on the new Discovery from 48 percent on the old Discovery. It is flexible enough to produce all three derivatives, said Steve Haywood, chief program engineer.
Land Rover has designed the body shop and the new Discovery to use eight master location points during assembly: four at the front and four at the rear.
Any derivative will use the same front master locators and possibly the rear ones too, depending on the wheelbase.
The Solihull renovation has increased production capacity at the plant, said Mark White, a body-engineering specialist.
Production capacity for the new Discovery is 2,100 units a week, up 20 percent compared with the old Discovery.
Land Rover built 278,664 units of the previous generation of the SUV over its lifetime.
The biggest technology innovation in the Discovery is a new chassis structure using advanced hydroforming and laser cutting and welding processes.
Hydroforming is a process used to form a tube into a complex shape by filling it with a liquid, usually a water/lubricant emulsion, and applying enough pressure to force the tube to expand inside a tool of the required shape.
Four of the 140 components that make up the complete chassis are hydroformed.
They are the complex-shaped longitudinal side members. They start as a welded tube 3mm thick and subsequently are hydroformed at pressures up to 1,310 bar (one bar is normal atmospheric pressure).
More shapes and sizes
Once hydroformed, lasers cut holes in the side members for mounting components such as fuel lines and air suspension pipes.
The complete frame is then assembled using 65 meters of laser-welded seam. The completed chassis frame is painted, inside and out. Automatic laser sensing is then used to inspect each frame before it starts the body-in-white assembly process.
Land Rover says hydroforming permits more shapes and sizes than conventional tooling and allows tighter tolerances, greater precision and reduced weight.
It is especially useful for single large components. Normally those would be made from multiple stampings that would be bolted or welded together.
The flexibility of hydroforming also allows engineers to design an optimum frame shape without the conventional production compromises, say Land Rover production specialists.
The new Discovery side members, for example, are much more curved than a conventional ladder-frame. That creates more width in the center section but a tapered front, which improves the turning circle.