Going down the Hitachinaka Toll Road and towards the coast, Komatsu’s Ibaraki Plant can be seen just across from the Hitachi Seaside Park. Mainly responsible for the development and production of large dump trucks and wheel loaders amongst Komatsu’s 12 manufacturing sites in Japan, the Ibaraki plant has seen significant growth in infrastructure, resource development and in the demand for construction machinery in recent years. This is the result of increased exports to Russia and Indonesia, as well as a higher domestic demand for construction machinery.
The Komatsu Group places great emphasis on quality management, right from early development and production stages through to after-sales services, and this has produced success for the company both in Japan and abroad. This story highlights how the plant at Ibaraki attained comprehensive quality management by investing in the latest technology and facilities.
Komatsu’s Ibaraki Plant develops and produces large dumpt trucks and wheel loaders.
In evaluating the company’s performance, Komatsu identified several improvements that would allow it to be more competitive. One of the main challenges the Quality Assurance (QA) department at Ibaraki faced was in the inspection of large parts. As the Ibaraki plant manufactures large-sized construction machinery, even the parts that the team has to deal with are enormous. It is common for a machinery frame alone to exceed 2m, which makes inspection both labor-intensive and time-consuming.
In the past, the QA team had to move parts to a layout machine in order to take the measurements. Not only are these bulky parts heavy to transport, they are also difficult to place in position. In addition, due to the large number of points that needed to be measured (e.g. mounting holes for small parts), the team required around 1.5 days to complete all measurements for each frame.
Apart from the layout machine, hand tools such as rulers and plumbs were also used to perform measurements. Accuracy and repeatability are harder to maintain as human error comes into the equation. When defects are noticed later, additional time and costs to rectify these problems would have been incurred unnecessarily.
On top of that, Komatsu also found the quality management of parts provided by partner companies a challenge. Whenever a large part is deemed defective after arriving at the Ibaraki plant, it would have to be returned for rework, which would delay the final delivery and also incur extra costs for transportation.
While in search of a suitable solution, Mr. Yoshioh Nihei from the Inspection Section (QA Department) of Komatsu’s Ibaraki Plant considered FARO’s Laser Tracker, which was already in use in the other Komatsu plants.
If the Ibaraki Plant chose to invest in a FARO Laser Tracker, it stood to gain various benefits including the ability to take measurements anywhere; perform precise measurement on large-sized parts; and achieve high precision quality management at business locations outside of the company quarters. This was an exact match to what the Ibaraki Plant needed!
Restored 2D drawing derived from scans
One of the main advantages offered by the FARO Laser Tracker Vantage is its extreme portability, which allows the user to bring it along to any location, such as welding plants, assembly plants, and even outdoor spaces. Mr. Nihei shared, “Even when the surface plate is engaged in the inspection of other parts, it is now possible to take measurements quickly wherever the part is. The risks associated with moving large parts are also reduced. Given that the new device is waterproof, we also do not have to worry about the possibility of sudden rain when we take measurements outdoors. This has helped us greatly.”
In the past, it took the team 1.5 days to measure machinery frames using the layout machine. Since the implementation of the Vantage, not only has the measurement time been reduced to a day, the team can even measure the numerous mounting holes on each part. This capability to measure complicated objects on a part did not used to be possible.
Amongst all the benefits enjoyed by Komatsu, the one that is most appreciated by the team at Ibaraki is its portability, because measurements can be performed directly at partner companies’ production sites. By moving the inspection process, defects are identified immediately, eliminating the extra costs and time that would have been incurred for rework. It also greatly enhances the production and delivery time for the company. Mr. Manabu Kobori, the foreman of the Component Inspection Center (Inspection Section, QA Department of Komatsu’s Ibaraki Plant) chimed in agreement, “When we visit partner companies and take measurements on-site using the Vantage, we are able to manage the processes from production to quality assurance in a consistent manner, thereby enhancing the quality of our products.”
Several positive outcomes have been observed since the Ibaraki plant implemented the FARO Laser Tracker Vantage. For one, efficiency and productivity levels have greatly improved with the time-savings enjoyed through spotting defects early at partner companies’ sites; inspecting parts in a shorter time ; and through eliminating the need to move large parts to a dedicated inspection area.
Apart from that, reductions in costs associated with transportation, reworking of defective parts and an overall improvement in the inspection process was also recorded.
The Vantage records point measurements once it comes into contact with its target, such as a mounting hole.
Most importantly, Komatsu found that its investment in the Vantage has brought about immense improvements in the quality of its output at Ibaraki. It has enabled the company to save measurement results as reports and share this information with partner companies; reduced the incidence of human error that accompanies the usage of conventional measuring instruments; and effectively strengthened a system whereby partner companies can consistently provide quality parts for Komatsu’s production.
Another positive “by-product” of this investment is the improvement in safety for employees that came about due to changes in the inspection process. The dangers and risks that come about as a result of moving large and heavy objects are no longer a concern for the team since the device can now be brought to the part that needs to be inspected. The Vantage’s waterproof feature also allows the team at the Ibaraki plant to work at ease outdoors, without having to worry about equipment damage when it rains.
Based on his careful calculations, Mr. Nihei is confident that the company can recoup the value of its investment on the FARO Laser Tracker Vantage within 1.5 years.
Komatsu, which is steadily expanding its global business through the development of its bases around the world, commenced operations in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture, in January 2007. The Ibaraki Plant serves as one of Komatsu’s domestic production bases.
Currently, it is the parent plant for the production of large-sized dump trucks and wheel loaders. In addition to development and production, it also plays a supporting role for technology and production in subsidiary plants around the world.
A global and group-wide skills competition is held every year at Komatsu, where employees from partner companies and manufacturing plants based overseas are encouraged to participate. Participants are divided based on departments and compete on the skills set acquired through work tasks and training. Quality improvement is emphasized and Komatsu aims to attain a consistent level of quality across all its bases globally through such friendly competition activities.
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