Rover's Vikingship
Project Solihull
The SD1 Factory


Rover's Vikingship

P roject Solihull.

The three main 1400 ft long production lines at the new Rover factory plant stand ready and empty. Soon a great river of cars will flow down them.

Three years and 31 million pound have been spent. End result is a 12 acre, three storey painting facility and a 23 acre assembly hall to build new Rovers efficiently and economically, to the highest standards of quality, by a work-force in comfortable and pleasant conditions.

The new plant was necessary because existing Rover production facilities were already crammed full to overflowing with the successful Land-Rover and Range Rover and with luxury car production. The formal decision to build was taken in November 1972, and the town planning approval was awarded in February 1973.

The Rover factory has always been able to sell many more cars than it could produce; the new plant was intended to put that problem right, once and for all. Market research had shown that the potential sales for the new car were far higher than anything that had emerged before from Solihull.

In all respects it was an unprecedented project for Britain's motor industry. To match the scale of the operation, the organisations to be involved were counted in scores architects, consulting engineers, quantity surveyors, landscape architects, the main contractor and his many sub-contractors, amounting to a labour force of 350 at the peak of building work.

The business executive who glances down as he flies out of Birmingham's Elmdon airport has the best view of the whole 100-acre site. The vast grey pvc-coated steel clad main assembly hall (bigger than the National Exhibition Centre's six show halls a few miles away) have been carefully shielded from the stray glances of ground level passers-by.

When you swing off the broad blacktop of the A45 arterial road between Birmingham and Coventry and down Damson Lane into The grounds of the new plant, no suggestion of the industrial might behind the meticulously landscape contours of the man-made hills intrudes until you are past the barriers of the works entrance.

The project demanded two major buildings. The new three-storey paint shop, planned to handle all Rover car production, was built within the boundary of the existing factory. It presented few visual problems, but was carefully insulated to minimise noise and fumes. Typical measure was the use of an air treatment system which ensures that the exhaust gases are acceptable and uses heat which would otherwise be lost from the gases exhausted from the paint drying ovens.

The long frontage facing Elmdon Park is masked by a transitional area 60 yards deep irregularly planted with fast-growing evergreens and shrubs, interspersed with the majestic oaks that have stood so long.

Finally, to make certain that residents received a positive benefit from the factory's construction, a new highway standard carriageway being driven through to reverse much of the traffic flow away from suburban Solihull out to the motorway standard A45 highway. The main assembly hall was built on the land alongside the precious green belt between Solihull and the neighbouring City of Coventry. Its 23-acre site was sandwiched between the great oak trees and lake of Elmdon Park and the button bright houses of the Damson Lane housing estate.

Early plans to build a two-storey assembly hall with the production lines upstairs and the inflow of components on the ground floor, were quickly put on one side when it was realised just how great an impact on the locality the building would have.

With care, a long low building could be just as satisfactory to use but could be much less obvious, Consultations with local interests were acted on and a new low outline was designed. To reduce visuel intrusion still more, foundations were laid in the floor of broad valley generated by cutting a 40 ft. Embankment and moving more than a million tons of soil, redeploying it to make a line of man-made hills along the boundary facing the houses. Trees and shrubs were later planted in natural-looking groups.

Working with the top landscape architect Professor Weddle of Sheffield University, Leyland Cars engineers placed their 21 acres of cars parks and marshalling areas snugly between the new hills and the factory. Noise and fumes are largely contained within the bowl.

Building the Factory

Altogether, 8,900 tons of steel were used to build the steel skeleton of the two buildings, which were to be clad in pvc-coated steel and brick. Basic support was 350 large piles from 3.5 ft to 5 ft diameter and 600 underfloor piles of 1.5 ft diameter. They were driven an average of 40 ft into the ground.

For the foundations and floors 130,000 tons of concrete were poured. In the assembly hall the main floor was laid by a flooring machine laying a 12.5ft. wide strip as a continuous process. The three floors of the paintshop have a combined area of 513,000 sq ft. The mixing rooms, laboratories and offices add 43,000 sq ft, to make a total area of 556,000 sq ft. 13 acres, -while above them the aluminium roof panels have an area of 170.000 sq ft four acres.

