Honda opens Malaysia’s first hybrid vehicle battery assembly plant, for 2020 Honda City RS

Hans · Sep 25, 2020 01:00 PM

Honda Malaysia has opened Malaysia’s first high voltage battery assembly plant in Melaka, to support the world debut of the first ever Honda City RS with i-MMD. You can read our review of the City RS here.

Production of the full-hybrid Honda City RS with a two-motor intelligent multi-mode drive (i-MMD) has already begun at Honda Malaysia’s Pegoh plant. It is the fifth Honda hybrid model to be produced there.

Assembly of the GP1 Jazz Hybrid (IMA) started in 2012, followed by the GP5 Jazz Hybrid (i-DCD) and GM7 City Hybrid in 2017, and HR-V Hybrid in 2019.

The mild-hybrid Jazz Hybrid (IMA, Intelligent Motor Assist) was the first hybrid vehicle to be assembled in Malaysia while the later full-hybrid i-DCD (Intelligent Dual-Clutch Drive) models were exclusive for Malaysia. We remain the only country outside of Japan to produce i-DCD hybrid models.

At the core of the Honda City RS’s i-MMD drivetrain is an Intelligent Power Unit (IPU), which is basically the high voltage traction battery (Li-ion) and its associated control systems. Details of the battery will only be revealed when the car is launched.

Honda Insight shown, different model but uses a similar i-MMD setup. Note location of IPU.

Operated by Honda Malaysia’s subsidiary Honda Assembly Sdn. Bhd. (HASB), the new battery assembly plant is located just outside Honda Malaysia’s Line No.2 building. The assembly facility is air-conditioned and humidity controlled, with static discharge-free materials lining the walls and floor.

All personnel entering the facility must wear anti-static safety shoes. To maintain optimum health of the ‘raw,’ unassembled Li-ion cells, temperature in the facility is kept at 25 degrees Celsius, which is 20 degrees lower than Honda Motor’s quality standard’s maximum limit of 45 degrees.

The process to assemble a finished IPU involves putting together 50 child parts, and the finished item weighs about 30 kg, which is 20 kg less than the previous i-DCD models’ IPU.

Each IPU contain 4 battery packs, each pack containing 12 Li-ion cells. It takes 2,117 seconds to complete the assembly job and the facility has a capacity to produce up to 90 IPUs per day.

As you can probably imagine. Dealing with high voltage components is very different from putting together mechanical parts to produce a car.

Take the Li-ion cells for example. The cells are imported from Japan, either from Panasonic or Blue Energy, a joint venture between GS Yuasa and Honda Motor. Upon leaving the suppliers’ factory in Japan, the cells must be assembled into a complete IPU within 180 days to maintain its state of charge.

Beyond that, the cells will have to be rejected and returned back to Japan.

So what happens if the completed IPU or finished vehicle is left for more than 180 days, you ask? Not an issue. The 180 days limit applies only to cells that have not been assembled into the IPU. Once assembled and charged, the power control electronics take over to maintain the battery healthy.

One Honda associate told us that the 180 days limit is very difficult to manage and it’s one of the reasons why few car companies want to open high voltage battery assembly plants here.

Running a car plant is not the same as running a nasi lemak stall. The logistics and supply chain of the many different parts coming from various locations must be in sync, and production plans are locked in at least 3 months in advance.

Any unplanned plant shutdown or disruption in operations could result in the cells sitting longer than 180 days, and will have to be discarded (sent back to Japan to recycling).

So how does Honda enforce the 180 days limit? By utilizing QR codes, cloud computing and tools to remotely monitor every step of the assembly process.

Manufacturing is an art and what makes or breaks a car company is not what happens at the showroom floor, but what happens at the production plant. Just ask Tesla and its woes at their Gigafactory.

Anyone can build a car but to do it consistently, every day and every month, scaling up the volume, that’s a fine art that even experienced manufacturers stumble from time to time.

You might have heard of buzzwords like Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR 4.0). Well those tools are employed at HASB’s battery plant.

The IPU’s assembly process has a 100% traceability. The records are synced with Honda Motor’s servers in Japan on a daily basis.

