Manufacturing Machinery: A Factory Comes to Life

The S600 Coupe on the assembly line at Sayama Factory. The metal casting plant, upon the start of operations in April 1965, initially produced dies for the Coupe.

<< 1. Becoming a World-class Manufacturer
<< 2. Manufacturing Machinery: A Factory Comes to Life
<< 3. Sayama Factory Starts Up: Establishing a System for Car Production
<< 4. The N360 Prepares to Launch
<< 5. The Challenge: New Technologies in Body Production
<< 6. New Model Production: Project Teams in Transition
<< 7. Honda Manufacturing Machinery: A Separate Entity
<< 8. BE:Establishing the Production Preparation System
<< 9. Honda Engineering:Toward the New Era
<< 10. Ensuring Honda'sProduction Competitiveness

The Super Cub C100 completed at Saitama Factory in July 1958 was an instant hit upon its release the following month, generating record sales.

Its popularity, in fact, continued well into 1959, with a constant demand in excess of available supplies. Ultimately, production volume reached 15,000 units per month, and this figure was beyond the production capacity of Honda’s Saitama and Hamamatsu factories combined.

Therefore, Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa decided to build a new production base so that inventories of Super Cub bikes could be maintained. In September of that year, the company purchased a parcel of land with an area of 700,000 square meters on a former factory site of the Imperial Navy in the city of Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, and began building a new plant. Just seven months later, in April 1960, the new Suzuka Factory shifted into operation. The enhancement to Super Cub production provided an additional boost to sales of that model, consolidating Honda’s position as a leading maker of quality motorcycles.

Honda, though, had already taken steps to cope with repeated increases in Super Cub production, recruiting personnel from within and outside the company for assignment to Saitama Factory’s Shirako Plant. This facility had been identified as the center of all Manufacturing Machinery divisions, in order to enhance its ability to design and manufacture production machines. As a result, Shirako’s Manufacturing Machinery Division continued to strengthen and expand as Honda introduced new models and production volumes increased. Then, in September 1960, Honda reorganized the division as an independent operation. The main purpose of the new Manufacturing Machinery factory was to build the processing machines that would optimize the company’s overall process of manufacturing.

“With the processing machines and facilities, it was our objective to increase Honda’s competitiveness in terms of production,” said Shigemasa Suzuki, then manager of the factory’s First Design Section. “This may sound exaggerated, but we were told that the processing machines we were making didn’t have to be effective outside Honda. Kiyoshi Kawashima, who was the general manager of Saitama Factory, would even tell us not to design general-purpose machines. I assumed he wanted us to design efficient, highly cost-effective machines, and that of course those kinds of things wouldn’t be available from outside providers.”

Honda unveiled its Honda Sports S360 and S500 series small sports cars and the T360 mini truck at the 9th Tokyo Motor Show held October 1962 in Harumi, Tokyo. Japan was at the time embarking on a period of high economic growth, and the new models from Honda—already a newsmaker as the world’s leading motorcycle manufacturer—sparked considerable public interest.

Therefore, the Manufacturing Machinery factory, anticipating growth in car production, began studying a new processing machine for cylinder heads, the parts that required the most processing steps. One of the important requirements in developing such a machine was the incorporation of a space-saving design that would facilitate more effective use of production space. It was necessary because Honda’s automobiles were still being made at the motorcycle production plant.

Based on Mr. Honda’s idea of a rotary system, the Manufacturing Machinery factory completed a single-chuck machine capable of performing what normally would have taken seven dedicated machines to do. Moreover, it allowed the same operator who installed the workpiece to verify the processing of the workpiece upon its return. In that regard, the machine proved a considerable enhancement to operator satisfaction, and this was something Mr. Honda had long pursued as a personal ideal.

Honda began the production of its T360 mini truck at Saitama in June 1963, and in August, the Honda Sports S500 at Hamamatsu. The stamped parts for the two models, including chassis and hood covers, were manufactured at Suzuka Factory for shipment to the two production factories. Then in March 1964, the Hamamatsu facility began production of the S600. However, to prevent gear noise from the S600’s high-revving, high-output engine, an increase in precision would be needed. Accordingly, the Manufacturing Machinery factory had been busily conducting research into high-precision machinery, in addition to the design and manufacturing of dedicated production machines. However, to meet the S600’s target mass-production launch, the factory contacted Reisshauer in Switzerland, a leading manufacturer in the field, to build dedicated gear-grinding machines. When it later discovered that the delivery schedule couldn’t be met, the Manufacturing Machinery factory quickly formed a technological partnership with the Swiss company to manufacture ten units, and these became known as Honda Reisshauer gear-grinding machines.

The Manufacturing Machinery factory, in addition to building machine-processing systems for motorcycle engine parts, soon began handling more automobile production systems in order to keep pace with Honda’s growing output in that area.
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