Business GCSE / National 5: Robots and automation in car manufacture

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Steph McGovern:
Hello, I’m Steph McGovern and I report for the BBC on all sorts of issues and news to do with business, jobs and money.

Steph McGovern:
Now because of my job, I get to spend a lot of time visiting places like this this incredible car factory, to look at how businesses work and how things are going for them.

Steph McGovern:
Now here at the Toyota plant in Derby, around 150,000 cars are made every year. That works out at about 600 every day. Now of course, there are several car manufacturers based in the UK besides Toyota, and every one of them is a model of technological precision and efficiency. It’s pretty mesmerising to watch it all.

Steph McGovern:
This next clip comes from the Mini factory in Oxford, and it gives a really good insight into the whole process of car manufacturing. And do you know what? It’s striking how much of the work that, years ago, would have been carried out by people is now done by many different kinds of robots.

Steph McGovern:
Saying that though, there’s still lots of humans in there too, including James May, apparently he knows a thing or two about cars.

James May:
Stretching out of the northern end of the factory, is one of the biggest buildings on-site. Inside this cathedral, an army of robots transform steel parts into body shells. At this stage, a shell is known as a body-in-white.

Tom Bradford:
Looking again for traffic and we’re turning along here.

James May:
Kept behind bars, the powerful robots are here to serve. And Tom Bradford is one of their masters.

Tom Bradford:
I’m still like a kid in a sweet shop when it comes to working in body-in-whites.

Tom Bradford:
The hierarchy is very, very simple here. The people are always in charge. The robots respond to what we want them to do. When we press stop they stop, when we want to go they go.

Tom Bradford:
I’ve heard innumerable descriptions of the robots. Dinosaurs is a popular one. I don’t know, I personally see them a little more like ballerinas. It’s a complicated, orchestrated dance that they perform together.

James May:
This caged troupe has a variety of different performers.

James May:
They run. They grab. They marry. And of course, they weld.

James May:
Robots are fed with panels.

James May:
Building a magnificent 3D jigsaw again and again and again.

James May:
For Tom, it’s all about precision.

Tom Bradford:
Now we’re entering metrology area. It’s in here that we verify the shape, the size, the dimensions of the car.

Tom Bradford:
The accuracy of the body is fundamental to our ability to build it. Clearly if it was the wrong shape or size we wouldn’t be able to fit the parts in assembly, and it will depend exactly the relationship between which parts of the car and where. It’s plus or minus half a millimetre.

James May:
The robots’ work is monitored constantly. By camera, by ultrasonic tests, and by more extreme methods.

James May:
Spot checks ensure the welding process measures up.

James May:
Robots also get a full MOT when the plant shuts down for maintenance.

James May:
With the line stopped, today is a chance for Tom and his team to make sure the robots are in peak condition.

Tom Bradford:
There’s a different feel obviously when we’re actually building cars to a week like this. It’s a bit more relaxed.

James May:
Harmesh and James are teaching welding robots how to build the factory’s newest model. They’re making sure all the welds are in exactly the right place.

James:
This weld is a little bit of a problem with the position of this one. Maybe about 2mm, and we’re just reorientating the gun angle to get it perpendicular with the panel. It’s a little bit hard because the panel sort of curves, so to try and get the right gun orientation takes a little bit of fiddling around first.

James May:
Over the other side of the building, Neil and Rob are servicing one of the robots.

Neil:
When I started as an apprentice it was the thought of playing with robots every day was what attracted me to the job.

Tom Bradford:
Some robots have a much easier life. They do a lot less work than a robot that’s in the thick of it. Maybe with a really big weld gun so it’s lifting more weight around all over the place.

Tom Bradford:
So in our planned maintenance we concentrate on the robots that we know, on the basis of what they do, need the most looking after.

Neil:
We checked the resistance, checked the force. And yeah, it should be ready to go now.

Tom Bradford:
Excellent, thanks guys!

James May:
The robots’ rest is over. It’s time to get back to work and start their dance all over again.

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