In September 2008, Honda finalised plans to start production of the second generation Jazz at its Swindon, UK facility. One year later, the car went into series production. To discover how Honda of the UK Manufacturing (HUM) has managed to implement production of the Jazz city car in just 12 months, AMS spoke with David Hodgetts, Director of Planning and Business Administration. Hodgetts joined Honda in 1990, handling production control at the company’s first UK car plant. Assigned to the press plant 1998, he later rejoined production control (logistics). In 2005, Hodgetts moved into plant administration, where he is currently responsible for all production, including the Jazz, together with various plant support functions.

AMS: You’ve had a wide range of experience within Honda.

David Hodgetts: I’ve been in several different areas of the plant. It’s what Honda tends to do, move people around to get a broad experience of the business. It gives you a much better feel for what’s going on from different viewpoints.

AMS: How does Honda monitor day-to-day operations at HUM?

DH: Some companies run primarily on the balance sheet and work back from there. Honda runs on a lot of daily information; we go into quite a lot of detail in terms of daily production. It’s the most important thing in the company. In terms of cost, if the production, quality and delivery is good, most of the rest of it should look after itself.

AMS: Why was HUM selected for production of the Jazz?

DH: Honda’s global philosophy is to produce cars local to the market. We will always aim to do that where it’s competitive. The Jazz is the biggest-selling car in Europe for Honda, so we always wanted to make it. But being a small car, it’s the most difficult to make competitively, compared to a CR-V for example. So the plan is to gradually phase volume in across the UK and Europe over the next 18 months. At the moment, we’ve still got cars being made in Japan and China, mostly for continental Europe, while we’re making Jazz primarily for the UK left-hand drive versions ramping up.

AMS: How did you manage to start production of the Jazz in 12 months?

DH: It wasn’t easy! We wanted to do it, though, because it would give us added volume. From a plant point of view, it was really important for us to get a share of the small car market as quickly as possible. When we sell a Honda in Europe, it’s important for us to be building it here (in Swindon). The main reason we managed to accomplish implementation of the Jazz is down to the global plant standard and the fact that we don’t automate everything. We’ve got some degree of flexibility between making a Civic and making a Jazz.

AMS: Was it an expensive operation?

DH: The actual amount of factory investment needed to start Jazz production was relatively small. What was expensive was the tooling, press dies and for supplier parts and our own body panel press dies. All the localisation requires specialised, unique tooling.

AMS: Where did you source the tooling?

DH: Many of the dies were made here (in the UK), some in Spain and some in Japan. They were sourced based on capability to produce a particular type of die or simply capacity - it was a very short lead time. The biggest thing for us over the 12 months was to develop our supply chain. We first looked at (localising) the larger parts and over the next 18 months we’ll localise everything else for the Jazz that we would normally put into a Civic or CR-V.

AMS: So the plant is one problem, but supplying the plant is an even bigger problem?

DH: Potentially, yes. But as this wasn’t a brand new model for Honda, a lot of the start-up issues had already been fixed by Suzuka (Honda’s Japanese plant producing the Jazz), we’re not replicating those items. The challenge was to take an existing model that was already being delivered to a very high quality level and make sure that we did it better.

AMS: How did you measure that?

DH: By using daily quality measurements in BIW, covering tolerances and body accuracy. You can specifically measure against the Japan-made car using 3D measuring equipment. It was essential that the body produced here was the same as that made in Japan, as a lot of the parts are initially coming from Japanese and Far East sourcing chains. If we localise a headlight, for example, we can to some extent tune the part to fit the body. When I say tune, I mean make minute adjustments, because we’re the only ones using that headlight. In this case, we’re buying headlights from Japan and they’re already tuned to the body. You can’t change it as it would alter the fit there. So we had to tune our body to fit that part, meaning that we’re exactly replicating the Suzuka body.

AMS: That’s easier said than done.

DH: It was a challenge. Where normally we’d be able to tune both, we were only able to tune the body. It’s not how we’d normally do it, we’d normally tune the part. It was a first for us, which demanded very high accuracy, very high repeatability in the weld area.

Plant shut down

In response to a dramatic decline in vehicle sales, Honda elected to close HUM for four months in 2009, only reopening on June 1. During that time, the facility made no enforced redundancies, instead offering associates the choice of taking a voluntary release package. In December 2009, the company ran another voluntary redundancy programme in order to reach required workforce numbers for 2010.

