Made in Japan

Production and assembly operations at the mother factory - Tsuchiura Works

Part of the truckframe team in the medium assembly group.
Production Management Centre Manager Takayuki Shiratori.

Hitachi Construction Machinery Co., Ltd.’s (HCM) product range is manufactured within a fully integrated and comprehensive production system. The construction machinery produced at the company’s manufacturing plants in Japan is operated on a global basis across a wide range of industry solutions.

Managing Production

HCM’s Tsuchiura Works factory – the largest facility of its kind in the world – faced the biggest challenge of its history in the wake of the Great East Japan earthquake (and tsunami that followed) on 11 March 2011.

All production stopped with immediate effect and it took a huge effort by the HCM workforce to restart work in April, before normal operations resumed two months later.

“When the disaster occurred, it caused much trouble to the supply chain as we obviously weren’t able to fulfil demand,” says Production Management Centre Manager Takayuki Shiratori.

“Some of our suppliers were also affected and we had difficulty in receiving the required number of parts for production. In addition, there were some restrictions on electricity usage between July and September 2011.

“Despite all of this, we still managed to manufacture enough units with revised shift patterns and extended working hours at weekends and during holiday periods. Thanks to this massive team effort, we managed to get back to normal by improving our processes and adjusting plans accordingly. All of this helped to overcome the serious issues caused by the earthquake.”

The Medium-sized Products Section of the Production Management Centre holds responsibility for producing 10-40 tonne excavators at Tsuchiura Works, planning everything required from the order to the shipment of machines. “The sales team receives orders from the various regions around the world,” explains Mr Shiratori, who had previously worked for the after-sales team in the Japanese domestic market after joining HCM in 1982.

“We then finalise the annual production plan to ensure that the correct quantities of each model are manufactured. There are some fluctuations to the sales figures after the plan has been set and therefore it has to be adjusted on a monthly basis to accommodate any changes in demand. Logistically speaking, the production plan is then integrated into the schedule for the factory as a whole.”

The role of the Medium-sized Products Section is to meet global demand for Hitachi Zaxis medium excavators, the most popular of which is the ZX200 (ZX210 in Europe). To achieve this, it sets the target and liaises with the Assembly Section regarding the number of each model required on a monthly and even daily basis.

Tsuchiura Works Factory - the largest facility of its kind in the world. 

There is an average of 53 Zaxis 10-40 tonne medium excavators rolling off the mixed-model assembly line each day. HCM has the capacity to produce 62 units by the team of 160 Assembly Section workers across two shifts: 06.15 to 14.45; and 14.45 to 23.15.

There are 120 different model variations that can be produced from the 32 base models in a cycle time (the amount of time that must elapse between two consecutive unit completions in order to meet demand) of 12-14 minutes. If the assembly line is on schedule and the cycle time is being adhered to, then the base machines can also be customised for specific orders at this stage.

HCM still produces its Zaxis-3 and Zaxis-5 models side by side, although the former range is slowly being superseded. There are three types of Zaxis-5 models, with different specifications in place for the markets in China, other parts of Asia, America, Europe and Japan to comply with the emissions regulations for each region.

The carefully planned assembly process starts with the upper structure (mainframe) and undercarriage (truckframe) assembly teams working in parallel. The two lines meet at the midpoint to join the mainframe and truckframe sections, before the finished product emerges from the base machine line.

Safety First

Ryo Nakajima has been the Manager of the Assembly Section for medium and large excavators at Tsuchiura Works since 2011, having moved from another factory within the HCM group two years before. “We have a meeting every morning to ensure that the assembly line runs smoothly that day,” says Mr Nakajima.

“If there are no issues to resolve, such as parts not arriving on time, then I will continue my routine by inspecting the assembly line. I’ve had a good day if there are no problematic issues arising during the shifts.

“One of my main priorities is to plan for the method of production by looking at how operations will run in the future and if we have the capability to meet these. If the answer is negative, then we make the suggestion to invest in new machinery.”

Assistant Manager Kazuhiko Mori.

Mr Nakajima’s job is also to manage the factory in such a way as to avoid risk. If something happens within his section and he knows there is potential for this to escalate, then he will research the surrounding issues with the aim of finding a solution.

“Safety in the workplace is of the highest priority,” he adds. “This is reflected by the emphasis placed on this subject during training courses, particularly for new employees.”

HCM’s production recruits spend their first few months of employment at the Kasumigaura Training Centre. From April to July, they attend lectures to improve their basic knowledge, and from August to September, they take practical lessons at Tsuchiura Works.

After the training has been completed, they join the Assembly Section. There are four teams – mainframe, truckframe, inspection and customisation – in the medium assembly group and three teams – same as medium, except for truckframe – for the large assembly group.

Teamwork Counts

The Assistant Manager for the medium Zaxis mainframe and truckframe teams is Kazuhiko Mori. There are 80 people in each of these teams (40 per shift) and Mr Mori’s number one priority is also the safety of his colleagues.

“I ensure that the workforce follows the correct procedures and take care of any potential risks on the assembly line,” he says. “If there is a mishap, I deal with the outcome and then find out a solution to prevent it from happening again.”

He is also keen to emphasise the importance of teamwork instilled throughout the organisation: “The highlight of my job is if we reach the targeted number of units for each day. This is because it happens as a result of the combined effort of the whole team to reach this goal. If one line stops for any reason, perhaps due to a lack of parts or a faulty component, then we can’t achieve it.”

