SUZUKI MOTORCYCLES GSX R
Can we make one for you?
It should be amply clear that the technology behind every Suzuki Gsxr - from the
original 1985 machine to today's range of three race-ready Superbikes - is not just
impressive but carefully planned to allow Suzuki moto to build the Gsxrs and sell
them into an incredibly price-sensitive market.
Beyond Suzuki's traditional traits -
making the most of its engineering dollars by, in part, connecting the production and
racing cycles at close intervals - is the fact that the company has worked extremely
hard to streamline the actual production of the machines.
How quick, and how efficient? Consider this fact: at the end of the assembly line at
the Toyokawa plant in the Aichi Prefecture, one sparkling new Suzuki Gsxr rolls off
the end-under its own power-every fifty-six seconds.
It takes a mere forty-five
minutes from the initial assembly procedure on the main line - fitting the bare frame
onto a machine that simultaneously presses in the steering-head bearing cups and
stamps the vehicle identification number (VIN) - to the very first running of the
engine under the heat of combustion.
To consider this feat from the perspective of
your easy chair is to be surprised and, perhaps, amused; to be on the floor at
Toyokawa and watch it happen is to be astonished.
Such production savvy comes from a long history of assembly-line evolution and a
full-bodied embrace of "just-in-time" manufacturing.
This process dramatically reduces
the amount of product that must be stored at the assembly plant and increases
efficiency by an equally dramatic amount. What's more, just-in-time is designed for
quick turnover in the production line, so that batches of a given product can be made
in the precise size to match any number of variables, including market demand (global
or regional), shipping ability, and even seasonality. With this system, a manufacturer
is not locked into producing a given number of a particular product on a predetermined
In fact, this is an amazingly fluid environment, where variables can be
accommodated without a hitch. Typical of modern manufacturers, many of the Gsxr's
components come from outside vendors-Keihin for the fuel injection, Showa or Kayaba
(KYB) for the suspension, Tokico or Nissin for the brakes, and on down the line. In
Japan, the manufacturer/vendor relationship is strongly rooted and carefully nurtured,
while at the same time it's well known that competition keeps everyone performing to
All of this is beneath the surface when you're confronted with the massive realities
of series production. The Tpyokawa plant is a densely packed beehive of activity that
proceeds at an orderly yet boisterous pace. Noone ever seems to be running from one
place to another in a flat panic, but you will not see anyone (besides visiting
journalists) standing around.
Where, precisely, your motorcycle first begins to take shape - even, actually, when -
depends on your point of view.
If you view it as centering on the engine, then the
first sparks of life begin in the massive engine-assembly plant adjacent to Suzuki's
headquarters outside the city of Hamamatsu.
All machining operations are performed at Suzuki moto, as are component subassembly
and final assembly. This is not a one-man, one-engine process.
For example, after
machining, the cylinder heads follow a separate line that sees the valves and guides
installed, followed by the camshafts. Bottomend work continues on its own line.
engine final assembly takes place in much the same way as the motorcycle assembly
(which is described in this chapter) with a final inspection of the engine accompanied
by a "running" of the engine by means of an external electric motor.
This test ensures
that the engine has compression and doesn't make any nasty sounds, but it is done
without the engine really running. That will take place later.
Meanwhile, at the main assembly plant, your motorcycle is starting to take life as the
components of the frame. (Some of the frames in the accompanying photographs are for
the Suzuki Gsxr Hayabusa 1300, but the basic process is the same for the Gsxr 1000.)
Suzuki moto uses robotics wherever it makes sense and currently employs robotic
welding machines in the frame shop. Look at the outside of the main robotic welding
apparatus and you'll be hard-pressed to tell what's happening inside.
welding wire as big as 55-gallon drums line the walkway outside the machine, and you
can just see the wire being pulled up into the mystery machine at a prodigious rate.
Inside the great machine, robotic welqers tackle the majority of the frame welds, with
the exception of a few segments inside the frame that cannot be reached by the welding
head (those will be done by hand afterward).
Of course, all of these operations are
controlled by computer and carefully designed and monitored so that each frame is
properly and accurately welded.
And though it's tempting to believe that machines are better than people, the fact is
that the Gsxr frame emerges from the robotic welding system into the hands of skilled
workers who visually inspect every weld on the frame and perform any touch-ups
The next step is to place the frame back into the hands of a quality-assurance
technician to verify that it is dimensionally faithful to the plans.
The frame is
placed freely on a padded table and checked from point to point using standardized
fixtures, which look as though they could be templates derived from NASCAR.
