A visit to JCB Factory

JCB has almost become a household word.  Known worldwide for its tractor with the blade on the front and backhoe excavator on the back.   How great therefore to get the opportunity to visit one of their factories near Stoke on Trent arranged by Dave Harvey  

 

Michael at JCB Factory

 

JCB stands for Joseph Cyril Bamford and he launched the construction and agricultural equipment company that bears his initials in 1945.  The company that began is a small garage now employs 5000 and produces 180 models in four different continents and sells its products in 150 countries.   JCB is the largest private company in the UK. 

 

If you were to ask me what impressed me most from my visit to the factory, and I would say that it is the obvious devotion of the workers to their jobs and the skills they display. 

 

The central feature of the factory is the assembly line, but before the parts arrive there, the various components must be manufactured.  Large steel plates are laser and heat cut on computerized numerical controlled machines which even cut the holes needed.  They are then bent to shape in separate machines and are then loaded into jigs where they are spot welded.  They are then transferred to welding stations where computer controlled robots weld all the seams.  

 

The next stage is painting and this is carried out in huge booths using an electrostatic painting process.   The components emerge in their shining distinctive bright yellow coating.   

 

Meanwhile the engines from another JCB plant have arrived in the factory and are joined to their gearboxes and pumps and tested.    In another section of the factory, the large range of hydraulic cylinders and pistons are manufactured to a very high degree of accuracy measured in microns and assembled and tested in a spotlessly clean facility.   

 

Assembly takes place on a moving path.   The engine is placed in position, then the front and rear axle assemblies.  The parts needed for that machine are linked to it and move with it, even the overhead cranes which bring heavier components.  Then the chassis is added, and this is followed by other components, like the complete blade and digger mechanisms and the completely assembled cab.    Finally the wheels are added, then the fuel, hydraulic fluid and water and the engine is started and the machine driven off the assembly line where it is rigorously tested before delivery.    Only by careful research, materials testing, meticulous manufacture and assembly can  machines such as these survive under the harshest working conditions to which they are subjected.   About 90 machines are produced per day with the assembly line working around the clock.

 

Small JCB tracked excavator

 

JCB and Meccano

 

The factory is a good example of computer integrated manufacturing.   Parts have to be designed in such a way that they can be produced by computer numerical controlled machines.   For example a block of cast metal must be turned into the end fitting of a hydraulic ram.  The casting is placed by a computer controlled robot into a machine which will automatically carry out the many processes necessary to finish the machining, such as facing, boring, drilling, milling and thread cutting.    There are examples of automated transportation and storage and retrieval systems.    Finally, most of the parts and assemblies are too heavy to lift and this is achieved by many small cranes and electrically controlled tackles and overhead traveling cranes in every part of the factory.    Assemblies and supplies are moved around the factory by fork lift machines and transporters, many of which are made in the factory.   

Large Backhoe excavator

 

For the Meccano enthusiast therefore, there are many points of interest.    One cannot help being fascinated by the most modern and up to date manufacturing processes by human labor and automated machinery.   Ask yourself – ‘how do they do that’ – and all the answers are there to study.   If one is fascinated by machinery and the manufacturing process, the JCB factory is a wonderful place to spend a few hours.   Thanks to Dave Harvey and the staff at JCB for a wonderful reception, a marvelous visit and a memorable lunch. 

 

Michael Adler

November 2005