Out to win
With over 600 trophies to its name, McLaren has revolutionised both the Formula One racing world and the automotive scene. And, with the company bolstering a more than-impressive 500,000sqm site, McLaren is not only a giant in the Woking area, home to its technology and production centres, but across the entire globe. Eager to learn more, bodyshop’s Rebekah Clements gained an exclusive visit to McLaren and its body and paint operation.
Located in the heart of Surrey, the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) opened in 2004 and has since become home to McLaren Group of companies including racing, electronics, marketing, applied technologies and finally McLaren Automotive. The building, a modern masterpiece in both design and infrastructure, is complemented by the McLaren Production Centre (MPC), which opened in 2011. Linked to the MTC by an underground ‘walkway’, the MPC is home to the paintshop, body assembly and general assembly departments.
Founded in 1963 by Bruce McLaren, the company has grown significantly, with around 1,400 employees now working across all departments. One area which is now looking to recruit is its body and paint operation. Darren Williams, department manager at McLaren explained, ‘This year we are scheduled to increase production volume by 33% driven by 650S demand and coupled with the introduction of new models to our current portfolio. Recruitment plans are now underway with the aim of increasing the team by a further 22% by the end of March.’
Such growth has meant there are now over 20 positions available for paint sprayers, polishers and positions in ‘final finish’ such as detailers. Charlotte Tavener, a recruiter for McLaren explained, ‘We are extremely excited to be able to offer a number of people the opportunity to work for our prestigious brand.’
One reason for such growth is the much anticipated brand new Sports Series being launched by McLaren in the second quarter of 2015, a result of its promise to produce a new car or a derivative each year since 2011. The new car will bring McLaren technology and performance to a new segment for the brand and the car will sit below the McLaren P1 and 650S in the current line-up.
With the launch of the Sports Series, and with McLaren lacing each of its vehicles with cutting-edge technologies and mixed materials, it means the company’s paint operation must remain up-to-date with advances in composites and vehicle technology. Today, the paint facility deals with a whole breadth of substrates including carbon fibre, aluminium, SMC and an array of plastics.
The sheer technological depth McLaren has delved into was made known when I was provided with a ‘boulevard’ history tour by Adam Gron, press officer at McLaren. The tour showed how McLaren’s vehicles have evolved since Bruce McLaren made his racing debut at the tender age of 15. Since 1981 McLaren has never built a car without the use of carbon fibre (even the frame of the McLaren Specialized Venge bike, which was on display, was 100% made of carbon fibre). If this wasn’t enough, catching a glimpse of one of its latest application designs, paint integrated with real diamonds, truly showed the company’s determination to offer ultra bespoke vehicle design, today and into the future.
Taking a tour of the production centre, it was certainly like nothing I had ever witnessed before – immaculate would be an understatement. Darren Williams said, ‘Each vehicle goes through 12 separate steps in body construction, 26 further steps in paint, before 30 final stages in general assembly.’ As the vehicles made their way through each stage on a ‘transfer conveyor’, Darren explained that each process step is carefully monitored, ensuring production remains efficient and on time.
Vehicle production is certainly not the only controlled process in the paint plant. Technologies and products are carefully monitored via its AkzoNobel partnership, temperature and humidity control are also regulated, regardless of outside temperature, whilst the entrance to the paint plant is via air chambers that use de-ionised air, ensuring the very best cleanliness is achieved and maintained.
Although the workshop is noticeably equipped with all of the latest technologies, Darren was quick to reiterate that its work is a mixture of ‘state-of-the-art technologies complemented by traditional craftsmanship application’. He explained, ‘Each of the vehicles are hand-sprayed – this way we are able to manage the high variety in colour and complexity in panel configuration.’
As each vehicle is ‘traditionally’ painted, it means the company can also cater for any bespoke requests. ‘We have 18 standard colours in our core portfolio; however our customers have the option of choosing an infinite colour choice for their car, this can also be accommodated within our facility.’
With the offering of any bespoke colour, combined with the highcomplexity of each vehicle, the whole facility ensures teamwork takes pole position. Clarifying why teamwork is so fundamental, Darren explained the procedure each vehicle has to go through. He said, ‘Once the vehicle has left CMM, the measurement station, and qualifies within a one millimetre tolerance, exposed carbon fibre is then masked (even under the vehicle), before being transferred to the pre-paint area. Once finished, the primer is applied harmonising all panels before each of the 28 vehicle parts are painted in vehicle orientation, and in a set order, to ensure colour continuity is achieved.’
From here, the vehicle goes to primer flash-off and primer bake before it enters the primer inspection and surface validation. Once completed, the vehicle is automatically rotated 360 degrees down the conveyor line before the basecoat is applied. The facility has the capacity for four stages of basecoat application – dependant on the bespoke nature of the vehicle in hand. The clearcoat is then applied, with a two-man operational partnership. After the curing process, it enters into a four-stage polish system before its final inspection and release to general assembly.
With established and leading facilities, technologies and processes in place, it’s difficult to imagine what’s next for a company which has already taken the automotive world by storm. However, according to Darren, there are many exciting projects waiting to burst onto the scene. ‘In 2015 we are expanding both our colour portfolio and our future technology in conjunction with our technology partner, AkzoNobel,’ he stated.
‘We aim to develop a new training programme for current and future employees working within the paint operation which will ensure our growth is sustainable; our intention will be to develop our technicians in all McLaren processes that meet ours and our customers’ expectations,’ he concluded.
It really was a privilege to visit McLaren. Bruce McLaren once stated ‘life is measured in achievement’ – I think it’s fair to say he established a company which has since gone onto achieve more than imaginable. I don’t doubt for a second these achievements are going to end anytime soon either.