Honda Production

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A striking example of the application of Japanese methods was the introduction of the Honda production system in the UK. Planning and control of the thousands of parts that go to make up a motor vehicle is a complex and difficult task, which often creates chaos in the supply network. Frequent schedule changes have a disastrous effect on suppliers, and the final build programme at the assembler is often governed by what parts are available rather than by what was planned.

Honda devised a production system that was much more logistics-friendly than that of any other motor manufacturer. The basic principle was simple: make the car in batches of 30 at a time. Tell your suppliers what you want five months in advance, and don’t change your mind under any circumstances. Five months’ notice is long enough for any supplier to get it right, and to ensure that — when build day approaches — parts are delivered just-in-time. In fact, some of the early challenges revolved around the problem that suppliers didn’t believe that Honda meant what it said. Other manufacturers were forever chopping and changing right up to and including build day. Once the disciplines had been explained and put into practice, suppliers found that the Honda production system was better than the others: you could actually rely on the schedules, and were given a whole 5 months’ notice to plan your production schedules.

The Honda production system was put into practice using standard pallets, which ensured that parts were delivered to the production lines in multiples of 30 at a time. This created a rhythm in the production process whereby empty pallets were removed after each batch, and the fresh ones that replaced them were exactly what was needed for the next batch. It was unnecessary to perform the usual gross to net conversion in MRP because everything was delivered and built in exact quantities of 30 at a time. The only complication to this rule was due to paint defects. If a body was...
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