In the 1900 ft by 500 ft assembly hall, the basic floor area is 995,000 sq ft-. 23 acres. Add the offices, the canteens and the link bridge between paint and assembly buildings, and the total comes to 1,500,000 sq ft. The 125 ft main spans of the girders are in 50 ft bays 22 ft high and have been designed so that working space beneath the roof structure is uncluttered by service lines or girders.

There are seven miles of assembly hall roof glazing and one mile of glazed panels in the perimeter wall cladding. Employees' car parks cover 6 acres, and. there are three miles of 30 ft wide Al-standard roads.

To handle the flood of surface water from buildings and car parks when rains, seven miles of main drains were laid including foul and process water discharge. The Hatchford Brook, which originally ran across the site below the present assembly hall, was re-routed between the two buildings in 300 yards of 5 ft. diameter tunnel.

Considerable efforts have been expended to avoid any risk of contamination in the brook, for it supplies an ornamental lake in the park and then goes on to feed a trout fishery in a stately home a few miles away downstream.

All the water used in the finishing and painting processes undergoes a cleaning sequence to remove every trace of the paint plant's electrophoretic, phosphate and flatting operations. Oil is removed from storm water, when it is collected in two 200,000 gallon lagoons.

Building the Car

The new Rover paint shop is the largest and most technically advanced ever to be commissioned in the United Kingdom. The object was to obtain the best possible paint finish with maximum corrosion resistance. All ancillary equipment and plant not directly necessary for the actual painting process was isolated from it in the interest of control over fumes, contamination and dust.

The result the best possible environment for the operators in their task of obtaining the perfect paint finish. Plant maintenance, too, is easier, for staff are able to work separately from production workers. Bodyshells arrive six at a time on specially built double-deck transporter and are automatically drawn into the plant on one of six parallel two-tier lines. They are marshalled by computer before the first stage of degreasing and preparation for painting and then move on to the first floor processing lines.

The painting process

In the building all the processing areas are on the first floor and all the drying and baking ovens are on the top level, an arrangement which simplifies technical problems and improves working conditions.

Basic body protection comes from the phosphate coating applied in a process involving alkali and phosphate spraying and five separate hot and cold rinses. As bodies emerge from the phosphating tunnel they are hot air dried and then cooled just enough to bring them to exactly the right temperature for the 46.000 gallon electrodip primer painting bath. This heating and cooling procedure is one that will be repeated throughout the several stages of the painting process.

The electrodip process electrically deposits the exact 0.0008 in thickness of primer required on all external paint surfaces of the body. The bodies emerge from this tank at an angle of 3O to drain off correctly and pass through ultra-fine filtered rinses and a de-mineralised water spray rinse. A sharply directed air knife blows them dry and clears anything left on the surface. They move to the second floor, where they are baked in an 420 ft oven for 15 minutes at 360F. Then they go down to the first floor and on to a raised work deck for crack sealing.

Transferred to an overhead conveyor, they are coated with a mastic underbody protection, first by hand and then by twin automatic sprays. The sealer is hardened at 180 F by a hot air blowing unit. The surfacer coat which provides a suitable surface for the final coat of paint is applied in booths in which the automatic spraying heads are sealed against contamination and in which the air pressure is higher than outside, to control dust. Air passing through the booth is filtered three times and the air movement pattern is carefully controlled to ensure the surfacer coat settles in the best possible way.

From this point, design of the spray booths, baking ovens and drying tunnels ensures the bodies move through an environmentally-controlled contamination-free area. The surfacer is gently smoothed by machine and by hand, in a 300 ft long wet sanding deck, spot-surfacing is applied as necessary, and then the coat is baked. Inspection and rectification follow and then the bodies are marshalled on a three-line body storage area while matching colour batches are built up to avoid too many colour changes at the spray guns.