Every single tool and every step of the IPU’s assembly is tracked, right down to the exact torque applied by the operator on each bolt, the name of the operator, the time and date, using child parts that came from which batch, and what location.

Installed at the assembly station is a video monitor guiding the operator, and since the tools are all connected to a wider network, the system will automatically lock the next step if the preceding one was done incorrectly – applying too much torque and over-tightening a bolt for example.

The last inspection process is done using equipment designed by Honda Engineering Co. Ltd. One lesser known aspect about Honda is that unlike other car makers, Honda actually makes its own machines and tools used in its factory, thus giving them an edge in achieving exactly what they want when designing their manufacturing methods and facilities.

The other notable company to have such capabilities is Hyundai.

After the final battery health verification is complete, a master QR code is generated on a sticker, to be pasted on the finished IPU. At the assembly line, there will be another round of checking and if there are discrepancies, the monitoring systems at the vehicle assembly line will not allow the IPU to be hooked up to the car.

But you know what the irony is? QR codes were invented by Toyota. Officially it’s Denso, but that’s only because Toyota had tasked its affiliated company Denso to develop it to replace barcodes, but that’s another story.

Inner frame welding robots by Yaskawa

First, the inner-frame welding station. Previously (and for all other Honda models assembled here), the body’s side frames and roof were welded together at the same station. The all-new City however, has a sandwich-like two-layer frame construction for better rigidity, with in turn improves handling and safety, and to a certain extent, comfort too.

The additional inner frame requires additional spot welding steps, and Honda Malaysia have invested in three new Yaskawa welding robots – one for each side, and another for the roof. Other non-City models will simply pass through this station.

Sample of the foam

The paint shop also sees another upgrade. Exclusive for the City is a new polymer-urethane foam that’s injected into the side rails along the floorboard, to fill up the cavities in the body and thus reduce noise permeating into the cabin.

Three points where the foam is injected into

Honda says the all-new City is quieter by 33 percent. The foam is injected into 6 points, 3 on each side, about 1,300 cc in volume at each point.

Foam injection technology is not new, and there are many similar after-market solutions. The problem with injecting foam into a car’s body is that if it’s injected into areas it shouldn’t, it will promote rust, and body collision repairs involving sections filled with foam is also a nightmare.

Which is also why manufacturers often limit foam injection to areas where, if you have to do repairs there, the car should’ve been written off.

The last upgrade is of course the engine assembly facility. Yes, all locally-assembled Honda models are powered by locally-assembled engines.

The i-MMD engine

The engine assembly is done by HASB, which also produce the two-motor i-MMD engine for the City RS. In total, there are six engines produced by HASB at the Line No.2 building:

1.5-litre SOHC i-VTEC port injection for Jazz and BR-V

1.5-litre DOHC i-VTEC port injection for City

1.5-litre DOHC i-DCD port injection for Jazz Hybrid

1.5-litre DOHC i-DCD direct injection for HR-V Hybrid

1.5-litre DOHC I-MMD port injection for City RS

1.8-litre SOHC i-VTEC port injection for HR-V

Paint shop's lighting has also been upgraded. The additional lights create more 'light bands,' for better detection of paint defects. Paints are supplied by Kansai. 

Another engine plant located at the adjacent Line No.1 building manufactures three engines for the Civic, CR-V, and Accord – the 1.5-litre DOHC VTEC Turbo, 1.8-litre SOHC i-VTEC and 2.0-litre SOHC i-VTEC.

Honda Malaysia’s plant in Pegoh is separated into two buildings – Line No.1 for the larger cars (Civic, CR-V, Accord) and Line No.2 for the smaller cars (Jazz, City, BR-V, HR-V).

Both lines have a combined total annual production capacity of 100,000 units per year. There’s also a 2.1 km long test track.

While Toyota, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz have decided to skip Malaysia in favour of Thailand to built their EV/hybrid vehicle battery plant, while Hyundai is going to Indonesia and Singapore, Honda continues to put their trust in Malaysia.

World's first and only market to introduce FD2 Civic Type R, first in the region to launch Honda Sensing, only market in the region to pair VTEC Turbo with Sensing for CR-V, only market outside of Japan to produce i-DCD and now i-MMD hybrids.