Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours chatting with Alistair Banks, owner of Richards Chassis in the UK, and tour their manufacturing site located in Mexborough, UK. Richards Chassis manufacture brand new, galvanized chassis for almost any Land Rover Series, Defender 90, 110 or specialty Defender, and are the manufacturer of the quality chassis we offer here at Atlantic British. Alistair, a 30-year veteran of the Land Rover trade, is co-owner of the firm along with his brother, Duncan. The company has grown considerably since the two acquired the company over a decade ago. There is no sign of slowing either, and they are now running two shifts in order to meet demand.
Alistair Banks showing off some freshly cut chassis parts. Can you guess what it is?
There is no secret to the success of Richards Chassis and Alistair was happy to rattle on for hours about the inner workings of both the business side and the manufacturing side of the operations. They are still a small company with 38 employees. The fabrication takes place in two connected warehouse-type buildings of just 4,500 square-foot each, with a 2,500 square-foot storage building at one end and stacked chassis filling the space from wall to wall.
Almost all of Richards’ fabrication is done in house, using parts that are laser-cut on the premises from 2.5mm steel plate. The laser is CAD-driven which provides a level of speed and accuracy virtually unattainable through other methods. There are CAD drawings on file for over 1,200 different parts and the laser produces about 7,500 individual parts each week. Another advantage of the CAD programming is that it allows nesting of the shapes to be cut from the raw sheet metal, maximizing efficiency in use of material with less than 10% going to waste. That waste then gets recycled, so the operation is environmentally friendly in that way. A few of the more complex stamped components, such as rear crossmembers, are built to Richards’ exacting specifications by another firm under contract.
Chassis rails waiting to become chassis
Once the parts are cut, they are organized and moved to storage or to be welded into chassis components and eventually into complete units. At the time of our visit, all of the welding was being done by hand. Currently, they are a few weeks away from commencing robot-welding to build the main longitudinal chassis rails, which should speed up the process even further, while improving weld accuracy and ultimately the strength and integrity of the finished product.
With the rails welded, they go into one of a series of jigs designed to lock all the components in position and are then welded into a final assembly with each chassis receiving any one of a number of options, depending on what the customer has asked for. Alistair was keen to point out the one jig that "started it all" when they first started making chassis many years ago. It was still in use with a SIIa 88” chassis clamped in and ready to be welded up.
Series 88" chassis in the jig
The fully welded chassis will go off for hot-dip galvanizing, which ensures a long life in the harshest conditions. The galvanized coating forms a molecular bond with the base steel and coats the chassis inside and out - a great advantage over standard painted or waxoyled chassis, as those coatings never reach everywhere they need to and the chassis end up rusting from the inside out. The zinc coating works by acting as a sacrificial layer that forfeits its own electrons to the environment while protecting the base steel from formation of rust. The zinc can eventually wear away, but the lifespan of the steel is increased by decades.
For further protection from the rust worm, Richards’ chassis main rails are all built up from four plates welded at the corners, just like the original Series Land Rover chassis. Alistair advised that the factory Land Rover chassis, formed from two stamped “C” channels welded together into a rectangular tube, can be prone to corrosion at the welded, overlapped seam. He has seen the original seams fail and some that weren't properly welded. Additionally, the stamping of the “C” shape makes the material thin at the bend area, requiring the use of reinforcement pieces welded inside, which in turn contribute to rust on their own. Richards’ method of construction for the most part eliminates those issues, correcting design flaws in the factory original fabrication.
Once the chassis comes back from galvanizing it has to undergo a finishing process to clean up threads and holes that have been clogged with zinc. This is one step that other chassis manufacturers have historically not done, and a further sign of Richards’ quality.
With all that out of the way, we can move on to what else makes Richards stand out among the competition. It is easy to see that much of the success of the company has been due to their willingness to innovate and strive to continually meet the demands of the market. It's not a complicated strategy. Says Alistair, "It's just getting that quality and providing the product that people want, isn't it? Its always been that way."
Richards also strive to create a positive working environment for their employees. “A happy workforce is a productive workforce. If they leave they generally ask to come back,” offers Alistair. They’ve never had to make anyone redundant and the business has grown 50 percent over the last year. The second shift’s added production capacity took them from 12 weeks order-to-delivery down to 6 or 8. In the end, they hope to eliminate any backlog and keep some products in stock.
Al Banks, surveying his domain
From their humble beginnings in a chicken shack, the company has grown to become the largest supplier of Land Rover chassis in the world (next to Land Rover themselves.) Seeing all of the different parts coming together to form competed chassis and listening to Alistair tell his side of the story really gives one an appreciation for all the details of various models over the years and the cumulative knowledge needed to get it right. And if they don’t get it right, they will do their best to fix it, even if it means swapping another chassis under if that’s what it takes. They did one in 12 hours, says Alistair. “I think we set a new record.”
If you are in the market for a chassis, the current Richards catalog contains over 200 different possible chassis configurations - many of which are available right here through Atlantic British (or available via special order - ask us!) We even saw a special project under way, a one-off job for a customer. A Series Land Rover 109” 6x6 that was in for a new chassis. No one has ever offered those as a stock item, so Alistair had the rolling chassis delivered to his premises to take measurements. That job is now done, the vehicle back with the customer. The CAD files of the 6x6 chassis are now in the system, in case anyone else comes looking for one. If they can do that, chances are good that if they can produce one for your Series or Defender Land Rover.
Original Land Rover 109 6x6 Chassis
Comparing the Land Rover factory MOD Wolf 110 Chassis to Richards' version
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