One set of
these, for example, makes sure that the machined holes on each side of the frame -
engine mounts, swingarm pivot, subframe mounts - are aligned. Another fixture checks
to see if the distance from the swingarm-pivot holes to the threaded upper-tank mount
holes is the correct distance.
From there, the frame travels a few feet to a station where it is checked for cracks
and voids by being sprayed with a red dye penetrant.
The exterior coating is removed,
and the frame is visually inspected for any remaining dye. The dye will remain in any
cracks and be clearly visible when the surface is cleaned.
Perhaps the most surprising part of the frame-welding area is the amount of finish
work performed after the frame is actually built. The frame arrives at a series of
stations where workers handfinish the external welds and use a mild abrasive to dress
any nicks or other exterior blemishes. The frame is lightly polished even though it's
heading across the factory to be painted.
Prepped frames join up in racks of twelve
and are taken over to the painting area in another corner of the plant.
Two places in the manufacturing process form the greatest bottleneck for the Suzuki
Gsxr, and they are, not surprisingly, paint and fuel tank manufacturing. "We can meet
our production goals with one shift in the assembly area, but the tank manufacturing
and paint application are run on two shifts," says Yukio Yano, group leader at the
It's difficult to paint well when you're working on one part at a time, but it's
vastly more trying when output must be balanced against quality. At Suzuki moto, as at
most modern manufacturing concerns, application of paint is an automated affair, with
tanks and frames hung on an overhead rail and drawn through the various painting
processes in steps.
A cleaning stage ensures no dust and debris are on the surface. In
quick succession, the frames are primed and painted and then placed into a drying
chamber. (Outsiders don't get to see the painting process in action, but because it
all takes place inside a machine, there's not a lot of thrill to viewing it, anyway.)
The finished frames emerge, still on the overhead racks, into a small holding area,
where they are returned to the rolling carts. These carts, in turn, are brought over
to a staging area at the head of the main production lines.
That covers the frame section, but the fuel tank bottleneck comes both from the
primary manufacturing stream and painting.
Suzuki moto uses a proprietary stamping
technology to build the Gsxr tanks, among other models. Traditionally, a steel fuel
tank was built in three or more sections, with a simple stamping creating the bottom
plate and symmetrical top plates.
These plates are seam-welded together, trimmed, and
filed smooth. In fact, Suzuki moto has machines that can do these processes in
successive steps without having to remove the tank from the fixture. The Suzuki Gsxr tank is made from only two stampings.
That much we can tell you, because it's patently
obvious to anyone familiar with manufacturing; in other words, there's no other
logical way to do it. However, Suzuki moto uses a special process to perform the top
stamping that dramatically reduces blemishes and, at the same time, permits complex
shapes to be created in the thin-gauge steel.
It's an inscrutable process much like
the paint process: sheets of flat steel go on the conveyor belt at one end and a
stamped half tank chugs out the other side.
In another corner of the plant, your Gsxr's engine has arrived from Hamamatsu on a
massive pallet. According to precise timing of the production schedule, it is pulled
down from the pallet and subjected to minor prep work that includes installing any
exterior hoses and taping over the inlet tubes to prevent anything from falling in.
Then the engine is placed into a large cart, which acts as a staging location. The
engine actually heads downstairs via a small powered platform, like a dumbwaiter, and
moves in dedicated tunnels under each assembly line.
When the time comes, each engine
rises on a powered platform from the basement to a position next to where it will be
installed into the frame. Once again, the engine travels the shortest distance
possible between incoming pallet and the actual motorcycle.
Meanwhile - a term used often here because so much happens simultaneously -
subassembly areas on the periphery of the plant get to work on a host of parts. For
example, technicians working for the fuel-injection supplier unpack throttle bodies,
inspect them, and fit them with the throttle cables and a few of the sensors.
parts are assembled and staged in rolling carts. When the cart is full, it is wheeled
either to another small staging area at the head of the line or directly to the
assembly line itself.
Timing is so good here that remarkably few carts are in the
Other subassemblies are going together elsewhere in the plant, although a few have
been completed by the vendors off-site. For example, the suspension supplier will
place both fork legs into the lower triple clamp, which is complete with stem, lower
bearing, and steering damper. The wheels come shod with tires, already mounted and
The brake rotors are already on the wheels.
At this point in your Gsxr's gestation, all the parts are in the plant and ready to
But first the line has to be prepared for the Gsxr 1000. On our visit, Suzuki moto was "running a selection of sportbikes on the No.4 assembly line. In the morning, 20th
Anniversary Gsxr 750s were rolling off the line, about one a minute.
Then, just after
the lunch break, the line churned out a couple of hours' worth of Hayabusas. (Let's
see, one per minute, excluding changeover time; call it 120 units. On that day.)
