Sayama Factory Starts Up: Establishing a System for Car Production

A dedicated production machine being assembled within the plant. Numerous ideas were incorporated in order to achieve optimal processing performance and functions for the target parts.

<< 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

Japan was the proud host of the 1964 Olympic Games, exhibiting the wonders of its capital city, Tokyo, for all the world to see. As a result, the nation enjoyed double-digit economic growth for the first time. It was during this period that Japan, spurred by its staggering new prosperity, began making its rapid transition to an automotive society.

Yet, Honda was already at the peak of its capacity to produce automobiles. At Saitama, Hamamatsu, and Suzuka factories, which were sharing the responsibilities of production, the growing numbers of automobile parts began having an effect on the production of motorcycles, the company’s chief product line. Accordingly, Messrs. Honda and Fujisawa decided it was time to build a dedicated plant for the production of cars. It was thus decided that the company would use the land it had purchased at the Kawagoe/Sayama Industrial Park in Saitama Prefecture in February 1964. The park was conveniently located near the R&D Center and Saitama Factory. Another factor prompting their decision was that Honda had already begun a full-scale plant facility there in September 1963, under the newly established Manufacturing Machinery Special Planning Office. However, Mr. Honda, never one to be content with things as they were—especially the existing system of car production—would often say to the staff, “I wonder if we could build automobiles using a single-piece forming technique, like they do with toy ones.” Of course, he had already envisioned the concept for a car, the ultimate embodiment of which was the N360.

Honda thus began building dedicated plants in order to manufacture large stamped parts in metal and plastic, along with the production of the metal dies needed to manufacture them. Moreover, Mr. Honda wanted to utilize the scrap generated from the stamping process. However, rather than transport the waste material to a separate facility for treatment, he wanted to recycle it for use in casting parts. To expand car production, though, it would first be necessary to build a plant complete with body welding/ assembly, paint, and final assembly lines, then transfer to the new plant those functions in complete car assembly found at the Saitama and Hamamatsu factories.

Honda started building its new automobile plant (which is currently Saitama Factory’s Sayama Plant) the following May. Around that time, the company established its Special Planning Office for the construction of a metal casting plant that would enhance the company’s ability to produce large automobile parts in-house. With that, planning got under way for the metal casting plant, its facilities, and equipment. In November, the Manufacturing Machinery factory completed the transfer of facilities from Shirako to Sayama, shifting into operation as the factory’s plant for manufacturing machinery. Through the supervision of the Special Planning Office construction of the casting plant was rapidly progressing. In December, Hamamatsu Factory’s auto production facility was transferred to Sayama Factory’s new plant, whereby it began producing the S600. With that, the expanded Sayama Factory now encompassed auto production, manufacturing machinery, metal casting, and administrative offices.

Sayama began producing the S600 Coupe in March 1965, in addition to the original S600 model. In April, the production facilities for mini trucks of T360 and T500 were transferred from Saitama to Sayama Factory. Concurrently, the metal casting plant’s installation work was being completed where, with its die-processing machines capable of handling large dies, die-spotting machines and trial press machines, operations were soon ready to get under way. At first, the casting plant was in charge of dies for the S600 Coupe, so it did not become fully operational as a pre-production division until it began die production for the N360.

The Vehicle Development Center was established at Saitama Factory in August 1965 to prepare for the production of the new L700 light van, Honda’s first attempt at building a one-box passenger vehicle. The Vehicle Body Development Center’s main objective here was to rectify problems anticipated upon the launch of L700 production and build a framework for full-scale mass-production systems in the areas of automotive press work for frames and body assemblies, including welding.

A press release was issued the following September, after which the L700’s monthly production volume was set at 1,000 units. Seeking a foothold in the car industry, Honda decided that the assurance of prompt shipment would be a critical factor in its success, and therefore shifted L700 production to Sayama Factory in January 1966. Subsequently, Saitama Factory began manufacturing engines for the cars being produced at Sayama Factory.

That October, Honda implemented an organizational change at Sayama. Under the new structure, the manufacturing machinery plant and metal casting plant were renamed the First and Second Manufacturing Machinery plants, respectively. This meant that the functions of the former would expand steadily as Honda made its transition to full-scale auto manufacturing. Thus, in addition to the design and production of machining facilities for engine parts, the plant also became responsible for welding-assembly jigs and facilities for the welding of body assemblies.

A special planning office was established in April 1966 at Sayama Factory, to support building facilities for plastics work and preparing for production. Subsequently, plant construction was started. Inside the stamping plant, a tandem line was installed. The key facility here was a double-action mechanical press that was significantly larger than conventional units. Said to be in the “bolster” size category —meaning that it was large enough to set dies in the press—the machine had a footprint of 4,500 mm x 2,200 mm and output ranging from 1,200 to 700 tons.

Large, deeply drawn parts for automobiles usually would be processed first on a double-action press. Then, the workpiece would be turned 180 degrees using a reversing machine before being forwarded to the next process. This was a conventional process at the time, and initially Honda had used double-action press machines. Starting with production of the N360, Honda gradually introduced single-loading machines, pulling the reversing machines out of the line.

Honda also reduced the die-change time subsequent to changes in target specifications, in order to enhance the efficiency of stamping operations. The result of that effort was the development of original die-change technologies. Other techniques pioneered by the company—such as the single-piece forming of large parts with large press machines and the use of multicavity dies to form right and left parts in sets—were ultimately adopted by other Japanese car makers.

The plastic plant’s facilities boasted an injection machine with a clamping force of 3,300 tons, the world’s longest at the time. Moreover, the casting plant was equipped with a 5-ton/hour, hot-air cupola furnace and high-pressure molding line, providing one-stop production of brake drums from casting and machining all the way through painting.

Preparations for N360 production progressed very nicely, and soon all plant operations were in full swing. Therefore, as part of an effort to embody Mr. Honda’s philosophy on car manufacturing, Sayama Factory was reorganized as a unique production center with functions not found at any other factory. For Honda, which had just started auto production, significant benefits were expected from the factory expansion through the accumulation of expertise regarding auto production and manufacturing techniques.
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