HALEWOOD, England -- Land Rover will use more robots, a different assembly plant and a new platform to build its new 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 bodyshop 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 Land Rover parent Ford Motor'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.
Land Rover, Jaguar, Volvo and Aston Martin are all part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group.
To produce the new Freelander at the Halewood plant, Ford made investments to increase the factory's capacity and add new 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 bodyshop.
Most of the SUV's welds are done by robot because the Freelander uses a lot of ultra high-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. Also, a medium frequency D/C weld process is used instead of the more conventional high-frequency A/C process, again because it allows better control of the welding.
Room to grow
The handling system that transfers assemblies from one welding station to the next is pallet based 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 that pallet-based assembly provides added 10 percent to the cost of Land Rover's bodyshop.
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 be in the entry-premium segment with the Mini.
Land Rover's bodyshop has space set aside to handle a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in volume to accommodate higher demand for the new Freelander or for an added 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 pre-manufactured pads on the body. Now a robot sprays the epoxy material exactly where it is needed in precisely the right qualities. One result is less weight.
Adjustments to trim line
The transfer systems on Hale-wood's trim and final assembly line also had to be adapted for the new model. The height of the carriers was adjusted and so was the mechanism that locates and locks the bodies in place. An identical two-pin arrangement for both Jaguar and Land Rover bodies is now in place.
Primary door seals now are mounted by robot in the plant's trim and final assembly area. Standard extruded rubber seals are pre-loaded into a machine that dispenses them to doors that are manipulated by a robot.
"It is a very flexible solution. If you have a new door shape, you just reprogram the robot," Sims said.
He considered using robots to insert instrument panels but opted for a semi-automated process.
"We were nervous about the level of control required," he said. "Unlike other car manufacturers, we don't freeze the vehicle while we insert the instrument panel. It is continuously moving."
Sims said it has not been difficult to set up a line that is flexible enough to build both an SUV and a luxury sedan.
Even though the Jaguar and Land Rover models share no components at the trim and final assembly stages, Land Rover has found room to store all its parts in the Halewood plant.
Plus, the assembly stations have been organized the so that a line worker never has to leave his area to get the necessary components.
Said Sims: "We've effectively used all free floor space in the plant."
The new Freelander shares its platform and key components with the Volvo S80 and Ford Mondeo sedans and Ford Galaxy minivan, but everything behind the B-pillar is unique to the SUV.
Suppliers are ready
The new Land Rover Freelander will take advantage of suppliers already serving sister brand Jaguar from the Boulevard Industry Park, which is adjacent to the Halewood assembly plant.
Decoma will supply bumpers to the Freelander and Jaguar X-Type; Visteon will supply both vehicles with instrument panels; Johnson Controls will provide both cars with seats and headliners.
You may e-mail Anna Kochan at [email protected]