The Future of Honda Manufacturing - Strategy and Planning Essay

The 2001 Civic is the first vehicle to use Honda’s new flexible manufacturing process - The Future of Honda Manufacturing - Strategy and Planning Essay introduction. It’s a bold vision, but is success really in the cards? For the past two decades, automakers around me world have analyzed Honda’s manufacturing methods, visited its facilities, benchmarked its operations and copied its moves. During the late 1980s, Chrysler Corp. executives even talked openly about the “Honda study,” which was a blatant effort to duplicate the best of the Japanese automaker’s manufacturing techniques. But in fact, Honda typically obliged any competitor that wanted a first-hand look at its operations.

Now that it has made the world comfortable with its old process, Honda is changing the rules. The genesis of its new flexible-manufacturing model goes back to the 1996 launch of the CR-V sport utility in Japan. Honda’s Suzuka plant was the sole source of the new SUV, which proved to be an unanticipated, runaway success in its home market. Unable to produce enough volume to satisfy demand, Honda called on its then senior manufacturing engineer Masaki Iwai, a human dynamo nicknamed “the Tornado,” to boost output.

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Iwai knew he could get more production from the nearby Sayama facility, but discovered that the plants were so inflexible and lacking in commonality that it took major retooling, long hours and many months to shift production from one plant to another. After Sayama’s complicated conversion to the CR-V was finally finished, Iwai took action on the lesson he learned and set Honda on a course to reexamine its existing manufacturing philosophy. He cast doubts on Honda’s oft-touted wisdom of retaining existing tooling and simply designing the next generation car to “build” within the limits of the equipment.

He reasoned that, while it saved money on investment, it forever limited the flexibility of the line to build any other vehicle. Iwai’s vision called for commonizing plants around the globe and addressing each issue that made a plant inflexible. For example, weld equipment should have more “range” — ideally enough to permit any vehicle Honda builds to go down any line that Honda owns. Welding jigs should be eliminated where possible to eliminate slow and expensive tooling changes. Stations should be made more flexible, even if it means replacing full automation with semi-automated stations and additional workers.

And vehicles should be designed to shingle (assemble) the same way, so that dissimilar vehicles can go down the line without disruption. Designing For Flexibility The starting point for Honda’s flexibility begins in the planning stage, as Chris Poland, engineering project leader for the 2001 Civic, recalls. “We used many of the elements we had in place to help us bring this plan together,” Poland says. “Our New Model Center (NMC) in Tochigl, Japan, gives us a place where assoclates from around the world can come together to develop tooling and processes and come out with a consensus that we know will work equally well in all our plants. The importance of Poland’s observation can’t be overemphasized — the biggest step toward having total flexibility is not to need it. Associates from Japan, Europe, South America, North America and Asia/Oceania converged at NMG, submitting thousands of tooling and process changes that were passed along to Honda R&D to make modifications. That process is largely what allowed Honda to launch the 2001 Civic simultaneously at its East Liberty, Alliston, Swindon and Suzuka plants. This launch strategy fundamentally differs from Honda’s old process of having a lead plant flush out problems, then pass along its knowledge to the next startup.

Honda also linked manufacturing, suppliers and all the processes of Honda R&D into what it calls a “digital manufacturing circle,” so even early ideas can be digitized on a computer, shared and modified by the various disciplines. Again, this process is designed to head off problems before they occur, not only assuring that the components or process are within the flexibility built into the system, but also to reduce prototype models tooling and the time and cost associated with them.

Lastly, the planning stage determined what machinery, robotics, welders, delivery systems and line configuration would be established to not only build Civic, but also accommodate vehicles larger and smaller without making massive investments. Establishing this range of motion, capability and programming in the machinery was critical; every future vehicle Honda designs will fall within this manufacturing envelope. Once identified, Honda outfitted all of its volume production plants with as close-to-identical machinery and layout as was practical.

Where lines could not be made identical without tear-up and prohibitive investment, limitations of the least flexible line in the system determined the range for a given station. Building Civic and Beyond “I can’t demonstrate the actual flexibility because we’ll be running flat out on just Civic, as far out as I can see,” says Tom Shoupe, plant manager at Honda’s East Liberty Plant (ELP) in Ohio. “But I can tell you we are further along at this point in time using this new process than we were on a traditional launch. We’re very happy with output and quality. Even to a trained eye, East Liberty’s assembly line looks relatively unchanged from previous visits because it so closely fit Honda’s global model plant to begin with. (For plants that were less ideal than ELP, the changes would surface as more off-line operations. ) In fact, one of the principles of the new manufacturing process is to only have processes that are standard across all models on the main line. In that way, only sub-assembly operations need to be tweaked when a new vehicle is introduced into the plant. Equally important is the grouping of related assembly processes where possible.

Processes are broken down into wiring/tubing, interior, exterior, chassis and complex assembly, with a quality check area at the end of each zone. This philosophy replaces the numerous quality checks at the end of the line done with the old system. The theory behind the change: because the problem is caught while the product is still in the process area, the root cause will be easier to determine and correct. The system will not be loaded with vehicles containing the same defect, either. The most visible and profound changes at all of the Honda plants are in the weld department. Hydraulic robots are gone.

In their place are programmable, electronic units. Because the electronic robots are smaller, they open up space in the weld area needed for larger model vehicles to pass through. And because they can be reprogrammed instead of retooled, going from model to model is a relatively simple process. Welding jigs, particularly on the general welder (GW), are far less complex than the massive fixtures on the previous GW, making even model changeover a much less costly process. Or, in the case of adding a second model to a production line, the simpler jigs could easily sit line-side for quick changeover.

Only time will tell if it will work across the board. Meanwhile, Civic is beating its targets. In The Cards FLEXIBILITY–The driving reason for Honda’s change in manufacturing methods is to achieve flexibility. If Honda can produce any of its vehicles at any of its plants, it can eliminate problems associated with seasonal demand, plant leveling, and stockpiling inventory. Other advantages include reduced investment cost and downtime at model changeover. ROBOTS–One of the enablers for flexibility is robots that have a greater operating range and are fully programmable.

Electric robots provide those advantages — as well as environmental advantages — over hydraulic. Note the Tornado” on the card. This is in honor of Honda’s now retired senior managing director Masaki Iwai (nicknamed the Tornado”) who conceived Honda’s new system. COMMON MODEL–Honda’s adoption of computer models that can be shared by all disciplines as well as suppliers, has helped it eliminate many problems before they occur. Honda’s common models can go through simulation programs before prototypes and tooling, catching many problems before they even exist.

NEXT CR-V–Hot sellers like Honda’s CR-V present a problem in terms of supply. When the new manufacturing system is in place, Honda will be able to build it wherever there is capacity. Also, building in the country of sale can help eliminate tariffs on certain vehicles, making them more cost competitive. COPYRIGHT 2000 Cahners Publishing Company COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group Gerry Kobe “The Future Of Honda Manufacturing – strategy and planning”. Automotive Industries. FindArticles. com. 02 Mar, 2011. http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m3012/is_10_180/ai_66218717/ COPYRIGHT 2000 Cahners Publishing Company

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