On an exclusive press trip to Europe, courtesy of Meritor, I had a change to tour its truck brake plant in Cwmbran, United Kingdom. Cwmbran is a city with a small population in the region of Torfaen, Wales.
The plant has been producing brakes since April 2000, but its history dates back to 1942 when it was built by brake manufacturer Lucas' military division to build ball turrets for English Lancaster bombers.
Following the World War II, Lucas transferred its division from Birmingham, UK, to Cwmbran. Then, its Cwmbran brake business was sold to Meritor.
The plant's 330 shop personnel have an average weekly production of nearly 9,100 air disc brakes, 2,800 drum disc brakes and 2,000 brake related products.
In addition to manufacturing brake carriers and operating shafts, the plants assembles disc and drum brakes for truck and trailer OEMs and other Meritor facilities.
The products are sold throughout Europe, United States, Brazil, China, Korea, Japan, Australia, India, Canada and Turkey.
Meritor has an air disc brake plant in the York, S.C.
All Meritor brakes are a modular family to reduce parts count complexity.
Perhaps the most impressive thing at the plant is its transformation from your typical manufacturing plant - dark, dirty and noisy - to one that is quiet; well-light using new lighting and natural lighting throughout; and clean.
It is also safer. There have been no lost time incidents over the past two years.
Meritor has made a 58 million dollar investment in updating the plant, Gwyn Gardiner, the plant manager told me. Plant size will be reduced from 500,000 square-feet to 300,000', production will be increased through the use of new, more modern automated manufacturing equipment and a new layout that enhances collaboration between groups and allows shop personnel to be more efficient.
By way of example, Gardiner showed me how, with a new equipment arrangement, two people can now operate five machines rather than just one.
With regard to improved safety, the number of forklifts used in the plant has been reduced from 42 to 19 and will eventually be eliminated from manufacturing area, replaced by nine tugs. Forklifts had been a main cause of accidents, Gardiner said.
At the same time, material movements are minimized, simplified and optimized. Heavy vehicle traffic at the plant is all one-way, virtually eliminating the need for vehicle maneuvering.
The testing, engineering and R&D capabilities at Cwmbran have been updated as well with advanced technical capabilities and equipment so more can be accomplished in less time, said Joe ElBehairy, Meritor's vice president of engineering and quality.
He noted that the test laboratory has a drive-through garage that allows for very fast vehicle checks and release for field data capture. Its layout has been optimized for efficiency.
New investments have included a $1.5 million NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) dynamometer and a $1 million three-axis shaker.