ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates ― Step into an automotive manufacturing plant in the United Arab Emirates and vehicles are rolling down the production line with wire harnesses, side rails, and handles as the paint booth illuminates one end. While the plant operates like a commercial factory, military vehicles are in the works instead.
That’s because defense manufacturers are mirroring commercial manufacturers’ assembly lines to become more efficient and cut costs in an increasingly crowded armored vehicle manufacturing industry. Parts are delivered directly to the line site in sequence, eliminating inefficiencies such as time and labor spent retrieving parts from warehouses.
“We build these vehicles and we apply the same manufacturing processes that an OEM vehicle manufacturer would apply to a Range Rover or a BMW – just-in-time deliveries, just-in-sequence deliveries … all of the usual efficiency applications that OEMs would use,” said David Perry, operations director at NIMR Automotive.
“A typical commercial automotive plant has each vehicle move down the production line. The parts go to a fixed station, and the vehicle progresses down the line and the parts are built upon the vehicle as it goes,” Perry said.
“What we’re really trying to do here is create an automotive environment rather than duplicate an old-style defense environment,” Perry said.
The need to customize
There is a distinction from the typical Ford assembly line model, however, considering commercial manufacturers mass produce their vehicles, while defense makers deliver fully customized vehicles with assembly lines that roll them out at far lower rates. NIMR’s production facility in Abjan, Abu Dhabi, for example, has three assembly lines for up to 5 vehicles to be produced, tested, and delivered every day.
“We need added flexibility because we might be making contracts of 40 of this, 50 of that. We need to be able to make different vehicles down different lines,” Perry said. “So we wouldn’t necessarily try to operate to a balanced capacity. What instead we try to is … balance the flow; we work on [eliminating] the bottlenecks.”