Norton Motorcycles is one of the iconic names in British motorcycling and is undergoing a renaissance under new ownership and investment in new state-of-the-art machining technology.
The company was on the brink of bankruptcy, before in 2020, Indian motorbike manufacturing giant TVS saved it and resurrected the historic brand, last year announcing a £100m investment plan.
TVS is renowned for producing quality bikes at affordable prices, but the new owner’s aim for Norton was very different and it is TVS’ flagship, luxury line.
“TVS make three million bikes every year in their Indian facilities, so they know manufacturing and they know how to make a product that is so reliable they can offer a 30,000-mile warranty on a 100cc bike,” explains Adam Green, senior manufacturing process engineer at Norton Motorcycles.
“Norton is a very different proposition for them. Norton is premium brand for TVS and as an owner, they want flawless paintwork, flawless polishing, reliability, component testing, the lot. Our brief is simple, make the finest bikes Norton have ever made.”
TVS’ plans for the brand have included the opening of a new manufacturing facility in Solihull, West Midlands, that aims to build British bikes using a combination of traditional hand-crafted ways of working with modern manufacturing techniques to deliver consistently high quality.
That willingness to embrace new ways of working led the company to critically examine how it made its bike frames in its fabricating facility.
“Previously, we’d been hand-bending and hand-scalloping the bike frames because we didn’t know how to do anything different,” says Green. “We could get the casts pre-machined but that would mean we had the welders controlling the tolerances.
"It’s difficult to hold a tight dimension while the component is moving around with all the variances, from the skill of the welder to the time of year.”
The TVS takeover gave Norton much greater access to technical input, which was invaluable when the company began planning for potential new motorbikes.
“One idea is a cast frame and, instead of welding detailed components into the frame, we mould machine the details into the casting which gives us much higher tolerances.”
MACHINE TOOL INVESTMENT
A key part of the development of Norton has been its investment in the latest high-tech machine tools and manufacturing technology to boost its capabilities.
A key partner that it has worked closely with is Yamazaki Mazak which has its European manufacturing plant in Worcester. As part of its strategy to raise productivity, Norton recently invested in a new Mazak VTC 800/30SLR vertical machining centre into its fabrication facility that is capable of machining an entire bike frame within the high capacity working area.