On Saturday 10th August, Paul Brown and I both enjoyed the Triumph Factory Visitor Experience – something we have wanted to do for some time, but lack of available slots to do the tour, holidays, work, family – had all got in the way of finding a date when we were both free beforehand.
Prior to the visit, both bikes checked over and made ready for the trip up. One thing we hadn’t accounted for was the weather! Come the Friday 9th, all weather channels were forecasting atrocious weather for the Saturday, torrential rain and very high winds (gusts up to 60mph), so we decided it would probably be dangerous to take the bikes and opted for the car instead.
We had both booked the 11:30 tour. Looking at Google Maps which suggested a drive time of about 2.5 hours. Add onto that that one has to be in the building ready for the tour 20 mins in advance (else you miss out on the tour with no chance to do it later) and we wanted to stop for breakfast as well (probably about an hour) gave us a rough leave time of 7:30. Knowing how bad the M25/M1 can be at times for traffic, we opted to depart at 7:00 instead.
Come the day, Paul picked me up at 7:00 and off we went for a nice gentle drive to the factory. Weather was as forecast (so our decision to go by car was justified) and we had a nice gentle drive up. So much then for Google Maps suggested drive time, as we stopped for breakfast just a few miles from the factory at just after 9:00!
After a nice fry-up, we went on down to the Factory Experience. As you drive in, you go past the factory itself on the left, 2 big grey buildings that in all honesty, if you didn’t know was Triumph could be anything! On arrival though, plenty of parking space (bikes have their own dedicated car park right in front of the factory entrance) and in we went, registering for our tour, and grabbing a couple of coffee’s in the 1902 Café whilst we waited.
Come 11:30 off we went. First thing was the briefing – no photos allowed inside the factory, Hi-vis jacket provided as well as a headset (which gave excellent reception throughout).
First thing is Goods Inwards. Impressive! Racks upon racks of parts about as long as a football pitch all accessed by fork lifts which whilst “driven” by humans, have computer controlled electronic tracks to run on.
Next are the racks upon racks of completed motorcycles ready to be shipped (Triumph ship on average 400 machines per day). Triumph only build bikes powered by triple engines at Hinckley, so the Speed Triples, Tiger Sports, Tiger 1200/Sports, Rocket IIIs and Daytonas. The rest of the Triumph range are manufactured and assembled in Thailand, which is also where all the tanks and frames are manufactured for UK built machines). All machines made are made to order, and you can tell from the cover where they were assembled – green plastic covering is UK assembled, pink plastic covering is Thailand assembled, and cardboard boxes are bikes which require assembly (so the box contains all the component parts). The reason for this is that for some countries (like Brazil), there is a 100% import charge equivalent to the sale price on fully assembled machines – so it is cheaper for Triumph to build the bike, then de-construct it into all its component parts, put it in boxes and ship it to those countries for re-assembly as they then only pay 2% import tax.
After this one comes to the crankshaft shop. Triumph manufacture the crankshafts for all models they make, not just those made and assembled in the UK, shipping out as appropriate for bikes manufactured and assembled in Thailand. The base crankshaft is moulded in Spain, then shipped to the UK for machining. 1 in 100 is tested within the crankshaft machining line to ensure manufacture and machining is within tolerance.
Next stop is a quick look at the quality testing area for all parts. Here they test random parts, generally 1 in 100 for quality and accuracy (although for MotoGP machines, ALL parts used in the assembly are tested). Then there is a wash room where (apparently) a young lady can go to any part of the production line and take a part which she then takes back to the clean room and washes in distilled water over a filter paper which is then examined under a microscope for dirt. Any dirt and she can stop production/assembly of that part!
Next stop is the machining of crankcases and cylinder heads for those models assembled at Hinckley. Once assembled the final boring and machining of the holes for cranks, camshafts etc. are undertaken to ensure accuracy.
After this you pass through into the assembly line, where first off the engines are assembled. A very efficient computer controlled process, with minimum human intervention, each work station checking the previous work stations work before they undertake their “bit”. Once fully assembled, and prior to the engine being filled with oil, a pressure test to check for leaks if undertaken – Triumph is one of only two manufacturers who do this. Also at this stage, one engine in 100 is taken off to the hot cells for a 24 hour session of (mainly) being run flat out to again check quality.
Alongside (but in a clean environment), the painting of tanks, panels etc is being undertaken. AS mentioned before, tanks are manufactured in Thailand and shipped with just primer on to the UK for painting for those models being assembled in the UK. A 2-pack paint is applied manually, with some very skilled guys painting on the gold pinstripes by hand and, for some of the triples, painting pinstripes on the wheel rims!
Once the engine has passed all its checks etc., then it is time for the final assembly. The final assembly point is directly behind the rack upon rack of goods inwards parts, and at the point where the engine is completed, so comes together the frame, tank and all other parts needed to complete the machine. It doesn’t matter what order the models are being built in, the computer will ensure all necessary parts for that machine are there. The only item not installed at this point is the battery, that’s a dealer installation item.
Finally once the complete bike is assembled, it’s ready to be started and checked. A small elite team of technicians put it on a rolling road and using a special seat with battery cables (they have one for each type of bike), connect the bike up and run it up to 70mph before passing or rejecting it. Each bike can only be run once, as within the ECU, there is a code which only the dealer gets to know once the bike is delivered which will stop it being started a second time (so preventing bikes that may be stolen from being started).
After that the bike is packed up as appropriate for wherever it is being sent to for delivery, or disassembled as mentioned earlier if being sent to Brazil for re-assembly over there.
All in all a fascinating 1.5 hours experience of seeing how the Triumph factory operates today, and once over, being able to spend some time in the museum there looking back at a range of models from a private collectors’ collection.
Both Paul and I came away having thoroughly enjoyed our experience – a shame that because of the weather we could not have ridden up (especially as my Explorer would have been built at Hinckley), but a great day nevertheless and recommended if you have not been.