OPPAMA, Japan - This is where it all starts: the stamping press shop. In a single loud boom, 5,000 tons of weight stamp out two panels simultaneously.
To explain more of the process and to guide us along the production line is Oppama superintendent Takeo Yamamoto. He has worked at Oppama more than 40 years.
"This is where they press each of the side panels for the body of a car," says Yamamoto.
The stamped parts then move to the body shop, and what is called the "mashiuchi" line. Here, parts are joined by the choreographed and careful spot welding of a full line of fast-moving yellow robots.
"This is where we use robots to do all the welding. After the welding has finished, they go to the 'metal' line, where the four doors and the trunk - what are known as the cover parts - are welded to the body and ready for the painting stage," he says.
Yamamoto leads us through the depths of the factory, through dark and narrow paths, filled with the smell of paint fumes and eventually the paint shop.
This is the paint shop, where the first base layer of paint is applied before the colors for the four models of cars they produce at this plant.
Yamamoto says the painting process takes the longest of any of the steps during production, which takes an average of eight hours. It is critical that the paint dries properly before the vehicle moves on to the inspection area, which explains the great length of the paint shop's enclosure.
All the vehicles, after they have been painted, come through this area where there is a lot of light, so that employees can each paint job for perfection. If there are marks or dings that might have affected the paint job, they'll have to be corrected later down the line.
In a tunnel of light, employees inspect the paint. Takamitsu Ono, who oversees the team, describes the process.
"This is the last section of the painting line where we check the overall quality of the paintwork for imperfections," says Ono. "Minor things we can fix here. More major problems are handled in another area."
The painted husks head to the Assembly Line. At the chassis line, workers move with the car, fitting each frame with the final components.
Gas-powered vehicles take gas-tanks; the 100% electric LEAF takes batteries.
"Each person has an allocated amount of time to work on the car according to the speed of the line," says Yamamoto. "Generally, they can complete their given role within one minute, before moving on to the next car."
As pioneer in flexible manufacturing, the Oppama plant can accommodate both powertrains on a single line.
Further down, gas-powered cars receive engines; the LEAF vehicles, motors.
After the final tests, the process is complete. Eight hours, from stamp to finish, the cars roll off the line, and are ready for the road.
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