Existentialism and Smokestack Industry in Nippon
Kawasaki Media Tour
|Kawasaki Heavy Industries|
|Fiscal Year Ending March 31 2007|
|Total Sales||Profit / Loss|
|Rolling Stock and Construction Machinery||$1,564,764||12.09%||$111,525||19.11%|
|Plant and Infrastructure Engineering||$1,200,203||9.27%||-$20,586||-3.53%|
|Consumer Products and Machinery||$3,496,367||27.02%||$233,407||39.99%|
Out of the thirteen BILLION dollars in sales last year only 27% was from the consumer product division. However of their $583 million in profits, 40% was from their consumer division. That makes consumer products their most profitable division by a long shot.
Kawasaki remains very much tied to the Japanese domestic market with over 72% of sales being within Japan. Following the homeland the next biggest market is North America with 18%. That leaves a paltry 10% of revenue from the rest of the world.
Despite the history and breadth of it business enterprises and engineering prowess, Kawasaki, including the jets, the bikes, the ships, the marine engine, the power plants, the trains, is the smallest of the Japanese motorbike companies.
|Sales in Thousands:||FY 2006|
Honda is, in fact, larger in sales than the rest of the companies put together. Just goes to show how good a rider Valentino really is and how unbelievable that those Bolognese are making the rest of them look silly in MotoGP.
I was invited, with twenty or so other American journalist, to tour three of Kawasaki’s oldest production facilities: Akashi works (motorbikes, robots, turbines), Hyogo Works (rolling stock (trains)), and the Kobe Works (ships, marine diesel engines, bow thrusters, top secret submarines).
Ordinarily such a visit would be a simple matter for your diligent correspondent. Shoot some pictures, whip off some snappy captions, fire the whole mess off to the editor and retire, stress free, to the nearest rotary sushi bar. Kawasaki introduced two wrinkles into my SOP. First, Kawasaki has hosted the press launch of their ZX-10 in Japan nary eighteen months ago. During that visit we were treated to a tour of the Akashi works assembly plant. I snapped photos, captioned it up and fire it off to the editor. The resulting work was published in the February 2006 issue of Roadracing World.
That sensitive photo essay was so comprehensive, so insightful and yet so entertaining that a copy of said article sits, matted, framed and behind glass in the museum at Akashi. It is, in fact, the only article hanged on the wall there. That soaring editorial achievement, however, doesn’t leave me with much to work with on a second trip to the Akashi plant a year later.
Secondly, KHI denied us our precious freedoms by denying the use of cameras in the works of Akashi, Hyogo and Kobe. This is a tragedy of unknowable proportions because the shipyard, in particular, was visually magnificent. Rising to the challenge to bring the truth to our readers, despite obstacles placed in our way is the Roadracing World way so I will endeavor to perceiver.
Our first stop was the Kawasaki museum on the Kobe waterfront. This museum is basically for children (as evidenced by the children, and Americans acting like children) but would prove useful at a later date for ersatz spy photos.
See February 2006 Issue of Roadracing World or look on the wall at the Akashi Works Museum in Japan.
The Kobe Works has been located in the same location since 1886 but its infrastructure has been enhanced and updated. Over 1,100 ships have been constructed at Kobe including battleships, submarine as well as bulk carriers (ore, coal, etc), tankers, container ships, jet foils and liquefied natural gas ships. Currently there are about 2400 employees on the site working on ships as well as machinery and plant systems (chemical, energy or other types of factories). Most of a ship is assembled into modules which are then craned into place for final assembly. A massive bulk carrier takes about a year to build and will cost the final customer about $30 million. The shipyard can be constructing multiple ships simultaneously using a variety of module construction buildings as well as multiple dry and wet docks.
Ship bridge is installed on a bulk carrier in one. Photo by Kawasaki
The history of shipbuilding is the history of cheap labor and raw materials. Labor is becoming increasingly expensive in Japan. That is, predictably, seeing the rise of ship building in China and Korea. Kobe Works, however, does not just produce ships. They also produce the specialized products used to power and control ships.
Starting with engines. Although you can get fancy (read: military) and power your boat with a gas turbine engine most commercial vessels are going to be using big two or four stroke marine engines. Now big, in this case, is measured by cylinders and stories.
Kawasaki builds both two and four stroke diesel engines for commercial vessels. For a basic bulk carrier (which is maybe 500 feet long) you might get a 5 cylinder engine that puts out 12,670 bhp at 89.4 rpm. The motor is about three stories tall and has doors in the crank case which are big enough for a small man to enter to service the big end bearings (which are a couple of feet across). Such an engine will be burning about 6000 pounds of fuel (750 gallons or so) but the ship has a fuel tank that can hold 2000 cubic meters of fuel (about 540,000 gallons) so the ship has a range of about 90,000 miles. If it is fully fueled and run everyday it won’t have to fill up again for over two years. Of course, it will cost about a million dollars to fuel it so if you lend out your bulk carrier make sure you tell your friend to bring it back full.
