HALEWOOD, England -- Land Rover will use a new platform, different assembly plant and more robots to build its redesigned Freelander faster and with fewer defects.
Land Rover says it will cut the time needed to build the medium SUV from 41 hours to 27.5 hours through automation and higher levels of modularity.
For example, the new body shop set up for the second-generation Freelander completes 99 percent of all welds automatically, compared with a little more than 80 percent for the current model.
The Freelander will be assembled at Ford Motor Co.'s plant here, in central England, on the same line as the Jaguar X-Type. It is the first time Land Rovers and Jaguars have been built in the same plant.
The Freelander is likely to debut at this month's British International Motor Show in London, and will go on sale this year.
Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin are part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group.
To produce the new Freelander at the Halewood plant, Ford increased the factory's capacity and added production technologies.
The factory has the potential to produce as many new Freelanders as Solihull did at the height of the first-generation model's sales, said Nigel Sims, Land Rover manufacturing engineering program manager. In 2002, its best year, Freelander output was 74,000 units.
Halewood's existing stamping facilities, paint shop and trim, and final assembly line all have been adapted to add production of the Land Rover.
Although the new Freelander and X-Type share most production systems, the SUV has its own body shop.
Most of the SUV's welds are done by robot because the Freelander uses a lot of ultrahigh-strength, lightweight steels, which are more challenging to weld. The weld parameters -- gun approach and tip angle -- have to be controlled more precisely. Doing so is easier with a robot than by a person.
Room to grow
The handling system that transfers assemblies from one welding station to the next uses pallets for the main lines (underbody, bodyside and framing).
The pallets are equipped with tooling for clamping the panels for welding. The tooling is specific to the model being built, but new pallets with different tooling can be introduced to the line easily.
"It gives us the flexibility to introduce another product in the future," Sims said.
A new product seems likely because the extra flexibility provided by pallet-based assembly added 10 percent to the cost of Land Rover's body shop.
Land Rover is considering an SUV that would be smaller than the Freelander. Land Rover chief designer Geoff Upex told Automotive News Europe in January that the SUV would compete with the Mini.
Land Rover's body shop has space set aside to handle a 40 to 50 percent increase in volume to accommodate higher demand for the new Freelander or for an additional model.
Halewood's lifts and handling equipment were upgraded, and new robotic underbody sealing has been introduced. Because of the improvements, the X-Type's noise, vibration and harshness pads will be applied by spraying.
In the past, a line worker had to manually stick premanufactured pads on the body. Now a robot sprays the epoxy material exactly where it is needed in precisely the right qualities. The new process means less weight.