There is another careful inspection and the bodies move into a 210 ft booth for colour painting by four automatic machines with hand- operated stations in between. Four acrylic coats go on -wet on wet- and leave a paint thickness of 0.0025 in. Once again the bodies return to the top floor and pass through a 400 ft part-curing oven at 180 F for five minutes. Then they pass through a further inspection, reworked as necessary and stowed at 255 F. for ten minutes. A further inspection is followed by correction of minor blemishes and the body is baked at 180 F. for two minutes.

The final and visually most important stage comes when the bodies return finally to the top floor, where they pass through a 630 ft oven and undergo 310 F for a minimum of 25 minutes.

The thermoplastic paint flows and smooths itself, with no need for extensive cutting back and polishing, to the glass-like finish characteristic of this process. The bodies cool naturally, are inspected yet again and then pass down to the ground floor storage area.

The Factory.



Building the Factory.

Paint spray booth

Elevated production line

The painting process.

Final spraying



Factory Map

Assembling The Cars

From the paint shop the bodies move across a covered bridge to the assembly hall on a completely automatic flat-bed roller conveyor. They are allocated to the three 1,400 ft long assembly lines. Each has 70 assembly stations. To maintain quality at the required level, inspection points are at every tenth place.

The lines are elevated eight feet above the floor to give room for under-car work to be carried on and to give additional line-side storage, together with space for transverse tunnels for the pallet trucks which distribute components from the major storage areas at the sides of the building. At the end of the line, the bodies are lifted by an overhead conveyor and cross to the return leg of the lines. Here they are lowered on to the engine, transmission and axle assemblies, which have been built up on their own production areas and are fed into the main production line at the right spot.

Most components are supplied fully finished from their manufacturers, but there is some final work to be completed on the trimming and seats. At the end of the line the cars are driven over a grid a section of flooring which settles the suspension and go into the sequence of wheel aligning, followed by rolling test-bed checks of brake, engine and gearbox performance.

Carefully computed percentages of all cars are given fuller checks, and there are extensive rectification loops to permit any further work to be carried out Without obstructing general production flow. Finally, there is a meticulous valeting operation, with teams of specialists going through every car finally to prepare them for the most exacting purchaser.

The modern luxury car is a complicated artifact indeed. It is equipped with a wide range of fittings and equipment to ensure the comfort and safety of the occupants, from seat belts to door warning lights, from heated rear windows to radios. For the new Rover alone some 300 suppliers from outside British Leyland were used. Without a totally foolproof method of controlling the flow of components at the right time and the right place, it would be impossible to maintain smooth production. In the new plant a sophisticated computer-controlled system is in use to control the flow.

Each car is identified long before the bare bodyshell arrives at the plant, and the appropriate equipment is programmed to arrive at the correct point on the production line at the exact moment the matching car gets to it. There is a continuous process of re-assessment and re-scheduling taking into account such factors as the stocks of components in hand and the priority of orders.

The People

In terms of the thousands of people who will work each day within its vast expanse, the new factor- presents opportunities and a whole new range of problems. The opportunity has been taken to provide a better, more comfortable place to work in the carefully- controlled atmosphere of the paint plant and in the light and airy assembly hall. Problems are caused by the sheer scale of the plant which must build cars to the highest possible quality standards.

One important decision taken early was to set the job cycle time comparatively long at six minutes and to provide stations at regular intervals on the production sequence to permit inspection and rectification to be carried out in line.It is fully accepted that a safe and healthy working environment is the responsibility of line management. Two-thirds of all accidents are caused by poor housekeeping. A policy of good housekeeping has been developed. There is a comprehensively-equipped medical centre manned by full-time qualified nursing staff, and a new 200.000 pounds medical facility is scheduled for the near future. A canteen at first floor level between the paint and assembly shops gives panoramic views over the Elmdon Parkland. Throughout the plant, small microwave ovens for heating food"blister bistros" are supplemented by banks of vending machines for drinks and snacks.

Assembling the Cars.


SD1 History

© RWP sept. 2003