The Indian automotive scenario has been witnessing one of the world’s fastest growth trajectories, and over the years, carmakers have gone ahead to not only meet domestic demand, but also turn India into a global manufacturing hub for automobiles. Honda Cars India Limited (HCIL) has been in the Indian automobile market for almost two decades and its range of product offerings bear testimony to its commitment to, and deep-rooted understanding of, the unique customer requirements in India. We had the opportunity to visit the Tapukara plant of HCIL located in Rajasthan and witness some the company’s modern, contemporary production techniques, with a variety of cars being manufactured under one roof.
The Tapukara plant is HCIL’s second production facility, which started its first phase of operations in 2008, with body panels and engine components. The second phase commenced in 2014, adding car assembly operations to the earlier set up. The facility is spread across a total area of 400 acres and 490 cars are currently produced here daily, including the City, WR-V, Jazz and BR-V. The City is the only model from Honda, which is manufactured at both the Greater Noida and Tapukara plants.
The Tapukara facility has a production capacity of 1.2 lakh units per annum, which can be scaled up to 1.8 lakh units on the basis of demand. This is also one of the first automobile plants in India to get ISO 9001, ISO 14000 and OHSAS 18001 certifications from the central government. Auto Tech Review met Navid S Talib, Operating Head, New Model & Quality Function, HCIL, to discuss the production process in detail.
Key manufacturing functions for HCIL at Tapukara include forging, powertrain, engine development, press shop, weld shop, paint shop, plastic moulding, engine assembly and the final frame assembly. Validation and testing facilities include an engine testing facility, test course and hot and cold test chambers.
Plant operations have been divided into two major parts – engine assembly and frame assembly. The first process in the engine assembly is forging, where crankshafts (for 1.2 l petrol and the 1.5 l diesel engines) and con-rods are made from a single piece of metal via high pressure stamping. The company externally sources the cylindrical iron rods, which are then cut into the required length for preparing the crankshaft. The next step is the use of a stamping machine, which applies force in six different stages.
Post this, the excess metal is segregated and the crankshaft is forwarded for polishing. This stamping machine is capable of stamping 4,155 units a day, or 1.1 million units per year and the output is used for both the export and domestic markets. Con-rods are also made here and are then supplied to the next stage of assembly. What is commendable is the high level of automation implemented by HCIL, whereby robotic arms are used for all material handling requirements, thereby reducing human error.
Aluminium and other ferrous parts are simultaneously manufactured on parallel assembly lines at the Tapukara plant. The cylinder block is put together on one line, with around 184 machines, while the engine head is sub-assembled on 212 machines parallel to it. The transmission case is made up of tempered aluminium, and about 2,000 units of these are churned out each day from two different lines. The fully assembled engines move to the vehicle assembly line, where they are mated to the chassis and transmission, with the bodywork assembly being completed as the final step.
The Tapukara unit, where about 20 % of engine assembly is automated, is Honda’s largest facility to manufacture diesel engines globally. The engines manufactured here are exported to international markets like Thailand, Japan and the UK.
All the parts that are manufactured in the press shop are then sent to the weld shop. The stamped body parts are welded together to form the basic structure of the vehicle. It is known as ‘Body in White’ (BIW). The BIW is sent to the paint shop, where is undergoes various processes like the application of primer and several coats of paint. There are different painting blocks for different colours and the process also includes baking of the paint for a predefined time, which helps the paint adhere to the metal surface for a long time.
The body and the powertrain come together at the press shop. Everything, from the wiring harness, dashboard, air-conditioning, seats and roof linings, to the fenders, bonnets, boot, wheels, headlamps and tail lamps assembly are put together here. The press shop has a capacity of 3.8 lakh car sets annually, which cater to the domestic as well as global markets.
The finished vehicle undergoes inspection under monochromatic light to check for any defects or irregularities. Water tests are done to check for leakages and the lighting is tested, along with a straight line drive to check other parameters. The next test replicates real world driving conditions to ensure that the vehicle is fit to be delivered to dealerships.
In a bid to improve road safety, HCIL has been conducting research and development that corresponds to the actual accident situations in the real world. For the improvement of vehicle safety, the first step is to identify real world relevant facts and the process commences with accident analysis within a separate unit at its Tapukara plant.
Honda says that there are two kinds of analysis, the first being microscopic analysis and the other form being kinetic analysis and phenomena understanding. Equipped with results from both of these, an accident reconstruction is carried out to find out directions driving simulators and simulated crash tests.
In order to replicate real world conditions in their test labs, and to study accident causes and possible solutions, Honda was the first company in the world to build an indoor omni-directional collision safety experiment facility. This facility has been designed to replicate a variety of collision types that can occur on our roads, and this process helps the company understand the various challenges in building safer cars, and design suitable solutions accordingly.
While most of these simulations are carried out on vehicles with similar structure and weight characteristics, Honda has also taken upon itself to improve the NCAP ratings for its India range of cars, and to achieve this, will also soon start simulation of car crashes with differing structural properties.
Engineers at Honda are working on securing energy absorption in a minimum space, especially for small cars. A solution towards attaining this is through Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE), a Honda-exclusive body design that uses a network of front frame structures to absorb and deflect the energy from a frontal collision. This helps reduce the force transferred to the cabin (thereby protecting occupants) and more evenly disperses the forces transferred to other vehicles involved. With this and other technologies under development, Honda hopes to achieve major improvements in safety in the coming years.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley
PHOTO: Vasu Anantha