5/18/2012—Recently, we told you about the 2012 Lexus ES “stitching dojo,” where craftspeople aren’t even considered for the job unless they can dexterously fold an origami cat with one hand in under 90 seconds. Here are a few more things a future 2012 ES driver might notice if he or she were to see their ES getting assembled at the Lexus Miyata plant:
Lexus’ new “Rough Road Tester”: A crucial part of Lexus quality control involves testing the quietness and the vibration levels of each vehicle under rough road conditions. Testing has traditionally been performed on an outdoor test track, but the ES plant recently developed a mechanical Rough Road Tester, and installed it at the end of the assembly line. Using adjustable drums with raised and indented areas, the tester can mimic various road surfaces, such as cobblestone streets. In this way it can be tuned to allow detection of abnormal sounds in different environments. It can even simulate specific driving conditions, such as frozen roads.
Fingertips are everywhere: A guiding philosophy at the Miyata plant is the use of human senses to detect subtle imperfections, so people are constantly running their hands over the ES models looking for any small misalignments between body parts. Toshio Yoneoka, the General Manager of the plant, tells us that the workers who inspect the alignment of parts, like the fender and hood, are constantly training their hands and minds off the line. “Every two hours they run their fingers along a sample section of perfectly aligned parts, to memorize the correct ‘feeling’ of those parts.”
It’s quiet: The sensory-oriented approach is complemented by the Miyata plant’s “Clean and Silent” initiative. The traditional chain-driven production line has been replaced with a long and winding friction-driven conveyance system, which has dramatically reduced ambient noise. Making the plant as quiet as possible makes it easier for technicians to detect abnormal noises and hear auditory feedback at various production stages.
It’s super clean: Additionally, the plant’s extreme cleanliness minimizes the adhesion of airborne particles during the pressing and painting processes. Since even a single piece of dust can affect ES production, plant paint workers wear anti-static clothing. And, at both the paint and press sections, screens covered with flowing curtains of water help catch dust particulates around the maintenance area.
Plenty of precision technology: For inspections, human senses are, of course, complemented by advanced high-tech sensors. For example, imperfections in the stamping process are checked and corrected using a specially designed thermal imaging system. There’s also a new “battery robot”: The assembly line handles the new 2012 ES Hybrid (as well as the gas-only version), so to keep things timed to the second during production, Lexus engineers developed and implemented a new robot that quickly transports and inserts each ES Hybrid's battery.
—REPORTING BY ROBB SATTERWHITE/PHOTOS BY RAYMOND PATRICK