The Chapman Production Centre, named after company founder Colin Chapman, is part of a $A174 million investment by Lotus in its UK operations and the doubling of employee numbers since Geely became the major shareholder in 2017.
Lotus has recruited staff across all areas of the business including skilled manufacturing operatives, engineers and technicians. In vehicle assembly and production operations alone, 300 new staff have joined the company.
Through the new Lotus Learning Academy, based at Lotus Advanced Structures (LAS), all recruits have been trained in the high quality manufacturing operations.
Lotus Group managing director Matt Windle said: “Lotus is transforming from a UK sports car company to a truly global performance car business and brand, and the new Chapman Production Centre is a symbol of us delivering on that ambition.
“We are proud of our past successes and excited about our all-electric future, which was started all those years ago by our founder Colin Chapman.”
The new Chapman Production Centre is one of the most advanced low-volume automotive manufacturing facilities in the world and has the capacity to build around 5000 cars a year.
It features a state-of-the art paint facility that uses automation to apply primer, colour and clearcoat, ensuring an exceptionally high-quality finish, a high through-put of vehicles and perfect repeatability.
The new Lotus system is highly efficient: dry filtration uses 60 per cent less energy than a wet system, while an electrostatic primer on body panels will reduce paint usage by 30-40 per cent compared to the previous hand-sprayed process.
All Lotus sports car operations at Hethel and in Norwich are powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity thanks to a partnership with energy supplier Centrica.
The buildings which housed the previous Lotus assembly lines have been converted to sub-assembly responsible for a new framing line which builds the car bodies as part of Emira pre-production, with robots applying bonding agent to the sides, roof and cantrails.
All-new Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) ensure the highly efficient movement of cars-in-build on set routes around the factory, allowing operations teams to focus on assembling the vehicles.
By using AGVs, Lotus has future-proofed its sports car manufacturing system as changes can be made quickly and easily to accommodate different manufacturing processes as new vehicle models are introduced.
The main assembly line also includes wheel and headlight alignment equipment, a vehicle configuration and test system, monsoon water test booth, rolling road and fuel fill area.
Adjacent to the Chapman Production Centre is a new validation track where all production cars are tested as part of the quality assurance process.
The car-maker’s new sub-assembly facility, Lotus Advanced Structures, in Norwich, just a few miles to the north of Hethel, houses the bonded and extruded chassis assembly and the subframe and fuel tank manufacture for all Lotus cars.
The chassis and front-end assembly line includes robot bonding agent application, 12 new CNC milling machines and a new laser cutting machine to manufacture fuel tanks, rear subframes and many of the steel and aluminium components used on the Emira.
By Neil Dowling