A manufacturing bond that has produced continuing technical innovation
Japanese industry has taken its lead from the automobile industry, which continues to show growth driven by demand in emerging markets. Technical innovation such as the production of electric vehicles has also accelerated and Mitsubishi Motors has continued to innovate and produce even better products. Mitsubishi Motors 50-year collaboration with Mitsubishi Materials has supported this history of innovation. In this feature, we visit Mitsubishi Motors Powertrain Plant in Kyoto to ask about the collaboration between both companies in the development of process technology, global expansion and the contributions made by Mitsubishi Materials.
Part 1 Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Materials
Mitsubishi Motors evolving while expanding global sales
Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto remains a rich treasure trove of history and culture, and is known as a popular tourist destination. Within this quaint capital, just 15 minutes by car from Kyoto Station sprawls a vast manufacturing plant. It is the Mitsubishi Motors Powertrain Plant. Mitsubishi Motors started production of the Mitsubishi A type in 1917 and continued manufacturing automobiles that are popular throughout the world such as the PAJERO and LANCER EVOLUTION. Mitsubishi's "Drive@earth" project aims to deliver an enjoyable driving experience for the global market with an emphasis on coexisting with nature through the development, production and sales of electric vehicles (EV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). Such leading-edge innovation has provided the foundation for manufacturing technology throughout Japan's automobile industry. The development of technology at Mitsubishi Motors has been promoted by the "Tool Technology Council," a group of process technology specialists. Established nearly 50 years ago in 1966, the Council comprises of engineers selected from departments and divisions at Mitsubishi Motors group companies and Mitsubishi Materials to develop innovative technologies for the automotive industry. Under the concept of "Creating Dreams in Manufacturing," Council members are selected each year to attend technical exchange meetings.
They also come together once a year to share the progress they have made in their processing technology improvement activities. The purpose of these meetings is to exchange technical information beyond company boundaries. In addition to the regular members, young engineers are invited to participate in these activities to cultivate next-generation engineers. Approximately 420 engineers have participated in Council activities over the half century since it was established and hundreds of presentations covering a wide range of technologies have been given. These activities provide opportunities for interaction among engineers, users and manufacturers and have resulted in new tools that have supported Mitsubishi Motors through the development of highly advanced production lines. We asked Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Materials Tool Technology Council members to tell us about the history and achievements of the Council.
Tool Technology Council's support for production lines
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): It has been about 40 years since I became involved with the Tool Technology Council, which I guess, makes me one of the oldest members. I was working in engine production for Mitsubishi Jeep when I was asked to join the Council. Looking back on its history, I remember most our work on low-fuel consumption vehicles. That was a time when automobile manufacturers were under pressure to reduce both weight and cost.
Ogino (Mitsubishi Motors): That's true. Engine improvements required the development and application of stronger materials which were difficult to cut. Of course, this meant that we needed to adapt tools capable of machining these new materials. I look back and feel like it was a time of competitive evolution between materials and tools. A new tool that had low cost-performance that but hard to pre-set, or difficult to adjust was no good to us. The Tool Technology Council benefits from a history where engineers from different areas had discussions and ideas to ensure that quality wasn't compromised. Despite the difficulties, ultimately, solutions were always found The Tool Technology Council has also focused on the cultivation of young engineers, serving as an opportunity for them to objectively examine their technical capability. Mid-level engineers are also involved in Council activities, constantly challenging one another to improve.
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): The opportunity to share the most advanced information that individual members had was quite meaningful, and it served to vitalize technology. That is how new ideas and opinions were generated. The Tool Technology Council is an organisation where core elements of automobile manufacturing are brought together in the search for future directions.
Ogino (Mitsubishi Motors): The Mitsubishi Powertrain Plant (Kyoto) is a major production facility for the engines used by Mitsubishi Motors. At its peak, some 5,000 employees operated worldclass production lines twenty-four hours a day. To support this operation, Tool Technology Council members were required to have the highest level of knowledge and skill and it was quite an honour for young engineers to be selected as members.
Takiguchi (Mitsubishi Materials): Only about 5 employees from Mitsubishi Materials are selected to join the Council each year. New members are selected as the Council evolves and adapts along with the trends in industry. To date, it has accumulated know-how and experience over 50 years.
Uno (Mitsubishi Motors): Yes. For the young engineers, it is a big honour to be involved with the Tool Technology Council. The technology that has been developed and passed down by the Council has contributed to growth over the past 50 years.
