The "Joy of Manufacturing" / 1936

The "Joy of Manufacturing" / 1936

In 1936, the same year the accident occurred, Mr. Honda became dissatisfied with repair work and began to plan a move into manufacturing. He took steps to turn the Hamamatsu branch into a separate company but his investors opposed his wish to start making piston rings. Since he was making good money through his repair work they could not see the need to embark on an unnecessary new venture. Mr. Honda did not give up but sought the help of an acquaintance by the name of Shichiro Kato, and set up the Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry, or Tokai Seiki for short, with Kato as President. He threw himself into this new project and started the Art Piston Ring Research Center, working by day at the old Art Shokai and developing piston rings at night.

Following a series of technical failures he enrolled as a part-time student at Hamamatsu Industrial Institute (now the Faculty of Engineering at Shizuoka University) so as to improve his knowledge of metallurgy. Nearly two years went by during which he worked and studied so hard that his facial appearance completely altered. At last his manufacturing trials were successful and in 1939 he handed over Art Shokai Hamamatsu branch to his trainees and joined Tokai Seiki as president.

Production of piston rings started as Mr. Honda had intended but he was still beset with difficulties. This time his problems had to do with manufacturing technology. Mr. Honda had a contract with Toyota Motor Co., Ltd., but out of fifty piston rings he submitted for quality control only three met the required standards. After nearly two more years of visiting universities and steelmaking companies all over Japan in order to study manufacturing techniques, he was at last in a position to supply mass-produced parts to companies such as Toyota and Nakajima Aircraft. At the height of the company’s success it employed more than 2,000 people.

However, on December 7, 1941, Japan rushed headlong into the Pacific War. Tokai Seiki was placed under the control of the Ministry of Munitions. In 1942, Toyota took over 40% of the company’s equity and Honda was "downgraded" from president to senior managing director. The male employees gradually disappeared as they were called up for military service, and both adult women and female students began to work in the factory as members of the "volunteer corps." Mr. Honda would calibrate the machines himself and took pains to ensure that the manufacturing process was made as safe and simple as possible for these inexperienced female workers. It was at this time that he devised ways of automating the production of piston rings.

At the request of Kaichi Kawakami, President of Nippon Gakki (now Yamaha), he also invented an automatic milling machine for wooden aircraft propellers. Kawakami was very impressed with Mr. Honda’s ingenuity: Previously it had taken a week to make a single propeller by hand, but now it was possible to turn out two every thirty minutes.

Air raids on Japan became increasingly intensified and it was clear that the country was headed for defeat. As the air raids continued, Hamamatsu was smashed to rubble and Tokai Seiki’s Yamashita Plant also was destroyed. The company suffered a further disaster on January 13, 1945, when the Nankai earthquake struck the Mikawa district and the Iwata Plant collapsed.

This was followed by Japan’s defeat on August 15. The country had undergone tremendous change, and Mr. Honda’s life, like that of Japan itself, was about to be totally transformed.

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