When designing Dongfeng Honda's second plant, concepts were developed around two major themes: production and environment. Shinichi Ikeda, Plant Manager of Dongfeng Honda's Vehicle Assembly Plant, looked back on the planning stage:
"First, for production, we proposed the concept of a plant that is resilient to market changes and always delivers optimum profit. The Chinese market is expected to continue expanding for at least the foreseeable future, but you never know what will happen. Social conditions or other factors might force us to cut production. Equipment installed for peak output could become a heavy burden if we were ever to reduce output, so it's important to have the ability to respond flexibly to production changes and always deliver optimum profit."
One specific strategy for doing this was to divide the two plants according to price range: produce the CR-V, Spirior, and Elysion luxury-class models at the existing plant, and the Civic and Ciimo* mass-market models at the second plant, and optimize facilities accordingly. This approach allowed Dongfeng Honda to eliminate excess equipment and also optimize production costs. It also took advantage of "flexible production models" like the Civic, which could be produced at both plants, to coordinate production between plants.
"The ability to respond flexibly to market changes translates into better financial health and, in turn, stronger product competitiveness. The competition in China is intense, so it's important that we minimize risk as we scale up to our final target of 240,000 units. We're essentially putting into practice the Honda tradition that says, 'start small, grow big.'"
Notes: The Ciimo is a model developed independently by Dongfeng Honda based on the Civic.
The environmental concept of the new plant was to build "the most environmentally competitive plant in the Chinese industry." A variety of measures introduced to achieve this goal is expected to result in a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions and a 50% reduction in volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from bumper coating processes compared to the existing plant.
But why aim to be the environmental leader? Shimoosawa explained what this status really means.
"Environmentally friendly equals people friendly; to aim to be number one in the environment category is the same as aiming to be number one in the people category. We wanted to build a plant that was the easiest and safest and felt the most rewarding to work at. If we failed there, there would be no chance for plant growth after that. That was my core reason."
Most symbolic of these environmental measures was the adoption of a shorter coating process.
The technology, transmitted from the Suzuka Factory in Japan where it was first introduced, involves replacing the conventional four-coat three-bake (4C3B) process with a four-coat two-bake (4C2B) process, in other words, eliminating one of the baking steps. Baking, in automotive coating terminology, is the process of drying a coating by placing the vehicle in an oven with a temperature of over 120ºC (over 250ºF) for a half hour or more. Since baking is energy intensive, shortening this process saves a significant amount of energy.
Ji Wang, Unit Manager who joined Dongfeng Honda in 2004, was the associate who worked on implementing the shorter coating process. Wang served a central role in verifying whether it was possible to introduce 4C2B at the second plant and identifying and solving issues that would arise during its introduction. Dongfeng Honda also succeeded in reducing energy use even further by developing Honda's first system for reusing waste heat from the body coating process in the bumper coating process.
"In the Chinese automotive industry, technologies that significantly shorten production processes, like this one, are sophisticated. I didn't have the experience to make the best use of the equipment, even if we installed them. In the end, the only way to get that experience was to run different tests and checks over and over again."
Having succeeded in introducing the shorter process and building up sufficient experience, Wang is now looking to take on his next challenge.
"I don't consider this to be the end. I'm trying to make the coating process even shorter for when we build up to 240,000-unit production."
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