Nishida (Mitsubishi Motors): I am currently the Mass Production Team leader at the Council and I feel that employees from both companies bring needs and seeds to the same table, set common goals and discuss issues together. The Council has become an excellent place for technical exchanges. Mitsubishi Materials used to dispatch personnel to Mitsubishi Motors but then stopped 25 years ago. Just this year though, Mitsubishi Materials rejoined the Council and sent Mr. Uno to join. The Tool Technology Council really is an outstanding venue for human resource exchanges.
Producing excellent tools to support the busiest production lines in the world
Takiguchi (Mitsubishi Materials): I was on the production line in 1987 when Mitsubishi started producing the V6 engine.
Kitamura (Mitsubishi Materials): The V6 was being supplied to Chrysler at that time. We produced 50,000 vehicles per month. I think then it was the busiest production line in the world.
Takiguchi (Mitsubishi Materials): Yes, it was 50,000 vehicles per month, right? Under such tough conditions, Mitsubishi Materials tools had their job cut out for them. We were always aware that even the tiniest of problems could stop a production line so we were always thinking of ways to process high efficiency tools. The know-how accumulated through the Tool Technology Council was very useful.
Kitamura (Mitsubishi Materials): We needed to continually produce faster, so we also had to reduce the time it took for tool replacement.
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): It was in 1897 that we developed a system that allowed replacement of tools with the click of a button. We developed this system in collaboration with machine design engineers, but the sharing of a wide range of knowledge through the Tool Technology Council had a significant impact. One of the concepts for technical improvement at that time was the "Constant Search for Quick Change." The development of spring clamps for face milling cutters and the hydraulic clamping mechanism reduced tool replacement time to less than one minute, and eliminated the need for wrenches and other tools.
All: Yes, those are great memories!
Takiguchi (Mitsubishi Materials): There were no machining centres at that time and it was impossible to exchange tools automatically; but we had already developed a system very close to the automatic replacement type you see today. I can tell you that the Tool Technology Council played no small role in making it possible to produce a large number of engines, very quickly.
Ogino (Mitsubishi Motors): It is really great to get together with the major players that were on the Council at that time to share memories.
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): Our proposals for technical improvements are summarised in this edition of "THE TOOLING." The colour on the front page is one of the PAJERO colours, which we decided to use to show our spirit.
Kitamura (Mitsubishi Materials): There was no other production line in the world that was as complex as ours.
Our achievement was outstanding and it made us proud that our tools were used on one of the busiest and toughest production lines in the world.
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): We did have some troubles though. Line maintenance required a serious effort.
The lines only stopped for a short time during summer and at year end. During these times we analysed and accumulated data about the products we developed.
We also inspected deterioration of cutter reference planes and worked in cooperation with the tooling centre to examine changes in runout. We worked constantly to monitor machined surface accuracy over the years.
Kitamura (Mitsubishi Materials): We worked hard on maintenance. All through our 20s, we spent our summer and New Year holidays ensuring that the lines would keep running.
Shimizu (Mitsubishi Motors): For solutions to problems, the initial design can achieve up to 70 percent of the improvement but the other 30 percent must be found in manufacturing techniques. Employees devote themselves to improvement and that has not changed.
Takiguchi (Mitsubishi Materials): Experience in manufacturing can be applied to design.
Kitamura (Mitsubishi Materials): The origin of all tools sold by Mitsubishi Materials to automotive industries around the world can be found in the history of the Tool Technology Council.
Everyone knows that a defect in a tool can cause the stoppage of a production line that produces 50,000 vehicles per month, and that would be a serious problem.
Uno (Mitsubishi Motors): We will continue recording the problems that come up in production lines and reflect them in improvement proposals. The importance of sharing problems and solutions has been passed down from past members and we want to continue this great tradition through Tool Technology Council activities to ensure a level of quality that leads the automobile industry.
The Tool Technology Council is a generator of wide ranging achievements
The Tool Technology Council expanded its activities in 1993 by adding mass production and metal mould processing teams. Cutting tools have improved significantly over the past 50 years and the Council has been a key factor in development each step of the way. It produced tools utilizing the UTi20T grade, as well as multi-layer chemical vapor deposition (CVD) coatings and cubic boron nitride (CBN) materials. Simultaneously, we set new themes for further technical developments. These included lowering tool costs, increasing productivity, better chip control as well as improving tools for mass production and mould machining. The technology accumulated here supports the production lines at Mitsubishi Motors and technical research conducted at user sites has become know-how that Mitsubishi Materials uses for proposals over a wide range of industries.
