Automated Illustration Creation Reduces Costs by 40% for Honda

In 2009, Honda Motor Company produced 352 million cars, and over a billion motorcycles and related machinery.  In addition to its popular vehicle production, the company is also expanding into solar panel, robot and aircraft manufacturing.

The company’s Customer Service Operation has the task of creating owners’ manuals, parts catalogs, and service manuals for the vehicle structures, chassis, bodies and wire harnesses, totaling 6 types of manuals for each vehicle. These then have to be translated and delivered worldwide across Japan, North America, South America, Europe, China and Asia.

As part of the company’s ongoing efforts to continuously improve processes, cut costs and enhance productivity, Honda realized in 2008 that the conventional processes used for creation of illustrations for its various documents were not aligned with the rest of the company’s streamlined workflow processes. At this point the company started to research automated solutions to address this.

The need to create illustrations faster

In just one manual there will be at least 200 illustrations required, and in some cases, as many as 5,000. Using traditional methods, illustrators would hand-trace pictures from a 2D drawing, a captured 3D screen shot, or photos of a real product. The image would be scanned and then edited and adjusted to fit each specific need resulting in long delays and high costs of creating the information. For parts catalogs, the process of creating parts illustrations was much the same, with benchmarks showing that each image for the catalog would take an estimated 680 seconds of man-time.

In addition, the company faced widely variable costs of creating illustrations based on the level of expertise required for a given illustration or image, which prevented consistent budgeting and cost control for creating new documents.

Development of new methods of illustration for service documents

Since all product design is carried out using 3D CAD, it made sense for that data to be used in the illustrations. At the start of the development of this new system, the company assessed the quality of the 3D data available using the ‘Freed’ car model (released in Japan, Asia and China) as a benchmark. From the analysis conducted, the team found that only about 60% of the 3D was appropriate or accurate enough to be used and the additional information required would need to be provided through existing parts stored in the parts library. Now the Honda R&D center converts the data to Lattice Technology’s XVL format, it then goes to the New Machine Center and is then provided to the Customer Service Operation for creating documents.

The XVL format allows 3D data to be very tightly compressed, down to as much as 0.5% of its original size with no loss of accuracy. This compression allows very large digital assemblies such as automotive vehicle designs to be more easily used.

Once the XVL data is received, the Customer Service Operation uses Lattice Technology's technical illustration software to create images direct from the 3D XVL data. For owners’ manuals, Honda chose to use shaded images that would reproduce well in printed documents instead of the conventional line art images used previously. Using XVL Studio, the operator displays a set of parts or a sub-assembly pertaining to the image, selects the correct angle for viewing and saves the desired image out. The company also experimented with 3D color illustrations and line art but found that the monochrome shaded images worked well with customers and service personnel alike. As a result of the development work done, in 2009 this method was applied to 4 new vehicle models – the Step-WGN, Accord, Acty and the CR-Z.

The same method was then applied at the parts level for parts catalogs and images are automatically created simply at the click of a button.

For service manuals and documentation the same method of shaded images was used but with additional color intensity used for the specific part or point being handled. Honda service personnel found that this considerably raised understanding of the repair process, especially compared to the conventional line art which failed to highlight the parts in question.


Results of the new methods at Honda Customer Service Operations

The company found that about 60-70% of the required illustrations and images could be created automatically or semi-automatically using the Lattice Technology Solutions. Some images that have humans and other non-design objects included would still need to be done manually by illustrators. However, the company achieved about a 40% productivity improvement in creation of the illustration images using Lattice Technology Solutions.

For parts catalog images, the estimated average time of 680 seconds per image required for the conventional method of production was reduced to 30 seconds per image – a reduction down to 1/20th of the original time taken.

In addition, the variable cost of using illustrators with different levels of expertise was also smoothed out, since using the Lattice Technology Solutions doesn’t require advanced illustration skills. Now, experienced illustrators would focus on the few illustrations that still needed manual expertise, not spend valuable time on basic, low-level tasks.

Using shaded images increased comprehension and understanding, resulting in fewer service errors and less customer support queries about operating the vehicles.


The Future of Automated Image Creation at Honda

Having seen success at cutting costs, improving workflows and productivity in the process of creating illustrations direct from 3D data, Honda plans to implement additional Lattice Technology Solutions for greater integration with the company’s PDM systems in place. This will create greater automation of the process as soon as 3D data is registered or updated. Since a vehicle design can be anywhere from 6,000 – 10,000 parts, file size remains a concern even with the ultra-compressed XVL format in use (with XVL v10 a complete vehicle is approximately 700mb). Thus, the company plans on using the XVL Reducer technology which automatically removes unnecessary details such as internal faces and design details, reducing the file sizes yet more.

Honda is also planning to apply this method of illustration creation to all vehicle models, while promoting the idea of ‘One source multiple times’ for the creating of all documents from centrally-held data.

You may download the Japanese owner’s manual for the CR-Z from Honda Motor’s web site.

             *in Japanese 

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