A look inside Mitsubishi's new Indonesian factory

Building Dreams

There are many out there who do not relish the idea of visiting manufacturing facilities. The experience is not for everyone; factory floors are typically very hot, extremely noisy, often dirty, potentially dangerous places where the mere presence of visitors are unwelcome disturbances for the workers and the plant manager.

Such wasn't the case for Mitsubishi in Indonesia, and they gladly opened their doors for the first time since they inaugurated the factory to journalists, eager to show how this new facility will be the wind behind the future of the brand's sails.

Just a few days prior, we had landed in Jakarta, the capital of a country of 260 million, and one that has a strong affinity for the multi-purpose vehicle. This much is clear from the airport, given the mass proliferation of Avanzas, Kijangs (the older Tamaraw/Revo) and Kijang Innovas from Toyota, the Panther (Crosswind in our market) from Isuzu, the Veloz (rebadged Innova) from Daihatsu, so on and so forth. In the same way that Filipinos love our four-door sedans and Thais love their pick-up trucks, the Indonesians love their seven-seat MPVs or AUVs.

It makes sense then, that Mitsubishi decided to produce their newly launched MPV in Indonesia. They call it the Mitsubishi Xpander; a new, seven-seat compact multi-purpose vehicle that has some of the traits of a crossover SUV. It's something they need in Indonesia, and something that will drive their prospects of success around the world.

The day started with the drive to Bekasi. The factory itself is located 37 kilometers south east of Jakarta, in a designated industrial complex that also serves as the home for domestic manufacturing for Suzuki, GM Wuling among others. Along the main highway, there are many other manufacturers such as Isuzu, Honda, Yamaha, Toyota, Daihatsu, so on and so forth.

The factory is called MMKI, or PT. Mitsubishi Motors Krama Yudha Indonesia. Mitsubishi Motors Corporation has a 51% stake in the plant while Mitsubishi Corporation (the conglomerate) has a 40% share. The remaining 9% is owned by Krama Yudha, the domestic Mitsubishi partner. The investment itself is huge, representing a capital of 20 billion JPY and 60 billion JPY in total investment.

Cars manufactured at the sprawling 510,000 square meter MMKI facility are often for domestic consumption, but for export, they have to make a long drive to the port in Jakarta; something that will change when they construct a new port to decongest the capital. Case in point: they expected our travel to Bekasi to take anywhere between 3 to 4 hours. Thankfully, traffic that day wasn't anywhere near as heavy, and so we arrived an hour earlier than expected.

The facility itself is state of the art, particularly in its green credentials. Mitsubishi's execs are proud of the simple and the more complex measures they took to save on their energy footprint such as the use of simple skylights as evidenced by the abundance of natural light in the lobby, LED lighting, the high ceilings to allow hot air to vent up more easily, and the extensive waste water filtration and recycling systems that allow them to reuse up to 70% of the water.

Unusually, the first order of our tour did not take us to the factory floor itself, but to the mosque. Mitsubishi respected the religious needs of their overwhelmingly muslim workforce, and so they built a mosque right in front that has a capacity for 1200 people. Moreover, it's actually open to the public, meaning anyone in the area can stop by and pray.

MMKI undertakes five primary processes when it comes to producing cars: stamping, welding, painting, assembling, and vehicle inspection. The stamping shop was the first of the processes we could visit, and it was the loudest of all.

Here, there are four stamping machines used to press sheets of steel into body panels and for stamping out all the holes for the windows, wiring, so on and so forth. One machine does it with 2000 tons of force while the other three are rated for 1000 tons each. You don't just hear the machines, you can feel them as the ground shudders everytime the die is dropped and pressed onto the steel.

The notable thing about the stamping shop are the presence of water curtains around the presses. They may be similar in appearance to the water curtain you'd see at fancy restaurants, but in this setting, they're not for style or ambience. Instead, they're meant to trap any steel particles and prevent them from spreading on the floor.

The stamped body panels are then sent to the welding shop. Here, workers and robots fuction well together with precision to produce the body structures of the models they manufacture; there's a 40% automation ratio at MMKI. Xpander MPV production isn't at full swing yet given that they just unveiled (officially) the car the day prior at the motor show, and so most of the vehicles we witnessed being welded together were of the Pajero Sport; locally, we call it the Montero Sport. And that's the great thing about their welding line: it's flexible, allowing multiple models to be constructed. Soon, they'll also assemble the L300 here; they call it the Colt L300.

With the structures of the vehicles built, they're then sent up to a higher conveyor belt, through a tunnel and into another building: the paint shop. Mitsubishi is especially proud of their energy-saving three-coat, one-bake painting process. They're able to achieve the quality without prolonging the painting process, saving them costs and energy.

The paint shop is also a place where all the work is done by robots; preventing workers from going into an environment that's harmful because of the chemicals and the fumes. They also don't allow visitors in here for the same reasons, along with the possibility that we can contaminate the work with loose hairs and fibers.

The final stop for the day was the assembly line. We've seen many of these over the last few years, but this one is a brand-new plant, and so everything is very spic and span. In assembly lines, efficiency is king, and so they work to improve productivity through the use of a kit parts supply system; everything needed to assemble a particular car is organized into carts and sent to every relevant station. They even have robots following magnetic tracks on the floor to bring parts to the different stations. These things ensure that every worker has the right set of parts to finish the job.

More importantly, the assembly line is optimized by a variety of technologies. Each part uses QR codes or barcodes so parts for kits can be gathered efficiently. It also prevents errors in assembling the cars. Perhaps the most significant of all is how MMKI disposed of the old inspection check forms. Instead of paper, quality control officers use specialized tablets that they can use to verify that the correct parts, processes, and checks were performed. After this certification, the vehicle is then sent to the testing facility they have within the complex so they can do a full quality control  test drive.

The tour of the plant was eye-opening, to say the least. This kind of technology and manufacturing efficiency is usually what we see from the central manufacturing hubs of major automotive brands in their home countries. In fact, the output of this plant is incredibly high given its size: it can put out 160,000 vehicles a year over two shifts a day. If they go to three shifts and expand the machinery and layout of the factory, they can increase it up to 240,000 per year. But perhaps, the best takeaway from the visit is the technology transfer to Indonesia from Mitsubishi; it's what makes us most envious as this technology transfer is the ultimate goal of automotive manufacturing.

With our brief time inside MMKI, we saw how Mitsubishi is building the bright future of practical mobility in Asia, and the Xpander MPV will be a huge part of driving that future forward.