Part 2 - Development of next-generation tools through partnerships
Updating processing methods for core vehicle parts
Machine processing relates directly to vehicle performance and it has improved on a daily basis along with automobile development. The cylinder, the heart of the engine, plays an important role in translating explosive power into movement and the parts that convert this explosive power to inter-connected energy requires materials that exhibit excellent strength. High-strength cylinders are made of difficult to cut materials and machining these is the challenge. What type of processing method is required to create high-quality, high-performance and low-cost tools? Mitsubishi Motors and Mitsubishi Materials are on top of the challenge. Their solution is the development of nextgeneration tools that enable cylinder machining without a semi-finishing process. We asked Mr. Goto (Mitsubishi Motors), Mr. Terasaka (Mitsubishi Motors Engineering), and Furubayashi, Sakuyama and Yamada (Mitsubishi Materials) about the background of development and methods
Making cylinder processing possible without a semi-finishing
Terasaka (Mitsubishi Motors): In automobile parts processing, we constantly encounter many high demands. Of particular concern in our recent challenge was the cost of machining a high-precision cylinder. The cutting tool for this one step accounts for the lion's share of the cost of tools used in cylinder block processing. Thus, with an eye to reducing this cost, it was first sought to clarify the potential within the production lines.
Furubayashi (Mitsubishi Materials): That was about four years ago, right? After looking at Mitsubishi Motors' approach, we let them know at a Tool Technology Council meeting that we could help them make improvements and cut costs.
Goto (Mitsubishi Motors): Cylinders currently undergo three boring process steps, rough, semi-finishing and finishing. Our plan was to reduce this to two steps by alleviating the semi-finishing process. In order to do so, however, we had to figure out how to improve rough boring quality.
Sakuyama (Mitsubishi Materials): We proposed a wiper geometry to improve the surface quality of rough boring and we were quite confident that this would be effective when used on a rough boring tool.
Terasaka (Mitsubishi Motors): The wiper geometry requires significant power; but because the machine tool that performs the rough boring application had twice the power of a general machining centre, I was confident that it would be powerful enough to allow us to get the most out of the wiper geometry.
Furubayashi (Mitsubishi Materials): After six months of preparation, I was confident that we would be able to do this. I was very excited to know that we would achieve our goal.
(Left/ Right in the photo) Tadashi Terasaka: Mitsubishi Motors (Left/ Left in the photo) Hajime Goto: Mitsubishi Motors (Middle/ Right in the photo) Hiroyasu Furubayashi: Advanced Materials & Tools Company, Mitsubishi Materials (Right) Motoki Yamada: Advanced Materials & Tools Company, Mitsubishi Materials
Ideas are connected and shaped
Sakuyama (Mitsubishi Materials): We put maximum effort into satisfying all needs, such as achieving high-quality, high-efficiency and low cost, shortening work processes. We examined a wide range of wiper geometries to find one that would achieve surface quality equivalent to semi-finishing boring. The result was a new insert that applied a double-positive breaker to reduce cutting resistance. We also developed a rough boring tool whose inserts and layout angles were arranged to achieve a stable process.
Yamada (Mitsubishi Materials): The larger the rake angle, the sharper the insert becomes. However, the sharper the tool the more breakable the cutting edge becomes. To prevent breakage and achieve a rigid high feed cutting action, we modified the geometry to achieve more rigidity. Additionally, the original insert was square and only provided the use of four corners; but the new insert is hexagonal, allowing six corners to be used, thereby lowering the cost.
Goto (Mitsubishi Motors): For rough boring, where cutting is more difficult than the existing process, the set-up of stock removal and the optimum machining conditions was the most difficult. Taking account of the facility's capability, we accumulated data on location accuracy to set the amount of stock removal. Previously, we had set processing conditions along the lines of two-dimensional thinking, of feed and depth of cut, this time however, we increased efficiency by simultaneously optimizing 3 parameters, feed, depth of cut and speed. During testing we found the optimum parameters that gave us higher-quality, higher efficiencies and lower costs.
Furubayashi (Mitsubishi Materials): We processed approximately 20,000 holes to assess performance. The new tool life increased by six fold and processing efficiency jumped by 10%. This is why we have great confidence in our new product.
Terasaka (Mitsubishi Motors): The processing efficiency of the machines increased more than 10%. You may think 10% isn't much, but that 10% improvement has the effect of eliminating the need for an entire machine that costs tens of millions of yen.
Yamada (Mitsubishi Materials): We spent four years improving this tool; but this is now an outstanding development that represents a new era in tool technology.
Sakuyama (Mitsubishi Materials): Yes, it was a great chance for me to really see how the tools we develop are used by Mitsubishi Motors. As a developer it was my pleasure to know how satisfied both users and manufactures were with products that employed our tools. Although we are working in different places, we are connected; and such bonds can achieve outstanding results.
