The MINI Brand, as a part of the BMW Group, despite the fact that has more premium character, it remains a mass production manufacturing brand. The main facilities of the production are located at Plant Oxford located in Cowley, Oxford, which runs under BMW (UK) Manufacturing Ltd., as part of the BMW Group. At Plant Oxford the production of the MINIs takes places, except of the MINI Countryman. MINI Countryman is produced in Graz, Austria, by Manga Steyr AG & Co KG, a subsidiary of Magna International from Canada. This fact makes MINI Countryman as the only MINI produced outside the UK, as the rest of the MINIs are made in UK, remaining consistent with the long British heritage of the Mini.
In 1994, when BMW Group absorbed the Rover Group, both the Longbridge and the Cowley sites became part of the BMW Group. Cowley was the main manufacturing plant for the Rover cars. In 2000 the BMW Group decided to sell the Rover Group to Phoenix Consortium, so the production of the Rover cars should continue to the Longbridge, also acquired by the Consortium. The production of the MINI, which was planned to be at Longbridge, then should be placed at Cowley site, that remained under the BMW Group. This meant that the production machines of the Rover had to be transferred from Cowley to Longbridge, and the production machines of the MINI to had be transferred from Longbridge to Cowley.
As soon as the Cowley Plant was empty, BMW Group decided to demolish it in order to plan and build according to the new demands of the production of MINI, running under the, then, newly founded BMW (UK) Manufacturing Ltd. By September 2000, the whole facilities for the new MINI was placed at Colwey Plant and a few months later, in April 2001, the first pre-production MINIs were ready. BMW has renamed the Colwey Plant to Plant Oxford, in order to discriminate it from the previous facilities used at the same place.
Beginning the manufacturing.
When the first generation of MINIs started in autumn 2001, the Plant Oxford was able to manufacture 300 MINIs each day, and soon the capacity increased to 500 each day. The plant was also planned to build only MINIs for the BMW Group, so it was specific for only a limited range of cars.
One interesting part of the production of the first generation MINI is the fact that the ‘Pentagon’ engine was build in Brazil, by Tritec Motors Ldta., which means that the engines had to be transferred from Brazil to UK in order to complete the assembly of the cars. The same policy, producing engines in Brazil, is quite popular among the automotive industry.
When the production of the MINI started in 2001, there was only one shift running every day. In 2005, when the demand increased, three shifts were operating daily, seven days a week, with a 4-hours break time during the night for the mandatory maintenance and cleaning.
The current production process.
Currently, with the second generation of MINIs running on the streets, the production of them is distributed in three different facilities. The main plant remains the Plant Oxford (previously Cowley Plant), where the body shell production, paint and final assembly take place. Furthermore, the Plant Hams Hall is used for the production of the engines now, instead of bringing the engines from Brazil. Finally, the Plant Swindon is used for the production of the body pressings and sub-assemblies of the MINIs. The three places that are playing an important role for the production of MINI are usually referred as production triangle and more than 5,500 associates are working in it. A closer look to the manufacturing process is following.
Building the engine
The first part of the engine production at Plant Hams Hall has to do with the machining of the main components such as the crankshafts, the cylinder blocks and cylinder heads. The core operations include drilling, grinding and milling, with highly automated and self-correcting machinery, to ensure the high quality. A waste material recycle process is also included.
The second part of the engine production has to do with the assembly of the engines. The different parts are matched together. The BMW Group applies the ‘no fault forward’ philosophy, which includes quality checks within the manufacturing process at critical steps. Furthermore, a mechanical and an electrical test is conducted to each power unit during the assembly build.
The body pressing process takes place at the Plant Swindon, with over 300 different body parts to be pressed there. This operation is undergone through 14 fully automated press lines, with the pressure power ranging from 400 up to 5,000 tonnes. All press machinery are revised and equipped with the latest electronic control systems to ensure the high quality.
During this process, that takes place also in Plant Swindon, more than 140 welding and handling robots are synchronised to produce complete body components, such as doors and closures. The total number of the assemblies is 171, derived from 303 child parts. As long as the sub-assemblies are ready, they are dispatched to Plant Oxford by lorries. As the Just-In-Time system is used during the body pressing and the sub-assembly processes, a total of four hours is the time needed for an order to be build and dispatched from Plant Swindon to Plant Oxford.
The paint jobs carried out at the Plant Oxford includes several quality checks and a unique ‘feather-dusting’ process is applied to the car using female ostrich feathers, in order to remove any dust traces, as part of the final preparation before the colour paint is applied.
A total of 10 hours is needed for a body shell to pass through all the paint process, which ranges from a corrosion protection layer to the glossy Clearcoat layer. For the paint jobs, fully automated processes are used, to increase efficiency of the water based paint materials to a minimum waste. The paint material and the water are also recycled inside the facilities, to ensure environmental friendliness.
The final assembly of the MINIs takes place to the Plant Oxford, where the car is fully finished and dispatched to its customer. A barcode is attached to each car, in order to facilitate the identification throughout this process. The operations included to this process is electrical wiring harness fitting, cockpit fitment, soft tops fitting to Convertibles, robotic glazing fitting and the engine marriage. A camera visioning system is used for quality inspections. Finally, the wheels are fitted, fluids and fuel is filled and the doors are fitted.
As soon as the car is completed, it undergoes an extensive programme of checks such as the rolling road and the extensive electronic test.
The future of the production.
As the product range of MINI to be highly extended, and the demands for MINIs in new markets in Asia, require new measurements from BMW Group.
Firstly, BMW Group is going to start the production of the MINI Countryman in Chennai, India, as part of the expansion of the company’s international production network, responding to the growing demands for premium cars in Asia. The standards that will be followed are the same quality standards applied to all BMW Group models worldwide. BMW Group also expects that the decision for local production will increase the demand of MINI Countryman in India.
