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Oxford Mini Factory Tour

On Friday 31st March 2023, a group of assorted Heart Care veterans, met up for a trip to Oxford to see the Mini Factory at Cowley. There were 13 members who eagerly waited for the Mini Bus to arrive at various pickup points, before we set off on the 9.00 am Red Funnel ferry.


Of we trotted up three flights of stairs, puffing and blowing by the time we reached the top deck, found our seats and set about destroying cooked breakfasts and cup cups of coffee.


The trip to Oxford went well despite the atrocious weather and we arrived at Cowley at 12.00, plenty of time to have a look at the Mini museum with a collection of cars from one of the first Mini’s to the latest electric variants.


Our Minibus driver Dave also went around with us as we had purchased 15 tickets. Before we were allowed to go into the factory, we had a safety videos to watch, don our hi-vis jackets and the ear piece to listen to the guide.


We then boarded a minibus which took us to the body plant where the robots make the shell of the Mini, unfortunately they had a break down on one of the sections. One of the Swiss made picker arms had snapped and had to be replaced. This had led to a 4 hour shut down where no body shells were made, losing the company £20,000 a minute.


We were not allowed to take cameras or phones onto the site, no photos were allowed, but the scale of the the operation was difficult to take in.


Today, Plant Oxford employs 3700 associates who manufacture up to 900 MINIs every day, and has contributed over 2.25 million MINIs to the tally of over 11.65 million cars that the factory has produced since 1913.

The robots are made in Switzerland and there were at least four robots at every station, welding, moving parts etc. each section takes around one minute to complete and the computer program for each minute takes about 6 hours of programming to write. 

It all starts with the floor pan before it moves onto the next section, we were lucky enough to start to see the plant come alive as we neared our exit onto the next factory, where finishing takes place. This first part only has around 200 associates working there, maintenance and loaders filling up the robots with spare parts for the build.

The next factory was where they put the car together, we were not allowed into the paint spraying section, but we saw a video, what was amazing was the cars  going through were not all the same colour or body shape, each car is made to order. All the parts for each car are different the seats and wheels, the trim and engines, including electric models are all on the same production line.

There were robot cars travelling around the factory delivering parts to the production line, everything was done ‘just in time” they only have 4 hours worth of parts on site at anyone time.

The wiring looms for the cars are all made in the Ukraine and are then shipped to the UK. There was a delay for a short while when the war in Ukraine started but there is no problem now. Each wiring loom is heated to 50 degrees before it is inserted into the car as the cooper wire will not bend if it is not warm enough. Again each section has around 67 seconds to complete their tasks, before the car moves on.

Nearing the end of the line, the engines, wheels and fluids are fitted onto the car before it rolls off the production line, ready for the customer. They have there own train station on site, for the cars to be dispatched by rail around the world to one of the 110 countries that buy the Mini.

The tour lasted around 100 minutes before we were taken back to the start, for our trip back to Southampton. The rain was still coming down and we had around two hours before the 16.30 boat.

As you all know living on the Isle of Wight the trip back can be frustrating. As we were driving down the A34, the driver pulled over and told us there was a problem with overheating. He checked under the bonnet and found that the fan belt had snapped and we were going nowhere.

None us us had a spare pair of tights to repair the broken part. The driver stayed very calm and arranged two taxis to take us to the Red Funnel ferry to catch the 18.00 boat back to East Cowes, which we made with time to spare, he also arranged a taxi for the members who caught the minibus from Newport and Shanklin.

All in all, we had a great day and we are all looking forward to the next trip. Many thanks to Joe Robinson and Lyn for sorting out all the arrangements and the Wight Minibus Company.

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