Since boys will be boys and the captain might take that motor to 90 rpm once in awhile there is a spare piston and connecting rod (the rod is about ten feet long and the piston is maybe two and a half feet across) hanging on the wall in the engine room. Installation can be done at sea using chain hoists and in place cranes. Given the attention to placement of the engine spares and the readily accessible installation cranes one almost gets the impression that is it not entirely uncommon to have to do a rod and piston swap.
Welding plate steel together in the shape of a ship is not exactly highly skilled labor but making diesel engines is. Kobe is shipping diesel engine to Korean and Chinese shipyards for installation in their ships. This, in and of itself, is a huge pain in the ass. Even the small engines weigh about 600 tons. The engines must be assembled (no small task) run, tested, then disassembled and shipped to the other ship yards.
When we toured the factory there were about four engines currently being assembled on the line all of the 10,000 to 20,000 bhp range. There was, however, a poster of a big engine on the wall.
This engine was the granddaddy marine diesel engine produced by Kobe. This one was twelve cylinders, stood six stories high and produced over 100,000 bhp. Ingloriously it was destined for duty schlepping container across the world. These pictures are not of this engine (see: ‘no camera rule’) but you can view something like what I am talking about here.
The cases are so big that they are not cast but welded up from plates. The bearings are enormous and the pistons are so big (with a cast combustion chamber) that they are virtually unrecognizable as a moving engine part.
In some ship applications it is easier to keep the engine spinning forward and, to reverse or change speed, change the pitch on the propeller. Kobe has all the required capacity to make controllable pitch propellers up to 33 feet (!) in diameter. They also make marine transmissions (no word if those jump out of gear as well) and giant bow thrusters. There is nothing like backing your container ship into harbor to look sharp in the pictures.
Hyogo has long been the home of Kawasaki’s train division. It currently employs just under a thousand people who can produce eighty train cars and eight locomotives a month.
At Hyogo they build everything from the all aluminum 186 mph Shinkansens to mundane commuter subway cars. A stroll through the plant revealed about six different trains for six different markets being built simultaneously.
The size of the construction and the techniques used were not as impressive as the shipyard but the trains they produce are stunning. This first Shinkansen train was produced in 1964. Shinkansen actually means “New Trunk Line” and is not referring to the trains but to the tracks. The two are used interchangeably in day-to-day conversation.
Aluminum sheet construction of a Shinkansen locomotive.
To achieve the high speeds the train tracks have to be very level so there are many tunnels and bridges along the routes through Japan’s hilly countryside. Those tunnels create a few extra headaches because the train entering one side of the tunnel forces such a large mass of air out the other side of the tunnel that a resulting cannon effect of air occurs. These ‘tunnel booms’ have become an environmental issue and are preventing higher speeds from being developed. The tracks themselves are welded to minimize vibration and were of a standard wide gauge instead of the older narrow gauge used in Japan previously. Often the tracks are cambered (like a roller coaster) so the trains are actually leaning through turns. The passenger can barely sense this and instead it seems like the world passing by is just banking slightly from time to time.
The first tracks were started in the forties but not completed until the early sixties. Kawasaki delivered the first rolling stock for these new high speed lines with a top speed of 130mph in 1964. Some of these original trains are still used. The English term ‘bullet train’ probably has more to do with the aerodynamic shape of the first engines rather than the speeds that were being attained.
Shinkansens from the ages. The earliest type 0 ‘bullet trains’ are on the lower right.
These early high speed trains were so popular that additional tracks systems and trains have been added across the country. Not all train systems in Japan use the high speed train but they are by far the most popular way to travel if it coordinates with your needs.
The only downside of being an English speaker trying to utilize Japanese trains.
The Shinkansen trains have been through eight revisions from the original series 0 to the latest 800 series. The hand made aluminum bodies are truly works of metal art. The aluminum cars ride on trucks (the rolling bits with the wheels, motors and brakes) that, from a distance, appear to be large castings but are actually constructed out of many pieces of plate welded together reminiscent of the marine diesel crank cases. The trucks are then machined.
The metal work is impressive but is not nearly as involved as the interiors of the cars. The wiring harnesses for carrying electricity, data, sensors and controls for each seat are massive and complex.
The Shinkansen trains are so comfortable, quiet and elegant that it is tough not to immediately order one for your own private utopian society. Unfortunately the Hyogo works are sold out for the next two and a half years.