AMS: Did you use the four-month shutdown to prepare for Jazz?

DH: Absolutely. Our president in Langley (UK) coined the phrase ‘Change is a Chance’ and we’ve used that over the last eight months. We took (the shutdown) very much as an opportunity to install and check any new tooling, jigs, that we needed for Jazz. We took it as an opportunity to rejuvenate the plant, totally refurbish it. Of course, we had 2,500 people at home, but we still had our indirect staff, our engineers and procurement staff, so these groups focused on the refurbishment.

AMS: It was the four-month lay-off that allowed the Jazz to be implemented over 12 months?

DH: We weren’t planning a four-month break when we agreed the schedule for Jazz introduction; it wasn’t dependent on that. The shutdown was entirely dependent on sales being so drastically hit. The decision to implement Jazz was made in September 2008 and that was based on our long-term view about what needed to happen over the next five years; we’d already agreed a launch date of October at that point. Jazz was increasingly the right car for the European market. So we only got the four-month break purely down to what after that happened after that point, which was a bonus. It did help us to introduce some of the components more easily, without dealing with (on-going) production.

AMS: How are shift patterns currently arranged at HUM? DH:We’re now on a single shift in both plants. On Line 1 we’re making 330 units per day, on Line 2 we’re making 308 per day. Total (annual) capacity on those numbers is about 140,000, including some overtime, which we can put into the system for next year. If we were to go up a little more, we would put another shift back on. We were almost at full volume 18 months ago, 247,000 units, which is very close to capacity. This year we’re 100,000 down, a huge difference. We’ve looked at different policies and other incentives to make it work, but it has worked, and generally it’s gone very well.

AMS: If you introduced a second shift, would the people still be available?

DH: The situation over this current financial year has been that we had about 500 people excess to our base requirements. So we created value-added roles, ranging from supplier secondments – our people working with suppliers in Gloucester and Swindon – through a range of on-going projects addressing quality improvements and cost reductions. We’ve also taken over a few sub-contract roles, including ground maintenance and plant refurbishment, and we have a small team helping in the community. So in theory, we’d use these people to staff an additional shift.

AMS: Are you planning on adding the extra shift now?

DH: We’re now expecting sales to be slightly lower in 2010 than in 2009. I think all manufacturers are forecasting slightly softer sales than this year, due to the ending of scrappage incentives. Unfortunately, we’ve had to announce a further phase of the total release programme, scheduled to end in December (2009). It’s exactly the same as we did before, an entirely voluntary scheme, other than the package is slightly enhanced over that offered last time. We can’t carry that level of excess manpower any longer. But if we can continue this way, it maintains the mutual trust of the associates who commit to stay. So far, that programme’s looking quite positive.

Production set up

Before the start of Jazz production, Honda of the UK Manufacturing (HUM) had previously built various versions of the Civic and also the CR-V SUV. In fact, some Civic Type-R models were being shipped from the Swindon plant to Japan. David Hodgetts explains how the plant is set up to accommodate Jazz by first explaining the facility’s manufacturing ethos.

AMS: Is the theory behind manufacturing at HUM British with Japanese characteristics or Japanese with British characteristics?

Most Honda plants are designed around the same principles. A CR-V built here follows the same process layouts as would be used to produce a CR-V in Japan. For Civic, which is unique to HUM, we don’t follow the standard flow that we’ve got within the factory design. We customised the processes for this model to suit the UK line situation. But overall, we follow a very similar build sequence; there’s a global standard to weld, paint and frame assembly that can easily transfer from one plant to another.

AMS: Can you outline the basic setup for production at HUM?

DH: Number 1 line was our first car plant, started in 1992 making Accords. Plant 1 now makes CR-V and Civic, while Plant 2 makes Civic and Jazz, so Civic is the flexible model.
We can move Civic production between plants to balance volumes. The CR-V is unique to Plant 1 and Jazz is unique to Plant 2.

AMS: Is there blocking on the line?

DH: We don’t use that system at all. Our production sequencing is based around weld production. Our objective is to keep the sequence absolutely the same through the whole plant, rather then re-sequence to optimise each department. If you optimise for each department, you’re going to have a painted body store of perhaps 600 units. Our painted body store in Plant 2 is about 30 units. Honda is very good at keeping investment down to a minimum. Traditionally, our car plants have a lot lower investment than anywhere else in the world. Keeping it lean and keeping it extremely small reduces the chance of system failure. In terms of production sequence, following the global standard, we build one batch of each car per day. Therefore, at the moment, if we build three models on the same line, we will build one batch of each model. Typically, that will be about 200 Civics, followed by 100 Jazz, etc. on any given day.