Furthermore, the BMW Group has also started the production of the MINI Countryman in Thailand, with the facilities been placed in Amata Industrial Estate in Rayong Province, 70 miles Southeast from Bangkok. The assembly capability is expected to meet the steadily increasing demands for MINIs in the Thai market.
Finally, as the third generation of MINI has already been announced and the production will start in 2014, an investment of £750 million across the three main plants in UK has also been announced from the BMW Group. With the new MINI platform the flexibility of the manufacturing process is increased. Substantial upgrades are planned to the Plant Oxford and the Plant Swindon. Also the Plant Hams Hall in Birmingham will be re-equipped.
This huge investment between 2012 and 2015 from BMW Group highlights the importance of the production triangle of MINI in UK across the global production network. A large part of the investment is going to be received from the Plant Oxford, as it remains the core of the MINI production, with more than 1000 new robots in the brand new assembly line. The investments in Swindon will increase productivity and efficiency.
To summarise, BMW Group has done an excellent job on the production of MINI. The production is still increasing to follow the increasing demands from the customers. Also, the manufacturing network of MINI is ranged from West to Far East, to cover the global needs for MINIs. A lot of investments have benefited the facilities of production, which means that the sales are going well and that the brand is profitable, and it is worthy to invest money on it. Finally, more than 5,500 associates are working currently at the production triangle of MINI in UK, a number that reflects the importance of this industry to the United Kingdom.
UPDATE: The production of MINI Hatchback Mk III
- Robson, G. (2005) New Mini. 2nd edn. Somerset: Haynes Publishing Comments: A book with details about the production of the first generation of MINI
- Business Standard (18-04-2013) BMW to make MINI Countryman in Chennai [online] available from http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/bmw-to-make-mini-countryman-in-chennai-113041700222_1.html [24 November 2013] Comments: Article about production of MINI Countryman in India.
- Swindon Advertiser (19-11-2013) BMW announce new technology at Plant Swindon for 2014 MINI [online] available from http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/10818799.BMW_announce_new_technology_at_Swindon_plant_for_2014_MINI/ [24 November 2013] Comments: Article about the investments of BMW Group to the UK’s MINI Facilities.
- Bangkok Business Brief (14-08-2013) BMW Group Thailand begins local assembly of MINI Countryman [online] available from http://www.bangkokbusinessbrief.com/2013/08/14/bmw-group-thailand-begins-local-assembly-of-mini-countryman/ [25 November 2013] Comments: Article about the production of MINI Countryman in Thailand.
- The India Car (17-04-2013) BMW starts manufacturing Mini in India [online] available from http://theindiacar.com/bmw-starts-manufacturing-mini-india/ [25 November 2013] Comments: Article about the manufacturing of MINI Countryman in India.
- Szondy, D. (21-11-2013) New Mini line unveiled in Oxford [online] available from http://www.gizmag.com/mini-cooper-oxford/29823/ [25 November 2013] Comments: Article and images from the unveil of the third generation MINI in Plant Oxford.
- BMW Group (2013) Manufacturing Facilities [online] available from http://www.bmwgroup.com/bmwgroup_prod/e/0_0_www_bmwgroup_com/produktion/produktionsnetzwerk/produktionsstandorte/standorte/index.html [25 November 2013] Comments: Official map and description of the BMW Group Manufacturing Facilities, including those for the MINI in UK, India and Thailand
- MINI (2013) MINI Plant Oxford [online] available from http://www.mini-production-triangle.com/home.aspx [25 November 2013] Comments: Official webpage for the Plant Oxford from MINI with many details about the production processes.
- MINI (2013) MINI Plant Swindon [online] available from http://miniplantswindon.co.uk/home.aspx [25 November 2013] Comments: Official webpage for the Plant Swindon from MINI with many details about the processes carried out to this site.
- BMW Group (2013) BMW Plant Hamshall [online] available from http://miniplantswindon.co.uk/home.aspx [25 November 2013] Comments: Official webpage for the Ham Shall Plant from BMW Group with many details about engine manufacturing.
- Motoringfile (2005) Plant Oxford: MINI Manufacturing Tour [online] available from http://www.motoringfile.com/2005/06/09/plant_oxford_mini_manufacturing_tour/ [25 November 2013] Comments: Article about the a private tour in the Plant Oxford.
- Motorfilms Ltd (2011) Cowley factory British Leyland 1972 [online] available from http://motorgraphs.motorfilms.co.uk/motor-industry/cowley-factory-british-leyland-1972-5457.html [25 November 2013] Comments: Image of the old Cowley Factory, in 1972.
- Salter, R.(2010) A Trip to the MINI Factory [online] available from http://www.miniworx.com/SpringNewsletter.html [25 November 2013] Comments: Newsletter about a trip to the Plant Oxford.
- Wikipedia (2013) Mini Hatch [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini_Hatch [23 November 2013] Comments: Information about the production of MINI Hatch
- Wikipedia (2013) Mini Clubman [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini_Clubman [23 November 2013] Comments: Information about the production of MINI Clubman in Austria.
- Wikipedia (2013) Plant Oxford [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plant_Oxford [23 November 2013] Comments: Information about the Plant Oxford of the BMW Group.
- Wikipedia (2013) Pressed Steel Company [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressed_Steel_Company [23 November 2013] Comments: Information about the Plant Swindon of BMW Group.
- Wikipedia (2013) Longbridge plant [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longbridge_plant [23 November 2013] Comments: Information about the Longbridge Plant of BMW Group, now owned from SAIC.