Goto (Mitsubishi Motors): I want to further advance the technology and methods we have developed. There are unlimited possibilities for added value in cutting tools, unlimited potential for cost reduction and the development of tools that can control chips and alleviate burrs.
Terasaka (Mitsubishi Motors): We always look to develop the best in highperformance cutting tools. However, it is also important to optimize the principal three factors of high-quality, high-efficiency and low-cost. Mitsubishi aterials spared no effort to help us develop new ideas and realize production and was largely instrumental in producing the excellent achievements we attained. The high-performance tools developed here will also contribute to other industries.
Part 3 - Cooperation with Mitsubishi Materials for global Expansion
Establishing a new plant in Thailand
Mitsubishi Motors is currently focusing on expanding production capacity in Asia. Mitsubishi Motors Thailand Co., Ltd. built an engine plant in 2008. Building a new production line overseas was more difficult than building one in Japan. Mr. Masago, Mitsubishi Motors Kyoto Engineering Department, who was involved in the establishment of the production line said, "I was involved in the engine processing line project in 2012. The engine was used for the MIRAGE, which was produced entirely in Thailand. These days, it is easy to procure everything we need in Thailand; but it was not that easy back in 2012. Of course, it was not Japan, so everything was different, including the way orders were placed." We need to develop production lines that are suitable for each country and culture but changing processing methods carries the risk of impacting on quality. Mr. Oka, Mitsubishi Motors Production Engineering Department, who was also involved in the establishment of the production line, wanted to install the exact same production line we had at the Mitsubishi Motors Powertrain Engineering Plant in Kyoto. He felt that having the same production line would make it possible to reduce risks in applying new processing methods and that implementing the most advanced production line, one whose quality had already been proven in Japan, would ensure the best performance.
Specialist support for overseas expansion
At the same time, Mitsubishi Materials predicted expanding demand for cemented carbide tools in Thailand, which had become a base for automobile parts production in Southeast Asia. Kitamura from Mitsubishi Materials said, "Since there was a need to set up a fine-tuned customer service system in Thailand, we planned to establish this and focus on major countries from the perspective of demand". Mitsubishi Materials promotes the expansion of accumulated technology, experience and human resources on a global level, not only to provide products, but also to respond to expanding global markets. In 2013, Mitsubishi Materials established the Global Key Accounts Department, a specialist group to support overseas business expansion, to help achieve this goal. Kitamura said, "The Global Key Accounts Department provides support to help our customers enter overseas markets. We provide them with the best solutions and services and promote the enhancement and optimization of their production system with a focus on a new framework that allows each customer to create new values and bolster competitiveness." When Mitsubishi Motors was planning its engine plant in Thailand, our Global Key Accounts Department was involved in the project. "When we launched the plant project, we were constantly aware that we had to come up with quick solutions to problems that were encountered. Mitsubishi Materials staff always helped us check production lines and conditions. We placed priorities to on-site work, onsite production and I really appreciate the cooperation we received from Mitsubishi Materials staff. It was instrumental in helping us maintain our priorities," said Mr. Oka.
(Left) Mr. Furubayashi, Mr. Kitamura, and Mr. Yamada (Mitsubishi Materials) from the left (Middle) Yoshiki Oka: Mitsubishi Motors (Right) Toshio Masago: Mitsubishi Motors
Need to work together to solve difficult problems
Installing a production line where no line previously existed requires manpower. Therefore, there was an urgent need to cultivate human resources capable of operating cutting tools. In particular, meticulous cost calculation is an integral part of processing in Japan, but it was a challenge for the original project members to establish the importance of this system and way of thinking among the local staff. Mr. Masago said, "Quality comes first. People who had worked in completely different areas needed to be trained in production line skills. This required thorough instruction and monitoring to ensure that everyone understood the work. We exchanged information with Mitsubishi Materials staff and obtained knowledge and information regarding processing. It was very helpful." Mr. Yamada from Mitsubishi Materials said, "We placed great emphasis on matters that are highly regarded in Japan, such as communication with overseas workers about products and sharing information on processes with our customers. We worked hard to build cooperative relationships at home and abroad to ensure a prompt response to customer needs.” Mr. Furubayashi from Mitsubishi Materials added, "We worked hard to perceive and accommodate customer needs. The most important thing for us is the willingness to work together with customers to overcome difficulties." Both companies have the same desire to work with customers to improve our products and services and this strengthens the relationship between us. During the interviews, they expressed an attitude of seeking the best process as professionals in manufacturing. Mitsubishi Materials continues to provide the best to each of its customers around the globe by delivering the most advanced process technology, technology that can only be provided by a company that is intimately familiar with the characteristics of each product.