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Luton Borough Council

16/07/2020 - Vauxhall


Vauxhall Luton plant reopening

The Luton plant is coming back into production, since the beginning of the COVID-19 health crisis, with Groupe PSA’s priority to protect its employees and preserve the company's long-term future. During its closure, the Luton site has remained 'active' and implemented a protocol of reinforced health measures. This protocol is approved by management and fully audited, in order to assess its implementation.

Working together with Unite, representing plant employees, to make a final review of the safety protocols, before a resumption of manufacturing activity in May 2020.

The protocol comprises more than 100 measures covering all the company's activities at industrial, administrative, research and development (R&D) and commercial level. For example, the protocol, specifically developed for industrial sites, requires checking employees’ temperatures, in addition to their self-monitoring of symptoms. The wearing of glasses on site is also supplemented by a daily individual supply of masks, and respecting safe distances between people. Measures include break areas with markings on the floor, keeping doors open (except fire doors) to avoid contact with handles, frequent cleaning of tools and work surfaces, waiting time when exchanging unprepared parts in a Groupe PSA (hand to hand) environment.

Vauxhall have successful reopened the plant in Luton on 11 May 2020 with staggered start times and effectively communicating the changes to the normal working practises with employees. The company continue to audit the site to ensure that their high safety standards are maintained.

The Vauxhall / Smith’s Medical ventilator story – so far

Smith’s Medical are a UK based manufacturer of ventilator machines (and other related medical products) for major world health care organisations (including the UK NHS).

With the onset of COVID-19, Smith’s responded to the UK Government request to increase production of their existing, high spec ventilator machines. They already had a suitable inventory of the required parts on site, (and more on order), which would allow this increase to happen.

However, they did not have enough skilled labour available to support the physical increased production of these machines, as this would require new working stations, layouts, and additional working shift patterns, to produce the volume required by the now urgent UK NHS deadlines.

That is where our Vauxhall CEO Steve Norman could see an opportunity to help.

The Vauxhall Luton manufacturing facility had just gone into the COVID-19 lock down period on 19 March 2020 and as such all our employees were put into the newly announced Government Furlough scheme.

Vauxhall approached Smiths Medical directly with the offer of using Vauxhall skilled assembly workers, to help them produce the urgent ventilator machines required, at their existing premises in Luton.

Skype meetings and conference calls quickly took place, and the Luton plant director, HR director and executive production shift manager were invited to the manufacturing facility to review the operation and to agree the number of people required and the duration of Smith’s Medicals needs.

Volunteers were quickly canvassed by posting an advertisement on the internal Vauxhall web site. The response was amazing, and Vauxhall were extremely grateful that so many of their employees would wish to positively contribute to the national efforts to help ‘save lives and protect the NHS’.

Then by direct phone calls to the homes of Vauxhall Luton Employees (to ensure understanding of the assignment), a strong, new team was formed, with a start date at Smith’s Medical of the 6 April 2020.

This new Vauxhall team consisted of:

  • a recently promoted and dedicated Supervisor, Tom King
  • an extremely experienced production Team Leader, Gary Marchant
  • 15 skilled production assembly team members (with additional personal skills including clock/watch repairs, model making, light DIY assembly, arts/craft kit making, car mechanics/paint repair)

Prior to Smith’s Medical acceptance of this new Vauxhall team, all new volunteers had to pass a formal safety induction, aptitude test, and e-learning questionnaire, before being allowed to start formal technical assembly training at the Smith’s Medical site. The Vauxhall team achieved with ease.

Amazingly after only five working days the Vauxhall team had mastered the intensive assembly process of building a high spec ventilator machine, and learned the detailed checking/quality buy off procedures needed.

Each stage of the quality process’s being personally signed off by the new Vauxhall assembly worker, to endorse traceability and accountability of their work.

The new Vauxhall team quickly ‘bonded’ with the existing Smith’s team, a clear demonstration of the mutual trust and respect on both sides for the urgent, life- saving tasks that lay ahead.

When the new Vauxhall team arrived at Smith’s Medical the output of the ventilator machines was around 25 units per week.

By upgrading the working stations, adding an additional shift and implementing new productivity improvement ideas, production dramatically increased to 26 units per day.

So far over 1,200 additional high spec ventilator machines have been sent to the UK NHS and to other world wide healthcare organisations, as a direct result of these activities.

The entire experience of the new Vauxhall team, working in combination with the existing Smith’s Medical team, has seen an amazing union of skills, personalities and a deep group desire to help the national crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Positively the joint assembly team stays in place for a number of weeks to come, until such time as the order’s for these critical medical supplies return to normal levels with current predictions being July to September 2020.

Part of the immediate role for the new Vauxhall team, from now, is to train and coach new Smith’s Medical employees to take over the functions that they have been covering. This will ensure a sustainable skill level will be in place for their future needs.

Paul Clark of Vauxhall added, "I am also sure the lasting friendships and strong work memories, (forged during this intense period) will last long beyond the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Great job done by a great team".

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