case 81

Suzuka Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Sustained Environmental Awareness Bears Fruit: Development of an Automatic Monitor ON/OFF App Three Years in the Waiting

New system makes inspection work easier, but adds new tasks

VQ Worker Support System lightens workload for inspectors

As the last line of defense in product quality, VQ receives a continuous flow of assembled vehicles for the finished vehicle inspection. Each vehicle on the inspection line undergoes stringent testing following a detailed inspection checklist.

“My division manages the equipment used in VQ to inspect for legal compliance. We manage equipment through day-to-day planning to make sure the inspections (measurements) can be carried out safely and accurately, and without stopping the equipment, so that products can be delivered to customers in satisfactory condition and at the right time.”

Soft-spoken yet confident, staff engineer Itaru Usami manages the facilities used for finished vehicle inspections.

These facilities now also include the “VQ Worker Support System,” introduced in August 2017 to help lighten the workload for inspectors.

“The cars may all look the same, but they actually vary considerably in features and specifications depending on the grade, for instance,” says Usami. “Previously we informed inspectors of the quality-related information by posting a paper copy of the inspection list on a board, but this forced inspectors to do repetitive tasks such as checking the board for every vehicle they inspected. The VQ Worker Support System, however, displays the information they need for the vehicle in front of them on a large nearby monitor. It’s served a very useful auxiliary function that allows inspectors to focus on their work.”

One after another, assembled vehicles make their way to the VQ inspections

One after another, assembled vehicles make their way to the VQ inspections

The VQ Worker Support System assists inspectors by displaying vehicle data on large-screen monitors

The VQ Worker Support System assists inspectors by displaying vehicle data on large-screen monitors

Itaru Usami, Staff Engineer, Vehicle Quality Dept., Vehicle Assurance Division, Suzuka Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Itaru Usami, Staff Engineer, Vehicle Quality Dept., Vehicle Assurance Division, Suzuka Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

The VQ Worker Support System, installed at each step in the inspection process, pulls up data on the inspected vehicle and displays the most critical information for the current step. This allows inspectors to refer to the displayed information as they proceed through the inspection, a major advantage over the previous system since it eliminated the unnecessary stress of searching through lists.
However, it also ended up creating a new form of stress.

Eliminating distractions, no matter how small

Unlike other processes in the factory, VQ neither produces nor modifies products. When considering Honda’s responsibility to the global environment as an automaker, there are no major environmental or energy-related benefits that VQ could create. Instead, VQ takes action in many small ways on a day-to-day basis, such as turning off air conditioners and lights when not in use, or switching to energy-efficient versions of parts used in equipment.

For this reason, finished vehicle inspectors not only switch off the lights during break times, but also turn off the monitors used by the newly introduced VQ Worker Support System.

VQ, which follows a two-shift system, has to turn these monitors on or off a total of 14 times per day, at the beginning and end of the workday and at every break, taking about 20 seconds each time. Since there are 20 units to the system, at the start and end of the workday 20 computers and monitors have to be turned on and off.

A 20-second task, 14 times a day. Taking the numbers by themselves, this may seem like a minor job. However, facilities managers like Usami know that vehicle inspections rest on the pride and confidence of its inspectors, and that such pride and confidence are directly tied to Honda quality.

Inspectors work with a sense of pride and confidence in what they do

Inspectors work with a sense of pride and confidence in what they do

The yellow armband distinguishes its wearer as an inspector

The yellow armband distinguishes its wearer as an inspector

For that reason, Usami wanted to eliminate anything that could place undue stress on the inspectors, no matter how trivial. Desiring to create an environment that would allow inspectors to focus on inspecting and giving customers only the highest-quality products, and with a deep sense of responsibility as the last line of defense, Usami and his colleagues moved into action.

“The yellow armband signifies that one is a fully trained, qualified inspector. Doing inspection work with the pride and confidence that comes from that armband also entails pressure that you can’t see from the outside. In order for inspectors to focus on their work without distraction, I decided I would try to eliminate the task of turning the monitors on and off, which is completely unrelated to the inspection work.”

Search for an auto ON/OFF app to save on work and energy

Toshiaki Yokota, Engineering Coordinator, Vehicle Quality Dept., Vehicle Assurance Division, Suzuka Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Toshiaki Yokota, Engineering Coordinator, Vehicle Quality Dept., Vehicle Assurance Division, Suzuka Factory, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.

Toshiaki Yokota, who oversaw introduction of the VQ Worker Support System, looked for a solution in his own way.

“The extra stress on inspectors aside, I thought we needed to do something even from an energy conservation perspective. VQ has never been a big energy consumer, so relatively speaking, twenty 48-inch large-screen monitors use a lot of power. If we didn’t create a system to make sure they were turned off every time, a lot of energy would be wasted. I felt determined to save that energy somehow.”

Yokota’s idea was to introduce a computer application.

The application, which would be installed in each computer in the VQ Worker Support System, would automatically turn off the monitors at the start of each break, and turn them back on when the break was finished. Introducing such an application would allow inspectors to focus on their work without distraction from unrelated tasks, while also saving energy. Yokota had even estimated that running the monitors only on standby power during break times would annually save 1.7 megawatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to 6.04 gigajoules of thermal energy or 0.8 tons of CO2 emissions, compared to leaving the monitors on.

Yokota began researching the market, setting three requirements for such an application to be feasible: It not only had to perform the on/off operation automatically, but it also had to allow for the setting of multiple on/off times for the beginning and end of work and break times; and it had to be easy to use for anyone, to allow for expansion to other factories across Honda.
Yokota suspected such a simple system would most certainly be available already, yet he struggled to find an application that met all three of these requirements.

“The ones I did find only turned power off, or turned power on only once. I searched, but none satisfied all three requirements. However, there was an open-source program that automatically turned monitors on and off.”

Using this application as a model, Yokota decided to develop his own application—an application that satisfied all of his requirements.

“I said, ‘Fine! I’ll just do it myself.’”