It would be going little beyond the care truth to say that the Commercial Cars Works are so equipped and installed, and so self-centred, that materials enter at one end of the big range of shops and three-ton motor waggons, of the type which during the war became such familiar objects in our streets, emerge from the other end. For this practically is the case; and a tour of inspection with the Deputy Works Manager ended on a note of admiration at the splendid system of organisation which operates through the whole concern.
Fortunately, perhaps, for the writer (though much less pleasant from the firm's point of view), his visit coincided with a temporary loss of electro current, but thought this fact precluded the sight of most of the machinery in full running order, it enabled the full and authoritative explanations and descriptions given him to be followed with something approaching ease.
Each department of the shops is self-contained, each has its separate and clearly defined function, but all are dovetailed into one another, all are inter-dependent in securing the finished product.
The original plans for the factory were laid on sound lines, and so the basis for development was already in existence, and the speeding up and standardisation which were found essential were matters presenting no great difficulty.
At the outbreak of war, the Company were engaged in the manufacture, for purely commercial purposes, of lorries with a carrying capacity ranging from one-and-a-half to five-and-a-half tons. War found the Army practically with no lorries, and consequence upon the quite unforeseen development of motor transport for military purposes, the demand became intense.
So far as the Luton establishment was affected, three-ton W.D. Lorries were the speciality – in fact the firm turned out nothing else – and in adjusting and duplicating the plant in such a manner that the output could be vastly increased some time was spent.
But when this alteration had been effected, most valuable service was rendered to the common cause. Plans were afoot for the development on the lines which actually have been employed, but it is regarded as questionable whether they would have been needed with such rapidity under other than war conditions.
Our tour of the works was full of interest and instruction to those who, even as the writer, are not possessed of a technical knowledge of engineering. Most of the plant is of the most up-to-date type, and much of it has been installed during the war.
The labour-saving devices in use are many and ingenious. One which was especially striking was a lifting pulley with an endless chain, arranged on overhead running gear from the purpose of removing heavy loads from one shop to another, the floor of one being some inches higher than the other.
An interesting item of information gained was that the firm are now using steel wheels for their heavy lorries. Formerly these were not used to a very large extent, and they all came from abroad. Now they are made in this country.
Highly interesting also was the pattern shop, where the patterns are made from which castings are subsequently taken, and the Manager intimated with reasonable pride – as he exhibited a huge collection dating back in some instances to 1906 – that the firm had always enjoyed a high reputation for their wok in this craft.
We learned also that one form of casting, for which in pre-war days the Cars were dependent upon Sheffield, were now being made by Messrs T. Balmforth & Co, Luton.
The expansion of premises and output during the war was responsible for the introduction into the machine shops of girl labour in large numbers, and the corollary of this was special attention to the welfare side of the development. The girls have been throughout finely catered for in this respect, and this remark applies with equal force to the male employees.
The shops area splendid range of buildings – airy, roomy, well lighted and well warmed. The heating, installed by Messrs Sturtevant on their Plenum system deserved particular mention. Steam is generated in a couple of boilers and is conveyed in mains to a central chamber. From here, air is driven by motor over the hot pipes, and thence through cunningly-arranged tapering pipes to all portions of the premises. The system has been in operation for nearly three years, and had answered splendidly.
The wood and paint shops, the furnaces and blast forges, all well repaid a visit, and as one walked through the factory one saw the familiar car in various stages of manufacture. The assembly room was particularly interesting, as also was a view of the condition under which engines are tested.
A branch which demonstrates how complete is the filing and indexing at the establishment is that which deals with replacements. This, while not a war-time development, needed considerable extension. As the struggle proceeded, it was found necessary to stock spare parts in quantities regulated by the frequency with which they were likely to be required. The indexing is such that, at any moment, access can be had to a bin containing the replacing part, and to a card which shows how many are in stock at the moment, and also the quantity already delivered and in demand. Everything in this department is known by its detail number.
The offices, too, are on a basis which supplies the maximum efficiency; whilst the telephone installation of the firm is in appearance like a miniature exchange. A valuable addition to the equipment of the offices if the Dictograph, an up-to-date attachment which combines many special advantages.
The whole concern has been planned with a view to expansion and the object of securing that the workers shall labour under comfortable and attractive conditions, and the desired result has certainly been attained.
Commer Cars are now reverting to their pre-war programme, and the writer saw on the stocks the framework of a private motor charabanc, the completion of which had been held up since the early days of the conflict.
The management view the future with quiet optimism; and if the impressions of a fleeting visitor constitute a base for reliable judgment, then they are justified.