Ensuring Competitiveness: A System of Development for Production Technologies
In the 1950s, Honda was well on its way to becoming a leader in the world of motorcycle manufacturing. Honda’s Yamato Plant in Saitama, currently Saitama Factory’s Wako Plant, went into operation in May 1953. In July of that year, its was combined with Shirako Plant, and together they became Saitama Factory. Aoi Plant in Hamamatsu, now Hamamatsu Factory, began operating in 1954.
An overview of Sayama Factory soon after the start of operations.
Initially, in order to secure more effective machine processing at the plants, their respective Manufacturing Machinery divisions were intended to produce jigs and modify machines to meet the target specifications. These functions soon expanded, however. By 1956, when Honda expanded its lineup with the Dream and Benly models, the Manufacturing Machinery divisions were already developing original machines to process cylinder heads and crankcases. These were the so-called modular components of their day.
A joint project was established by Saitama Factory (currently Wako Plant) and Hamamatsu Factory in June 1956, in order that Honda might develop a high-precision machining table for use in the manufacture of multiple models. The team developed the Honda Universal Machine, or HUM. As opposed to conventional machining tables, which offered much less flexibility and could not be used to process modular components of different specifications, the HUM delivered multiple-specification processing capability with its replaceable processing units. Each of these comprised a multiple-axis blade section - also called a ganged head - and jigs, which could be changed in modular fashion. With that, Honda’s innovative new machine achieved a superior degree of accuracy, plus a remarkable setup time of just five minutes. Honda made a total of six HUMs, and these units amply demonstrated their capabilities in the production of the 1957 Dream C70 and 1958 Benly C90.
"There weren’t many manufacturers of general machine tools at that time who really understood Honda’s manufacturing philosophy," said Hiroshi Tanabe, who was then assistant manager of Hamamatsu Factory’s Production Engineering Section. "So, we often had a hard time negotiating prices and delivery schedules. Even so, Mr. Honda believed we couldn’t become a competitive manufacturer unless we had the ability to build our own processing machines."
Several changes had in fact been introduced during the pre-production planning for Honda’s new Dream C70 and Benly C90 motorcycles, resulting in significant differences in production format. In those days it was normal for each of the processes on the line to be broken down into a series of steps. This simplified the operations within the processes themselves, increasing the speed of the line and overall efficiency of mass production. However, that approach, for all of its merit, had certain disadvantages. Despite the simplification of processes, line length increased. Moreover, the factory could not achieve a quick, flexible response to model changes or reductions in production volume in the event demand should drop.
Honda’s solution was a machine for "one-chuck, multidirectional simultaneous processing" that could perform many steps at once. The purpose of this was to integrate steps and reduce the number of stations required to process a system of parts.
Eventually, that machine led to the dedicated four-direction horizontal turning machine developed for the Benly C90, and then to the dedicated five-direction drum-turning machine for mass production of Super Cub bikes.