Mr Mori joined HCM from another company in 1985. This is unusual among large Japanese companies, which don’t typically reward workers recruited later in their careers compared to those who join straight from school or university. However, Hitachi evaluates each worker’s ability on an individual basis and Mr Mori was made Team Leader in 2003, before being promoted to his current role in 2008.

HCM also presented Mr Mori with a Ko-sho (craftsmanship and engineering) award in 2005. He wears the Ko-sho patch proudly on his uniform, which depicts a chrysanthemum. This beautiful flower has a special place in the hearts of many Japanese people as a symbol of autumn (when it blooms most brightly).

It is clear from talking to Mr Mori that he has much respect for his employer and Hitachi products. “I worked in the Design Centre for two years, when I took the opportunity to compare our machines against those of our competitors. In my experience, Hitachi machines are easier to handle and offer the smoothest operation – this gives me a really positive feeling about my work.

“I am also proud to work for a truly global company and of the opportunities that I have had to travel with my work. I have been to Indonesia, India, China, America and The Netherlands to assist my colleagues in other Hitachi factories. The overall aims were to pass on some of our experience of expanding production and assist with the introduction of new products on to the assembly line.”

The Power of Motivation

Mr Mori is ably assisted by Foreman Junichi Nakamura, who has worked with HCM for the past 25 years since leaving high school. He is also proud of his work with HCM: “Not only is HCM one of the leading companies in the Hitachi group, but it is also famous all over Japan. I am very loyal to the company and proud to say that I work for Hitachi.”

After Mr Nakamura checks for absenteeism each morning, he attends the daily team meeting. He reports on important information relating to the production target, for example the type of products that they will be assembling and if overtime is required that day. He also provides feedback on the previous day’s performance, especially if any issues arose and what solutions were found to combat these.

Within each team, the workers are split into three units and they are able to rotate their jobs within each unit. This helps the staff to learn some of the 22 jobs on the assembly line and provide cover in case of absenteeism.

To achieve the desired results, Mr Nakamura focuses on the motivation of his team, which comprises of regular, temporary and contract workers. “I prefer to handover responsibility to the regular full-time employed workforce and I find that this helps to motivate them. However, the temporary and contract workers are targeted more with financial incentives.

“These groups have different purposes: the regular workers wish to be promoted; whereas the temporary workers are more motivated by money. Regular workers are also given the opportunity to learn new skills on external training courses, which helps them to improve their overall performance.

“Training also helps their decision-making capabilities. I’m really happy when someone within my team is able to solve a problem without my input. It is good to see them develop in this way.”

Mr Nakamura also reveals that there is a special chart that helps to minimise the number of mistakes made on the assembly line. “The chart is updated and assessed on a daily basis by three inspectors, who look for potential problems. Mistakes can also be found and reported back during testing procedures.

“If an employee makes a mistake, he must complete an assessment form. If he makes ten mistakes over a three-month period, then he must attend a meeting with his manager.”

“The chart system is a huge motivation for every worker and illustrates the huge emphasis that is placed on quality within the Assembly Section. If a mistake is made, then we believe that it is a positive thing, because it leads to the next success. Everyone learns from their mistakes.”

The importance of the ‘mother factory’ to HCM’s overall operation is undoubted. With a strong workforce in place, Mr Nakajima and his team are confident that Tsuchiura Works cannot only help HCM to overcome the most challenging economic and climatic conditions, but also to continue capitalising on HCM’s competitive advantage.

“Hitachi is currently number three in the industry,” concludes Mr Nakajima. “However, if we continue to adapt to the new technology that is available from other Hitachi companies, then we can hopefully go on to become the global market leader.”

“We have a meeting every morning to ensure that the assembly line runs smoothly that day.”


Tsuchiura Works

Operating since 1966
3,429 employees
489,000m2 site
Manufactures medium and large Zaxis excavators

Kasumigaura Works

Operating since 1989
423 employees
178,000m2 site
Manufactures key components for Zaxis excavators

Ryugasaki Works

Business transferred in 2010
387 employees
258,000m2 site
Manufactures compact, medium and large ZW wheel loaders

Hitachinaka Works

Operating since 2007
275 employees
218,000m2 site
Manufactures large Zaxis and ultra-large EX excavators, and key components for dump trucks, wheel loaders, crawler cranes etc

Hitachinaka-Rinko Works

Operating since 2008
730 employees
181,000m2 site
Manufactures large Zaxis and ultra-large EX excavators, and EH dump trucks

Saitama Works

Business transferred in 2006
40 employees
1,425m2 site
Manufactures small compaction machines

Yamagata Works

Operating since 1980
340 employees
100,000m2 site
Manufactures ride-on compaction equipment, recycling machines, rubber crawler carriers and parts for Zaxis excavators

Urahoro Test Site

Operating since 1992
Six full-time employees, plus other support staff
427 hectares
Tests mini, medium, large and wheeled Zaxis excavators, medium and large wheel loaders, and large AC Drive rigid dump trucks

Shiga Production Centre

Business transferred in 1990
393 employees
170,340m2 site
Manufactures Zaxis mini excavators

Nagoya Works

Operating since 2004
250 employees
110,000m2 site
Manufactures crawler cranes, foundation machines and truck cranes

Osaka Production Centre

Business transferred in 1990
56 employees
12,620m2 site
Manufactures parts for Zaxis and mini excavators

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