It’s very easy to become blasé about new technology. As an industry we are bombarded with information on the latest developments that will ‘revolutionise’ how things are manufactured. And as you would hope, the May-June issue of AMS is full of stories on high-tech production processes and technology, but one article helps to put these advances into context. Our report on Land Rover’s Defender Celebration Line really puts into perspective the technology that has been, and continues to be, developed and applied to vehicle manufacturing.
To mark the end of production later this year of the company’s iconic Defender model, Land Rover has recreated part of the vehicle’s original 1948 production line. This made me think about the challenges facing Land Rover when designing the line, and how it compares with Porsche’s modern Manufactory for the 918, which I recently visited.
You would imagine that these two vehicles couldn’t be more different, but there is some common ground (stay with me on this). Both are very specialised vehicles, both are almost entirely hand-built and both arguably embody the respective philosophies of the companies. Looking beyond the 918 in this issue, Cadillac’s CT6 also uses multiple joining methods, as per the Defender, to create a strong but agile vehicle. This link might be tenuous, but although separated by decades there are some similarities in approach.
Where things really diverge is in the technology and materials now available to the production engineers. Our big feature on welding really highlights the continuing and rapid progress in the development of this joining method, and how this is creating opportunities to efficiently manufacture increasingly complex structures. It illustrates how techniques that a few years ago only had limited applications are now moving into mainstream, volume production. Something similar is also happening with materials. As revealed in our report from March’s JEC show, the use of composites is now widening beyond supercar applications as manufacturing costs decrease and joining methods improve.
One challenge that the original Land Rover engineers didn’t face is the need to minimise the environmental impact of the manufacturing process, and back in 1948 they certainly wouldn’t have had access to the renewable energy technologies now being deployed by carmakers across their global manufacturing networks. This issue’s environment feature reveals how the OEMs are factoring this requirement into the design of their plants and the variety of renewable energy sources that are being used successfully to reduce emissions. All of this makes you wonder if today’s engineers might enjoy the relative simplicity of operations in 1948.