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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lexus LFA Manufacturing

Here's a fascinating article about the Lexus LFA exotic sport machine - the most expensive Lexus ever built.

Source: Lexus Magazine

YOU’D EXPECT THE floors and walls to be spotless at the LFA Works, the unique, closed-off facility at Lexus’ Motomachi Plant in Japan that’s building 500 of the supercars. And they are. You might even have imagined the roof to be as high as it is, bestowing an almost cathedral-like feeling on this most exclusive of Lexus assembly areas.

But what takes you by surprise is the sheer breadth of expertise of the people here. Shigeru Yamanaka, manufacturing manager at the LFA Works, sums it up with characteristic precision: “We are actually a Takumi team.”

Within Lexus, a Takumi—literally, “artisan”—is one of the 10 to 12 top guns of manufacturing. To be a Lexus Takumi, you must reach a virtuoso standard of craftsmanship—the automotive equivalent of a 10th Dan black belt.

Yamanaka, who handpicked the best of the best around Lexus to assemble the LFA, is therefore in charge of the most highly trained manufacturing team anywhere, a sort of special forces of vehicle production.

Yet it’s a role he’s clearly very comfortable with: the 47-year-old is no stranger to turning talented all-stars into a well-drilled team. In addition to his current role as a manufacturing guru, the Osaka-born Yamanaka has been head coach of the Toyota baseball club. Well known in Japan, the club has been a springboard for several successful professional baseball players and is indicative of Yamanaka’s belief in the importance of human talent.

“I put together the Takumi team at the LFA Works with people who were recommended by various manufacturing departments in the company because of their expertise,” he says. “They’ve been handpicked to manufacture 500 examples of the LFA to the highest standards. At a conventional assembly facility, one worker would be assigned typically four or five tasks. At the LFA Works, one person will handle 150 tasks or more.”

That’s because creating a car as complex as the LFA requires advanced technical ability. For starters, an LFA is approximately 45 times more labor-intensive than a conventional car, which is why the order of assembly, allocation of workspaces, and recruitment of staff are the fruition of two years’ meticulous planning on Yamanaka’s and Lexus’ part.

Not only that, the LFA is such a technically complex car that its assembly relies on a deftly combined mix of advanced technology and handcraftsmanship. Each V10 engine, for instance, is assembled by a single engineer, whose signature it bears.

Plus, Yamanaka and his team are responsible for producing one LFA per day—such is the pace of assembly at LFA Works. But it isn’t really about the pace: it’s about achieving standards unprecedented even in Lexus manufacturing history.

This much can be seen in the manufacturing of the CFRP (carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics) for the cabin structure, which is carefully built up in layers. It’s a technically advanced material to work with, but it also demands keen eyesight and good manual dexterity in the weaving process.

“It is the first time we have manufactured a CFRP body. So our staff has worked hard to master the know-how from the aircraft industry,” says Yamanaka, who has been with the company since 1986. “These are different from the skills of the traditional workplace. Ultimately, we all have one ambition: to create cars that make our customers happy and satisfied.”

And personally? “As manufacturing manager of the LFA, I know my responsibility. So I work diligently every day, visualizing the happy smiles of customers. I’m acutely aware of the strong passion of those involved in the LFA, including president Akio Toyoda and LFA chief engineer Haruhiko Tanahashi. I will continue to work hard and be full of passion.”

It’s a passion that will be felt by anyone fortunate enough to drive an LFA.

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