Daihatsu Kyushu-8

Aside from bringing you live reports from the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, where Daihatsu unveiled the fascinating Kopen, Deca Deca and FC Deco Deck concepts, the trip to Japan also gave yours truly the chance to visit Daihatsu’s high-tech plant in Nakatsu, Oita prefecture.

Located on Kyushu island, with the nearest major city being Fukuoka, a two-hour flight from Tokyo Haneda, the Nakatsu plant is the headquarters of Daihatsu Motor Kyushu Co Ltd (DKC). Opened in 2004, Nakatsu gave Daihatsu the chance to design a flexible facility and systems from the ground up, all for making high quality, low cost cars, the raison d’etre of Japan’s oldest carmaker.

A second plant at the same site started operations in 2007, a year before the nearby Kurume engine plant started supplying powerplants to Nakatsu. DKC’s flagship factory, which is by the sea, even has its own two-kilometre private access to Nakatsu port, where cars are transfered from production line to ships directly for export or transport without using public roads.

Daihatsu Kyushu-1

Four kei-car models are manufactured at Nakatsu Plant 2, namely the Daihatsu Mira e:S, Mira Cocoa, Move Conte and Tanto Exe Custom, as well as the Mira with Subaru (Pleo+) and Toyota badges (Pixis Epoch).

Daihatsu Kyushu is growing in importance to the company – in its financial year 2012, DKC produced 451,000 cars. Its plants contribute 51% of Daihatsu’s total production and 61% of the company’s kei-car volume, and this trend is set to continue. Daihatsu has three plants on Honshu island – Ikeda (headquarters), Kyoto and Shiga.

The 53,000 sqm second plant at Nakatsu operates on the Simple, Slim, Compact (SSC) concept, a minimalistic approach that also characterises Daihatsu cars. SSC is throughly applied in each section of the plant, enabling it to achieve the same annual production figures as the first plant from slightly less than half the floor space. A smaller physical footprint means a smaller CO2 footprint, thanks to power savings from reduced air conditioning and a shorter, simplified production line. Cost of equipment is also 40% less.

Daihatsu Kyushu-6

We’re no strangers to modern car factories, but Nakatsu Plant 2 is an impressive sight by any measure. Robot density is very high (three times more than Plant 1) and the choreographed movements of the tightly clustered machines are eerily human-like. No pictures were allowed, so I can only suggest that you picture an F1 pit crew in action, but with three times the tasks and zero fumbles. Efficiency is paramount, and the number of processes have been halved compared to Plant 1.

DKC is also very proud of Plant 2’s ‘jigless’ system. While it’s not literally jigless, unique jigs for each model were replaced with general purpose jigs, so a rojak of models flow smoothly on a single body welding line. Technically, an infinite number of models can roll off a single line with such a system. Daihatsu also has its own method of transfering the work-in-progress cars from stage to stage using ‘slippers’, which save space.

The assembly shop, where humans far outnumber machines, has a sub-line system where items such as doors and engines are completed as a set before being fitted to the car body. This makes for a shorter and faster main line.

Daihatsu Kyushu-7

Speed is also gained from fewer processes (40% less) and having four workers on each process instead of just two. This increases work density per process as well as the ‘mutual aid process ratio’. Think of the latter as extra pairs of eyes to help, healthy competition and good company (it can be boring doing the exact same thing for the entire day) for team members.

Another C in SSC manifests in the form of a paint shop conveyor that’s only half the length of the conveyor in Plant 1, and among the shortest in Japan. Speaking of paint, DKC uses the 3-wet water-based paint tech that significantly reduces volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions.

With the aim to be the world’s number one small car plant, Nakatsu Plant 2 is currently the Daihatsu group’s model factory in every aspect, from quality and productivity to space usage and care for the environment. Like the cars, it’s brillant packaging at work. But what does all this mean to Perodua?

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In December last year, Perodua announced that it will invest RM790 million to set up a new plant adjacent to its existing factory in Sungai Choh, north of Rawang. Called Perodua Global Manufacturing (PGM), the new 65,000 sq ft plant will mirror Nakatsu Plant 2 in tech, practices, efficiency and low defect per unit (DPU) rate, with certain adaptations for Malaysian requirements, Perodua executive director Zainal Abidin Ahmad told us on the sidelines of TMS 2013.

All key features of Nakatsu Plant 2, from the jigless concept to slippers and water-based paint, will be emulated by PGM. Zainal Abidin sees 85% implementation at the start of production next year as a target. “But the most important thing is the human factor and the concept of monozukuri,” he admits.

On this front, a group of 130 pioneer staff is currently undergoing training at DKC, and will be the ‘trainers’ when they return. In addition, DKC’s Japanese personnel will be at PGM to assist the production line when operations begin. Like the plant itself, the new workers at PGM are expected to be more efficient than their counterparts in the old Perodua plant.

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“We want to jump start immediately, start from day one on a global level. This new company will be a role model for our existing manufacturing plant,” Perodua president and CEO Datuk Aminar Rashid Salleh said at the PGM announcement.

High quality and low cost will benefit the end user. “The new plant will have an improved DPU rate of 0.05 per cent, which is a world standard. We plan to achieve a world-class level through this new plant,” Zainal Abidin said, adding that the current DPU rate at Perodua is between 0.06 and 0.08.

According to him, the PGM factory is on schedule to be ready by mid-2014. At present, the physical building is 70% complete and should be finished in January, before machinery and installation commences in March.

When asked about the first fruit of the new plant, Zainal Abidin stopped short of naming the car, but said that Perodua’s next FMC (full model change) will roll out from PGM. We expect this to be the Perodua Viva replacement model, parts of which were previewed at the recent KLIMS13 motor show. The ‘new Viva’, likely to be powered by a 1.0 litre Daihatsu D26F-1KR-FE aluminium engine, should be ready for launch by the third quarter of 2014.

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