Production Lines Simultaneously Realizing Flexibility with Productivity
Engine parts such as cylinder heads and crankcases are often referred to as 'modules.' As simplistic as the term might sound, the production of these modules implies a great degree of model-specific investment for the necessary dies, jigs, and mechanical equipment. Moreover, there is a considerable span of time, once product development has begun, until actual production is launched, during which the manufacturer is subject to losses stemming from unforeseen problems. In this way, the production of modular parts is similar to that of body assemblies.
The module machine unit at work. The ganged head is set on the rail in the center.
Since its establishment Honda has endeavored to implement the optimal production systems for all these parts. In keeping with the company's desire to meet the changing needs of an increasingly advanced society, sophisticated processing technologies, line systems, and mechanical devices have helped make that possible.
Through years of accumulated expertise, Honda has directed considerable effort to the improvement of production lines for modular engine components. Some of these efforts have promoted process integration and streamlined the production cycle, using equipment to perform several procedures simultaneously on multiple axes. Others were intended to reduce less safe and repetitive tasks by automating the installation, removal, and transport of workpieces. As a result, Honda has built some of the world's most efficient mass-production systems, earning a reputation for high quality with single, mass-production models.
These production lines were, dedicated lines, however, each planned and installed for a specific model. Therefore, for the first several years, each new model launch required, new machinery or modifications to existing lines. Moreover, those lines could not be used to produce other models, even if given a drop should occur in the production volume of a target model. Eventually this would lead to diminished efficiency on the line, resulting in a cost increase.
In an effort to enhance its capability to produce multiple models, Honda also examined a combination line system consisting of core machines that were dedicated to common machining steps and NC (Numerical Control) machines which were designed for processing different parts of various models. However, parts-handling capabilities for such a system were limited to pieces with a certain degree of similarity. Since modular engine components usually require between ten and forty steps per machining surface, the handling of these various machining steps individually-or, axis by axis-was in conflict with company production principles.