Presented by: Miyako Okamoto
Summarized by: Yoko Usui
My job responsibility includes being an in-house interpreter for a Tier 1 Toyota supplier, so needless to say, Ms. Okamoto’s session on “Automotive Translation & Interpreting – How cars are made” was on my list of absolutely-must-attend sessions. The presentation was a great introduction to those who may be unfamiliar with the automotive manufacturing industry, yet still educational to those like myself already involved in this industry. Using Honda Motor Japan website’s “Virtual Plant Tour” as the base, Ms. Okamoto highlighted the major processes involved in the manufacturing of an automobile (outlined below).
The process of manufacturing a car begins when the car concept is approved on paper, a long time before actual ‘production’ takes place. Once the idea is approved, many hands are involved in designing the details of the car and planning how it will be manufactured. Many confirmation events take place during the time including DAN (段取り確認), QC (Quality Confirmation・品質確認), and RC or VC (Volume Confirmation・量確認). PP (Pre-Production, a test production) occurs before MP (Mass Production) begins.
This is the first step in the manufacturing process where the raw material (rolls of steel coil) starts to change in form from 2D sheets of steel to 3D pieces that take on the shape of car parts. Different kinds of steel (i.e. Cold Rolled Steel, High Tensile Strength Steele, Aluminum) are used for different parts, and these materials are fed through various Press machines where the it will go through processes that could include: Draw (coil is shaped and takes 3D form), Trim (excess coil is cut off), Bend (material is bent into shape), and Pierce (holes are created).
After stamping comes the welding process where the various parts are fused together to create larger parts. There are many types of welding processes that can be used to weld together the parts. Factors such as the size of the part, type and thickness of the material, location to be welded, appearance of the finished product, all determine what specific welding process will be used. This could include Spot welding (a very common type of welding process where metal surfaces are fused together by the heat obtained from resistance to electrical currents), MIG (Metal Inert Gas) welding, TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding, Brazing, Seam, or Super MIG welding.
Plastic parts of the cars (i.e. bumpers) are made using Plastic Molding machines. Resin pellets (looks like small beads made from plastic) are melted to moldable consistency and injected/inserted into molds. Vibration welding, where pressure and vibration creates heat to fuse together plastic, is used to weld together plastic pieces where necessary.
This is the process where the parts start to gain its final color. The parts go through the “4C3B” process where it gets 4 coats of paint (4C) and ‘baked’ 3 times (3B) to seal in the color for longevity. First it goes into an ED (Electric Deposition) bath where the entire frame of the car is dropped and dipped into a ‘bath’ of paint, then goes through the other painting processes: Surfacer, Base coat and the final Clear coat. Ms. Okamoto gave us an interesting insight into the painting process and explained that all parts of one complete vehicle must be painted all in one take so that there is absolutely no variation in color from one part to the next – even the ‘same’ color can have minor differences from one day to the next. She also explained that the “Surfacer” coat is not the visible top surface of the car as the name suggests, but that it is a layer underneath the color paint (Base Coat), and its purpose is to aid the color paint to adhere to the part evenly and enhance the final appearance – this reminded me of the function of the base coat when painting your fingernails!
A critical component of a car, the Engine is made by using High Pressure Die Casting machines. Molten aluminum alloy is poured into dies (i.e. molds) to create the frame of the engine, then various parts are inserted, attached, tightened, and ‘dressed up” to create the engine that we see in our vehicles. Once the frame of the engine is created, the part is put on a conveyer while it is being worked on since a fully functional engine becomes too heavy for human hands to handle.
Assembly Frame (“AF”)
The painted frame of the car and the various components are now ready to be assembled! The door is first removed from the frame of the car to allow easier access into the inside of the car. Then the door-less frame is placed on an automatic conveyer system which at times ascends and takes the whole frame of the car into midair so that parts like the engine and tires may be installed from below while the frame of the car is suspended. Since many components inside the car are extremely heavy, robotic arms are utilized to assist humans in installing parts such as the engine, seats, IP (instrument panel), etc, and glass installation using robotic arms even includes precision machine positioning to install the front and back windows into its exact place. It is at this process that the vehicle is given a build sheet, which includes information such as the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) and all parts that are installed into the car is tagged with this ID number.
Once the car is fully assembled, it goes through various inspections processes to make sure that there is no defect. This includes visual inspection of the engine room (i.e. inspect ‘under the hood’), safety tests including the testing of speed, break, lights, etc, and quality inspection such as the water leak test where the car is placed through a heavy shower of water to test for any leaks. Defects found before the parts go through the painting process is called “Scrap A”, while defects found during/after the assembly process is referred to as “Scrap B”. When a Scrap B is found, the entire car must first be disassembled, the defective parts reworked/fixed, then all the parts are reassembled for a re-inspection. A vehicle that is without any defect and ‘perfect’ from start (coil) to finish (assembled car) is called a Royal Straight.
The presentation concluded with the point that regardless of technological advances, an automobile’s basic functions will always be to Drive, Turn and Stop.
It was apparent that Ms. Okamoto has a very thorough understanding of the subject matter and her many years of experience working within this industry certainly shined through during her presentation. The session was somewhat of an eye-opener for me to see how much more I had to learn about my own industry, but it definitely gave me a new standard to aim for. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us!