Lotus Cars are well known for their use of lightweight bonded and riveted aluminium chassis structures, less-well known is that they are manufactured by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Group Lotus.
Trading from Worcester, in the West Midlands region of the UK, Lotus Lightweight Structures Ltd (LLS) was originally founded over 10 years ago by the Norsk Hydro Group to serve automotive customers requiring lightweight niche volume vehicle structures based on bonded aluminium technologies. Lotus purchased the business in May 2008, and is continuing to invest in the growth and expansion of the facility to meet future business needs.
In addition to supplying Lotus Cars, LLS enjoys a diverse customer base, delivering not only bonded aluminium products, but anything from component surface treatments (anodised parts) to final assembly of full vehicles. Since its founding, it has supplied aluminium products to a range of premium automotive industry customers and major OEM’s – including BMW Mini, Jaguar Land Rover, Aston Martin and Tesla Motors.
The continuing development of low-carbon vehicles – with increasingly aggressive vehicle mass reduction targets – has led to a number of ongoing activities developing solutions for various city car and commercial vehicle projects, featuring a number of different fuel and energy sources, including battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells.
In more recent years, there has also been diversification of the business outside of the automotive industry. In addition to supplying products for aerospace industry, LLS is working with companies in the renewable energy field, supporting the development of new technologies and products to capture and harvest ‘greener’ energy from renewable sources, as part of strategies being executed to assist in achieving the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are being mandated by various governments and regulatory bodies throughout the world.
The 8,000 m2 facility in Worcester houses the major manufacturing processes including final assembly of its different product offerings, and is currently capable of delivering up to 10,000 automotive chassis frames per annum – as well as a multitude of other minor parts and sub assemblies. Through its experienced staff, LLS offers a highly flexible and integrated approach to delivering its product range, supported by close working partnerships with strategic suppliers, who themselves have a strong track record of delivery.
This allows LLS to provide a ‘one stop shop’ of product delivery from concept through engineering, production and post production services.
The foundation technology of bonded aluminium has a number of critical advantages when compared to other processes that may normally be considered:
- In comparison to welding there is no heat affected zone
- Joints can tolerate dimensional variances
- Dissimilar materials can be joined (eg alloy to composite)
- Joint surfaces/designs can ensure maximum strength
- Short lead time to first prototypes
- Relatively low budget tooling and set-up costs – which can be a significant factor for low volume production, or ‘start-up’ businesses
- Ten CNC machine tools (3,4 and5 axis) producing extruded aluminium components for integration into structures
- Three Robotic MIG welding cells and manual TIG
- Structural aluminium anodising line producing up to 5 flight bars per hour capable of surface treating cast, sheet and extruded alloys
- Climate controlled clean room assembly facility with robotic adhesive application, assembly tooling, curing ovens and self piercing fastening systems
- Full metrology capability with four automated CMMs up to full vehicle scale
- Electric vehicle conversion facility with vehicle ramps, material marshalling, test and buy off capability
- Engineering and process development capability enabling project management, process development and product design
- Supply chain management including procurement, supplier management and logistics
- Quality accreditation to ISO TS 16949
In addition to the main facility in Worcester, LLS operates its own high quality structural anodising plant from a 5,000 m2 facility in Wellingborough.
The facility is capable of anodising 400,000 m2 per annum and also acts as a logistics co-ordination hub for key customers. This is currently one of only a few facilities commercially available within the UK and Europe that is capable of anodising parts to such a high standard.