AMS: In regards to chassis production and BIW, how was Jazz production integrated with CR-V and Civic?

DH: The impression is that there would be a huge impact on the way we push the cars through the process, but because the lines are built around our welding global standard, we can integrate any model without a huge amount of disruption. So there’s no impact in terms of loss on a daily basis. There are no gaps on the line when you switch from one model to the next.

AMS: There must be a delay in the press shop when the dies are changed?

DH: It only takes about six minutes to change the dies in the press shop. In the press shop, every panel you make is not just between Jazz, Civic and CR-V. Every single panel is different and for every panel you change all dies, so press is one of the few areas which does not manufacture to the exact sequence of main line production.

AMS: HUM has recently installed a new paintshop. Has that helped with the new model?

DH: The new paintshop was part of the Plant 1 line refurbishment. That’s a programme of investment that’s been going on for the last two or three years. It was scheduled for completion this summer, but we were able to finish it during the shutdown. The main changes there were to eliminate the hand-spraying processes. All the internal spray has now been completely automated, using robots supplied by Durr. It’s a traditional process, not a three-wet process, using solvent-free, water-based paint. We’ve got an e-coating process in Paint 1, by Durr, which offers a full, 360-degree rotation (ro-dip) of the body while it’s in the tank. This is not used in any other Honda plant. It removes anything left over from the weld process and produces a finer e-coat surface, which results in a better paint finish. The bodies then go through a joint sealer process, surfacer (primary coat), base coat (first colour coat) and clear coat. In that sense, it’s a fairly traditional build up of paint.

AMS: The paintshop in Plant 2 has always been automated? DH: Not in terms of interior spray. All external spray is automated. Some of these interior sprays are quite complicated, getting inside the car. We will consider automating that as well, but it’s quite a high investment.

AMS: Are there any dedicated assembly stations for the Jazz? DH: There’s no difference on Line 2 between the layout for Civic and Jazz. There are some points on the line where they have to be the same. Tyre and wheel, seats, windscreens, all of these are automated and they have to be common for each car. In Plant 1, glass (front and rear) is also automated. Originally we applied these by hand, it was a two-man process. In order to improve efficiency and repeatability we’ve automated those processes. Yes, it requires a lot of sensing equipment, supplied by Perceptron, to recognise the model and the correct positioning, but it’s something we think is justified for that particular process. The robotics were developed by Honda Engineering Europe.

AMS: Do you have separate lineside racking for different models? Are the racks are pulled out as the model production changes over.

DH: The ideal for us is not to have any model preparation for each batch. We don’t want to have any special additions or removals lineside. It should all just flow to line and be consumed. We have dedicated racks for each part number. If that part number is common for Jazz and Civic, that’s fine, they can all go down the same line, but there’s not much that’s common. So you end up where there’s more picking places than you had before – technically double – so the problem is fitting it all in so the associate can access it as efficiently as they could before.

AMS: How do you handle lineside delivery?

DH: Delivering parts is fundamentally the same, just split into two different lineside addresses. There are some difficulties, though. For example, Civic has fully-localised sourcing, a high level of EU content. On the other hand, Jazz has a relatively low level of EU content. Then you’ve got different sourcing through the warehouses, some of it’s KD (knocked down) and it has to be broken down from a KD container, modules, etc.

AMS: Following on from that, do you prefer to have individual parts delivered lineside, or use modules? DH: Honda’s not a great lover of modular assembly, we don’t tend to sub-contract many modules to our suppliers. Our approach is to retain design integrity over all the constituent parts of the assembly, so we generally don’t subcontract out the assembly of the product. This helps to retain design integrity and also keeps stock down. There’s no workin- progress spread around the country and it helps keep the synchronisation really tight. Our labour rates are very competitive from an industry point of view, but if we started to contract out processes that we could do ourselves, we wouldn’t actually don’t see much of a benefit because of the high logistics costs on those large parts.

Already we’ve got over 40 EU suppliers who are supplying us for 210 Jazz per day. That number will increase rapidly over the next 18 months.