|The Challenge: New Technologies in Body Production
|Japanese society had made remarkable progress in its move toward adoption of the car, and Honda had responded with an energetic plan to establish itself in the automotive market. Toward that end, the company endeavored to shorten the lead-time from product development through to mass-production, reduce startup losses, and minimize the investment required to launch new models. These things were necessary in order to increase competitiveness against rival makers. To accomplish that, though, Honda would have to establish a comprehensive technology for body production as quickly as possible.
The accuracy of stamping dies is the one area that most assuredly separates a good car body from an inferior one. The design and production of large stamping dies, in particular, requires thorough expertise in forming techniques, so the Third Plant (the former Metal Casting plant) faced several challenges. However, the obstacles brought forth unique solutions, including the use of raised blades for trimming.
The accuracy of dimensions with regard to body contours was another requirement in die production. Since the days of the Metal Casting Plant, the Third Plant had been creating standard models (SM) for external contours, according to dimensional measurements from clay models. These were taken in 100-mm intervals, and were supplemented with external line drawings supplied by Honda R&D. The line drawings were themselves aided immeasurably by the detailed measurements from SMs and numerical values representing body contours. For the inner sheet of a panel, the contours and thickness of the outer sheet were used to create an SM, from which numerical values and line drawings could then be calculated and drawn. To examine the contours of dies, reverse plaster models were created from these SMs. Moreover, the line drawings and numerical values were used as the inspection jigs for the template and panels of welding jig. These were eventually adopted as references in designing exterior/interior parts assembled on the body of the complete car.
Through these and other efforts, the Third Plant evolved a unique technology with which it could convert 3-D body contours into SM-based numerical values and line drawings. While numerous steps were involved in the process of conversion, there was at the same time an effort being made to computerize the process. The technology of contour-to-numerics conversion, in fact, led to the development of Hondas original CAD/CAM systems and the NC processing systems. These did not require preexisting models at all. The range of original technologies developed by Sayama Plant, together with its convenient location near the R&D Center, further strengthened its collaborative associations with R&D with regard to new model developments. This enabled the plant to grow in the scope and scale of its operations. In light of this, Honda decided to use the Third Plant to design and produce dies for the H1300 body, which was to be manufactured at Suzuka. Subsequently, the design and production of body production dies for each new model would be assigned to the Third Plant regardless of which factory would produce the actual body. Gradually, the Third Plant began to play the role of Hondas corporate die-tooling division.
Beginning with development of the Honda Life, the Third Plant began supplying to the R&D Center mockup models (resin-based stereoscopic models) made during the SM creation process. There the models were set up so they would closely resemble their real-world descendants, a process that allowed the designers and engineers to refine the characteristics of the final product. Moreover, the Third Plant worked to strengthen its development capabilities with regard to prototype dies, and soon it was supplying the R&D Center with quality close to that of mass-production panels for use on the prototypes. This considerably enhanced the R&D Centers development operations, while personnel at the Third Plant were able to reflect productivity factors in the drawings and resolve forming-related issues in advance. Thus, the expanded Honda operation achieved the shorter lead-time it needed to ensure a smooth shift to mass production.
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