Whilst other vehicle manufacturers around the world are laying off workers; Ford UK 3000, General Motors 5000 over the next two years and the big three in America posting their worst results for a decade, Japanese vehicle manufacturers, and especially Isuzu, are enjoying full production capacity and buoyant sales proving that quality still sells in difficult trading times. Japanese manufacturers now have 26.8% of the American market, the land of the car, which is an increase of 1.9% on 1990.
Since inception in 1916, Isuzu was more ponderously known as the Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, then in 1939 as Tokyo Motors Inc. and finally as Isuzu Motors Ltd in 1949. The Fujisawa plant was opened for operation in 1962 to produce cars and light trucks. Today the plant not only produces these vehicles but also buses, automobile and industrial engines plus automatic transmissions. With its own testing track this complex is the location for the majority of Isuzu’s research and development. Isuzu also has manufacturing facilities in the cities of Kawasaki, Tochigi and Hokkaido.
To achieve international status Isuzu, in 1971, affiliated with General Motors, the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer. It was also in 1971 that Isuzu put the first computerised robot to work on the assembly line. This has now expanded into a total of 251 robots that now operate in the Fujisawa plant.
The plant, which I had the pleasure of touring with a guide supplied by Isuzu, was made up of four factories, each of which had a function in the assembly chain.
Number 1 Plant
The first plant is what is known as the body stamp shop. Here oeparates 14 x 3,500 tonne press lines forming all the body panels such as the doors, floor, roof, boots, bonnets and mudguard. Each giant press effects 5 presses simultaneously.
An endless stream of automated guided vehicles (AGVs) then collects the panels and take them to the panel holding bays in preparation for the next process of another AGV being loaded by a robot and the panels are then placed in the robotic welding area. Here the panels are assembled by a team of computerised robots. The complexity of the process is evident by the fact that due to the make-to-order and Just-in-Time procedures in place, the robots can not only assemble the entire body shell, but can do 3 different models at random as dictated by the computer that is integrated with the order process department’s computer.
As further proof of the degree computer technology at Isuzu, not only do three different models go through the assembly line together, but there are up to