We had been invited on a visit to the Swift factory by Ash Dhir via the Swift Talk forum. We were staying at Bridlington, so it was about a 50 minute drive south from Bridlington to Cottingham where the factory is located. Thursday was going to be another warm sunny day but the forecast was for the weather to break for the weekend. We had a lazy morning, deciding not to do much except potter about the camp site. I replied to some emails and a couple of odd jobs on the van… the emptying or refilling of the various containers that were connected by umbilicals to the caravan and the general wander round with a micro-fibre cloth in one had and a sprayer containing One Dry in the other attacking anything that looked like a dirt mark, deceased bug or a spot where a fly decided to commit suicide on the trip over. Sandwiches prepared…. with beef from the farm shop up the road we set off for Cottingham about 12:30.
I would have loved to be able to show you photos taken on the tour, unfortunately Swift, for very good reasons, don’t allow it on site. Having worked in industries in the past where even having a camera on site was a career limiting move, I don’t have a problem with their restriction.
We were met at Reception and taken over to a conference room in part of the main factory where we met Ash Dhir and a number of his colleagues. We were given an introduction to Swift, which is still a family owned and run company and taken through a number of their internal processes which not surprisingly were all geared round the product, maintaining quality and standards and feeding back to the right people any issues that had been raised by customers.
Swift are the only manufacturer in the industry (that I know off) to run their own forum, and I don’t think its a secret that they know other manufacturers keep an eye on the forum, but what did surprise me was the level of involvement that all the senior staff have with the information that is gained from Swift Talk. Running a forum, can be a labour intensive activity but for Swift, making that commitment has been worth it. All the information about even the smallest issue is taken on board and reviewed. At the end of the presentation, we were asked if we had any questions, and I chipped in my two cents about the green cap and the 13 pin plug that I’d written about in The 13 Pin Plug Puzzle after a couple of questions had been raised on Swift Talk and Caravan Talk. It seems that Ash and his colleagues had taken on board the problem and there were ongoing investigations within Swift. Before setting off, I did check the stats for the number of visitors to the 13 Pin puzzle page and there had been nearly 800 people visiting it from the link on Swift Talk… nearly 1200 visitors from Caravan Talk and somewhere in the region of 400 visitors from volvoforums.org.uk more than any other car owners forum. (as I’m not a Volvo owner and its a closed forum, I’ve not a clue how they got onto the 13 pin plug puzzle!)
After the Q & A session, we broke into three groups and set off round the production facility. It is obvious that Swift are investing heavily in technology and to watch some of the automated machines produce components was fascinating… but equally as fascinating was watching people on the factory floor finishing off components by hand, it looked so easy, but I don’t think any of us would have made it look so simple.
We walked past the GRP building where all the moulding is done for the front and rear walls of the caravan or motor home are produced. Rather than outsource this to a foreign company, they prefer to do it in-house. I was actually surprised on how much was undertaken in-house, Swift are not an assembly company, they still make parts there in the traditional sense… that is make parts from raw materials. The company preference is to “do it themselves” rather than buy in components from abroad. Keeping as much as they can “Made In Britain” is something a lot of other companies seem to have lost sight off.
What started out as a dirty dusty process slowly got cleaner and cleaner as raw material turned into components, components turned into sub assemblies and finally in one building, all the sub assembles arrived at one point and the actual process of assembling a caravan could begin. Well, that is not quite right as also in the same building, components were arriving for the motor home production lines too. As we walked down the production line, we could see the various stages of assembly. It was fascinating to see how easily all the hard work put into creating the sub assemblies paid off. Eventually we had a completed van which was put through a series of tests then moved outside where it was attacked with a jet wash just to see if it leaked anywhere.
From there, is was off to the detail shop for a serious in-depth cleaning and yet another inspection. If anything was found untoward, the whole batch of caravans or motor homes could be pulled for further inspections. This rigours regime reduced the chances of any problems with production issues down to an absolute minimum.
With that we walked back round the outside of the factory past the storage compound where currently there were some 700 vans waiting for delivery with Swifts own delivery company. Swift take pride in producing their vans so why trust them to anyone else for delivery!
All to soon the visit was over and after thanking everyone at Swift, we all departed. Sue and I headed back up to Bridlington to our van… knowing a little more about how it was made and the people who made it. Sue commented on just how much she enjoyed going round the factory and how interesting she found it.
If you have a Swift van and havent already registered on Swift Talk, I would recommend you do so. It has to be one of the best resources for help or just for simply finding out about your van or motor home, and keep an eye out, I’m sure Ash and the team will be organising another factory tour in the not too distant future.
If anyone asked me would I buy another Swift… I already know the answer would be yes.
PS… Now I wonder if Ash can get me a bit of discount……..!