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Honda’s New Mother Factory, the ‘Yorii Plant’, uses Mitsubishi FA Integrated Solutions

Read how Honda’s new cutting-edge mother factory, the ‘Yorii Plant’, has recently adopted the ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’, whilst higher production line efficiency has resulted in increased competitive ability within the global market.

Honda Motor Co., Ltd. recently made production and operation management more efficient at its Yorii Plant (Yorii, Saitama, production from July 2013) by introducing the Ethernet-based CC-Link IE Field Network, allowing communication within a unified network for control signals from FA devices such as PLCs, production management information, and safety signals, etc. With Yorii as the ‘mother factory’, lateral expansion to overseas factories such as the new plant in Mexico and elsewhere is beginning, aiming for further enhanced competitive ability on a global scale.

Mitsubishi production systems

How the Yorii Plant adopted the CC-Link IE Field Network

1. Build a simple and robust network worthy of the ‘mother factory’.
2. Enhance visualization of FA control devices, and streamline operation and maintenance management.
3. Flexible expansion and change as the network also supports communication of safety information.

The Yorii Plant (Yorii, Saitama, Japan) of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. (hereafter Honda), which opened in July 2013, has continued to be at the cutting edge of the vehicle production industry, introducing everything Honda has developed in the way of high-level production technology and high-efficiency production systems.

With the rate of new cars sold within Japan plateauing at around 5 million per year for the last several years and the industry no longer being able to depend on the rising sales figures of the past, the Yorii Plant was built to increase cost-competitiveness through highly efficient production and energy management. The 0.95 km2 site is scheduled for a full production capacity of 250,000 vehicles per year and, as of March 2014; it produces the ‘FIT’#1 and ‘VEZEL’#2 brands [also marketed as ‘JAZZ’#1 and ‘HR-V’#2].

Moreover, the Yorii Plant also fulfils the role of ‘mother factory’. Realizing this function entails sharing its production technology and know-how gradually to domestic and international production hubs, increasing overall global competitive ability. As the construction of the Yorii Plant proceeded with this mission in mind, it was late 2011 when the design and selection of production line control devices began seriously.

Aiming for visualisation of devices and greater freedom of safety functions

The first issue which arose was how to handle the overall network architecture. A flat construction linking the whole Yorii plant in a single network was considered, but given that a single failure could potentially stop the entire plant’s network, multiple networks seemed more appropriate.

However, constructing individual networks would require a more complex system, as well as increased introduction and operation costs. Furthermore, in spreading know-how from the Yorii ‘mother factory’ to other factories, a sturdy yet simple construction was required.

Mitsubishi car production systems

Whilst considering the system architecture, the team also identified two functions essential for the network. One was the centralized ‘visualization’ of FA control devices (establishing an environment in which FA control device setup, monitoring, failure detection and so on could be centralized through the network) and the other essential function was the communication of ‘safety signals’ (incorporating safety signals into the network, whilst aiming for a structure that would allow flexible line changes).

Selecting ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’

Based on these needs, Yokomukai focused on Mitsubishi Electric's ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’ solution. With a ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’, a single Ethernet cable not only allows communication of control information for PLCs and controllers, but also maintenance and safety information from the connected FA devices.

When Mitsubishi Electric introduced its ‘CC-Link Field Network’ to us, I discovered that it could handle maintenance and safety information as well, reflecting our various on-site needs. This would allow us to build a simple and high-reliability network suitable for our cutting-edge Yorii Plant," observed Yokomukai.

Furthermore, compatibility with FA control devices was also an important point. To fulfil the projected production numbers, the vehicle body assembly line needed to be maintained at a near constant 100% operating rate, requiring guaranteed performance from the FA control devices.

So when selecting FA control devices for the vehicle body assembly line, the in-house proposal was for Mitsubishi Electric’s products, which had proven themselves over many years at the Sayama plant (Japan), and has always been held in high regard. Because the ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’ is highly compatible with Mitsubishi Electric’s control devices, Yokomukai’s team felt that an optimal system could be constructed by combining the two.

The ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’ is an Ethernet based field network following the physical and data layers as defined by IEEE 802.3 (1000BASE-T). Through the work of its industry group, the CC-Link Partner Association, it has become widely adopted and considered a standard. As well as covering high-speed I/O and control of distributed controllers, it offers flexible network topology options such as star and ring types, allowing great freedom in the arrangement and configuration of connected devices.

In addition, not only does it support management (setup and monitor) and maintenance (monitoring and failure detection) of controller devices, but it also features a ‘safety communication function’ allowing sharing of safety information across multiple safety PLCs.

After much deliberation, the final selection fell to Mitsubishi Electric’s FA control devices and, likewise from Mitsubishi Electric, the ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’ Solution for the vehicle body assembly line; installation and testing began in November 2012. In addition, Mitsubishi Electric’s solutions have also been introduced to the press shop, resin moulding process, vehicle body painting line, and other production areas.

Batch management of 50 PLCs for improved operating efficiency

The Honda Yorii Plant began operation in July 2013 and moved to full operation with the introduction of a second shift in September 2013. Yokomukai is pleased and said “the diagnostic functions of CC-Link IE Field help us locate the problem faster”. The team is also extremely satisfied with Mitsubishi Electric’s responsiveness regarding system construction and support.

Through this introduction of ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’, a centralized ‘visualization’ of FA control devices has been achieved, as required in the original plan. “The vehicle body assembly line uses as many as 50 Mitsubishi Electric PLCs: we’re able to get a centralized overview of the line status or any trouble that may be happening when a necessary signal isn’t being received, making operation management efficiency much higher. The recovery time has also been shortened,” remarked Yokomukai.

With regards to line expansion and safety information, it is as simple as connecting a LAN cable to a vacant port on the ‘CC-Link IE Field Network’ and the interlock can be added immediately in Mitsubishi Electric’s Safety PLC, reducing the workload considerably.

Honda has assessed these merits highly in-house, and introduced a similar system to its new Mexico plant, which began operation in January 2014. The Yorii Plant has proved its value as the ‘mother factory’.

The market conditions surrounding the automobile industry have undergone major changes. New car sales are struggling in developed countries, while major growth is predicted for markets in the developing countries, as each automobile manufacturer is competing for dominance.

Increased competitive ability through increased efficiency is a constant concern for manufacturers, and Honda plans to work towards further increased efficiency whilst utilizing the Yorii Plant as its ‘mother factory’. Mitsubishi Electric expects higher demands to be placed on integrated FA solutions as users construct future leading-edge production systems.

Company Profile

Mitsubishi Electric Europe

As the UK arm of one of the world’s leading manufacturing companies, Mitsubishi Electric has been supplying automation products and solutions to the UK for over 35 years.

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