Visiting the Jaguar Land Rover Design and Engineering Centre

Earlier in the week, I was able to get a ticket to attend one of the design and engineering tours Jaguar Land Rover put on at Gaydon, the location of their Design and Engineering Centre, where 4,000 employees work to create the next generation of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles. With the two companies being owned by Tata, they are very much brothers to each other, sharing the same facilities as well as technology to increase knowledge and reduce costs.

This was an absolutely fantastic tour, so a big thank you to the guides that showed our group for the morning around! It was extremely interesting, and falling in the middle of my FMP, it was perfect timing as it allowed me to really experience what the brand is about and will have a big influence on the project I am sure.

The tour started from being driven from the Heritage Centre at Gaydon a couple of miles down the road to their facilities where we were driven around the enormous site, including a quick look into the neighbouring Aston Martin compound. Our group saw many secret Jaguar and Land Rover prototypes, many of which were disguised in a digital camouflage, like the example image (which can be found here) below of a Range Rover Sport, which has just been launched. It is surprising to see how the patterns are successful in breaking up the shape of the vehicle so as to not reveal the secrets and hide the test equipment.

LR_Range_Rover_Sport_Arjeplog_02_LowRes
Range Rover Sport cold-weather testing at Arjeplog in Sweden.

There are also massive vehicle compounds we drove by, which are used for different purposes. One we saw had all the Jaguar F-Types to be used for the upcoming press launch, whereas another was the distribution centre, and another one was where all the prototypes go once they are finished with to be disassembled or scrapped.

Arriving at ‘G-DEC’ as it is referred to is an experience in itself. The buildings feature a crisp, white finish, very reminiscent of BMW’s buildings… and the reason for that is when BMW owned Land Rover, they oversaw the expansion of Gaydon. Inside it is also an amazing environment, it looks a fantastic place to work as you look up at the sides of the offices with employees at work, something the image below from a Rolton Group case study highlights well.

First floor of ‘G-DEC’ – this is what can be looked up at upon entering at ground level in the bottom left of the image.

The first section we saw on our tour was the rapid prototyping section. We saw a wide variety of high-tech machines producing prototype parts out of a variety of materials, such as resin and nylon-12, using different processes such as stereolithography along the way. This was very impressive to see, and is where a a pair of laser beams cross a mesh grid filled with resin, leaving tiny amounts of hardened plastic. Over time these layers build a piece, which is incredibly accurate, with things like screw threads already in place. The CAD/CAM software has tolerances for different materials and is vastly powerful. The resulting pieces are 100% accurate and ready for using in prototypes.

Image taken by Kilometer Magazine

The video below also gives a good idea as to some of the sights we saw during the tour (we didn’t see a lot of what that shows though)

The next section we saw was the ‘Virtual Reality Cave’, which the Land Rover image below shows as a small ‘room’ constructed out of cinema style screens 4x more powerful than HD. The functionality of this is exceptional, as the video above mentions, with amazing functions, from simulating vehicles to allow them to be viewed from the outside and inside, as well as in simulated locations such as streets, to testing boot space, to deconstructing them by literally ‘pulling’ away the panels in the virtual world, and navigating through vehicles to assess them during development. It is an extraordinary tool!

The amazing high-tech ‘virtual reality cave’ where extremely complicated simulations have advanced vehicle development significantly.

You need to wearing 3D glasses to get the true effect, and we were allowed to try the pair of glasses which had plastic ‘antlers’ on with yellow balls. (again, it’s shown in the above video) These detected movement and translated it to what the screen showed, mimicking reality. So if you turn your head, the screen matches what you’d see. Very clever!

The next section we were shown on the tour was the ‘Breakdown area’ where vehicles that the engineers are interested in are either bought or loaned to them by rival car companies as part of a sharing agreement for analysis. It was fascinating to see what vehicles and components were being disassembled, and with each vehicle we saw, it started to make sense as to why they would want to examine them… very interesting!

Although it was not part of the tour as it is in a separate set of buildings and not really suitable for showing, they also have facilities to put vehicles through extraordinary harsh tests to ensure durability. A great video of these processes can be seen below, where they are explained and seen in action.

The final part was unexpected. I had not expected the tour to take us out onto the proving ground at Gaydon, where secret prototypes are put through their paces to extreme measures not able to be replicated out on the roads, and from what I gathered on some days when ultra top-secret vehicles are testing or ones that are extremely experimental and carry a higher risk factor it is not available to the tour, hence why it is not advertised. They also have off-road proving grounds, but we did not use or see them during our tour. Below is a video that does give a quick insight in between promotional material as to some sights we saw.

Our group was split up as before between several Land Rover Discovery 4’s, and we went covered some of the test vehicles are put through. Firstly we travelled down an extremely long runway (RAF Gaydon used to be here on the site hence why we had a runway to use) which they call the ‘brake test straight.’ Here is where extreme acceleration and braking are tested. Our driver took us from 0-100 on full acceleration and did an emergency stop from 100mph. This was astounding, and the forces involved just had to be felt to be believed! Then the driver mentioned how it would be even greater if the brakes were brand new and we had less passengers in the vehicle, or if we were in a sports car!

We then moved onto the test oval, where we were given an extreme demonstration of how the Dynamic Stability Control worked. Entering a long corner, we were going way too fast, and from there the vehicle detects this, limits the power to ensure a safe passage through, before increasing the power when it detects the grip to do so. It is an incredible safety tool designed to prevent accidents and is well worth it.

After a quick stop at the RAF Gaydon control tower to have a look at the map of the site, we hopped back in and continued to the handling phase. Not before I got a sight of the top-secret project in a certain compound being worked on, which I was very excited about! I better say no more about it… as really we were told we “didn’t see it” 😛

Image taken by Kilometer Magazine
Image taken by Kilometer Magazine

With the tour continuing we were shown the vehicle’s handling, and taken over rough ‘roads’ and rumble strips at even intervals at about 30/40mph etc to show how the vehicle is tested and able to cope with rough terrain. Then we were driven over an exceptionally rough, cambered and rutted single track path just wide enough for the vehicle, as quickly as possible which was incredibly rough. Not for the travel sick like myself! Thankfully I made it through in one piece… but wow! Ummm, I can’t explain how rough it is in words. You really have to experience it to believe it.

I have to say it was a great morning, and well worth a visit for anyone who is into design and engineering! I learnt so much in the space of the three hour tour, and really gained a much greater understanding of what it takes in order to build road cars to such a high specification. What I have learnt here will also give me a much better idea for my FMP as to how to approach the Range Rover promotional materials.

For the afternoon, I visited the Prodrive heritage centre before heading back home, but that will be for my next blog post.

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