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McLaren Premiers Flexible, Eco-Friendly Factory of the Future

Posted By Paul Tate, November 17, 2011 at 2:54 PM, in Category: Factories of the Future

UK high performance car maker McLaren, best known for its racing heritage, is aiming for a bigger slice of the global sports car business with a new $79 million, 32,000 square meter, state of the art production facility.

Opened today, the new production plant aims to assemble around 1,000 of McLaren’s recently launched 200 mph, MP4-12C, high performance sports cars a year, with additional capacity to rise to 4,000 by mid-decade. Initial demand isn’t an issue. Despite a starting cost of around $265,000 per car, McLaren says it already has around 2000 units on the order books.

Guesting the opening event, UK prime minister David Cameron noted that although many may suggest the “glory days of science, engineering and manufacturing are behind us, and that from now on it’s going to be about buying from the world rather than selling to the world. What McLaren does is a powerful rebuke to that view. It’s the technology, it's the invention, its the patents, it's all of that innovation that is going to lead to so many other great businesses in the future,” he added.

It's also about the way McLaren has approached the development of the new plant that’s different. “The thing that's really special about the McLaren Production Centre is that it's probably the first time that anybody has ever designed a production facility around the construction of the car”, explained Antony Sheriff, CEO of McLaren’s Automotive division, who has a background with Chrysler, McKinsey and Fiat.

Traditionally he adds, auto plants are ‘rife with compromises that are made trying to fit certain technologies into existing production facilities.”

“But we’ve been able to design the perfect production process around this car so everything from the paint shop to the flow of the body line, to the flow of the assembly line, is designed to make sure the technology we've put into the car gives the best results and the best quality,” he added.

This is made easier as the car is built around a single, lightweight, carbon fibre moulded MonoCell chassis. This is claimed to be the first time such an approach has been used in the sub $300k volume production car segment, and is helping to create a car at only a third of the cost of similar competitors, says McLaren.

“It’s an incredibly flexible platform that can produce a whole range of variants,” says Sheriff. It needs to be. There are an estimated 14 million customer options on the new car, from individually contoured seats, to the perfectly matched colour of the driver’s lipstick (yes, it’s already happened!).

But more importantly, the whole layout is designed so that each of the different assembly and testing stations can be easily moved around, allowing the company to almost entirely reconfigure the main plant floor within a few hours. As two new models are likely to be readied for production over the next few years, this plant floor flexibility will become increasingly essential.

The new building – which is remarkably quiet, clean and airy for an active plant floor - also aims to be sustainable in both looks and function. It has been designed as a low-profile, 11 meter high, one storey building, but with an additional 11 meter deep, second level underground which is used for storing parts, materials, and paint mixing for the car’s 56-stage paint process on the floor above. This sunken structure also cuts down heat loss, and the whole building is further cooled by the running waters of a nearby lake.

The building has also been heavily camouflaged by extensive tree planting – over 800 so far - and special landscaping which has kept all soil deposits created during construction onsite.

“We are always asking ourselves, ‘how can we do this better, faster, or in an innovative or new way that challenges the traditional?” explained Alan Foster, McLaren Automotive’s Operations Director.

* More To Come: Watch out for the full Dialogue interview with McLaren’s Alan Foster in a special ‘Factories of the Future’ issue of the Manufacturing Executive Leadership Journal in January 2012.

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive


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