Engineering Industry sponsored by Black Horse Relocation Services.
In Rover's massive Longbridge plant, a partly built car inching along the assembly tracks triggers a sensor. A computer printer comes to life at TRW's Frankley factory, south of Birmingham, and spits out a label. Two hours later the label is in Longbridge, and the steering mechanism to which it is attached is installed in that same vehicle. A truck laden with steering assemblies makes the two-mile journey from Frankley every 84 minutes, to match the production rate of Rover's 200 and 400 series models. 'The only reason for our existence is our proximity to Longbridge,' says Greg Simpson, manager of the satellite. A well-laid-out factory, Frankley is purely an assembly plant. It brings together parts that have been manufactured at TRW's factories in Resolven and Dunstable. Supplying the precise mix of assemblies that the customer demands is, nevertheless, a complex task. There are 32 variants in the steering gear of the 200/400 series, for instance. Other cells feed the Mini and Metro lines, or support manufacture of the Nissan Micra. Cell design is crucial, but Frankley's pace of work also takes some beating. When the Micra's steering mechanism moved to Frankley, nine people at Resolven were replaced by three.
Naturally there are no incentives - everyone is on a monthly salary. Nobody clocks on or off: peer-group pressure is what makes people start on time. If someone is absent, another must fill in. The usual procedure is for one employee to stay at work an extra four hours, while someone from the next shift comes in four hours early. Existing workers have the last say in personnel selection. Job applicants 'get quite a grilling', says Simpson.