Just-in-time means more than just having the parts arrive in a reasonable amount of
time before the vehicle is to be assembled, but the most amazing part to watch is the
The main assembly line is just that, a straight line with forty-five
stations and people working from both sides. The motorized belt keeps churning except
for the twice-daily ten-minute breaks.
The moving line is the focus of all the work,
with the technician stations flanking it and the supply carts outboard still. It's
possible to walk the corridor between assembly lines-Suzuki moto has six parallel
lines at Toyokawa-and hardly see what's being assembled inside for all the equipment,
parts, and parts trolleys stacked up.
As the last Gsxr Hayabusa 1300 slides down the line toward life, the supply carts
that flank the line are pulled one by one. when the technician at one station installs
onto the Gsxr Hayabusa 1300 the last part from the cart, the empty cart is pulled out of the
way, often within seconds. Behind it, in a smaller staging area, is the replacement
cart holding Gsxr components, which is deftly slid into place. Stand back and you can
find where the last Hayabusa is on the line by watching for a flurry of moving carts.
On this day, Suzuki moto left two spots in the line open between the last Gsxr
Hayabusa 1300 and the first Gsxr ... all of two minutes.
The painted frames arrive at the main assembly line on large carts that hold
approximately a dozen frames. Your Gsxr's frame is pulled from this cart and placed
into a fixture that sets the steering-head bearing cups into the frame itself at the
same time a computerized punch inscribes the cast steering-stem area with the
This process takes less than thirty seconds. But while the VIN punch
is doing its thing, the Gsxr's rear subframe is hoisted over from another cart and
bolted into place. The technicians take great care starting the subframe bolts; it's
not at all about shoving the fastener into the hole and following it with the
Instead, they start the threads by hand while manually supporting
Immediately adjacent to the first operation is a technician who expertly places the
main wiring harness.
Actually, it sounds harder than it is, considering not a lot is
attached to the frame just yet. The next step is for one of the technicians to pick up
the frame/subframe combination and place it, upside down, into the first segment of
the moving line.
The frame is held in place through the steering head and rests by the
seat mount boss atop a urethane pad.
From this point on, the frame starts taking on parts at an almost dizzying rate.
Swingarm assemblies-with the chain, chain guard, and threaded axle adjusters-wait by
the line. One worker places the swingarm in place while another slides the axle home.
A quick rap with the impact socket and the deal is done. Immediately after, the shock
linkage is bolted to the frame and to the swingarm, and before you can turn and say, "Look at that," the shock itself has been plucked out of a massive bin full of them
and slid down into the frame with the top clevis already in place. When did that
At about the same time, another technician takes one of the Gsxr 1000's
titanium mufflers off the cart. It comes with the SET valve installed in the lead-in
pipe and cabling already attached.
It is bolted loosely to the footpeg bracket to
allow for the later installation of the main exhaust system. Also while the frame is
upside down, other components are bolted in place, such as the sidestand and the
footpeg carriers with the shift linkage and rear-brake master cylinder already in
place. Wiring connectors' strategic placement allows the technicians to connect items
such as brake-light switches and sidestand-interlock switches without missing a beat.
Soon after these steps are completed, the frame is righted and placed on a second,
separate moving line.
Now, with the swingarm in position and located by the shock, the
bike can be supported by the threaded bosses in the swingarm that will eventually hold
your track-stand spools.
Supporting the front of the frame is the fork/front wheel
assembly, which has been pulled from a cart carrying the preassembly. In this case,
the wheel, tire, fender, and brake calipers are already in place, as are the steering
damper and lower triple clamp. Just as the frame is reaching horizontal from being
flipped right side up, a technician expertly slides the steering stem up through the
frame and places the top bearing races, spacer, and threaded collar in place.
The bike continues down the line, gaining clip-on handlebars-which are, as you can
guess, already assembled with switches, levers, perches, front-brake master cylinder,
and hand grips. The handlebars are left loose for the time being.
A station or two down the line, the frame is ready for the engine. From the staging
area, the engine travels underground and appears, on time, at a small platform to the
right side of the bike.
An overhead crane arrangement allows a single worker to grab
the engine by means of horizontal prongs, heft it off the platform, and bring it
carefully-but quickly-under the main-frame rails and into position. It takes longer to
read about it than to do it.
The engine mounts to the frame with the help of threaded spacers.
nuts you see surrounding the engine-mount bolts are there to accommodate
engine-to-engine and frameframe variances. The engine is slid into place and the
mounting bolts are driven in.
Then the castlehead adjusters are driven tight. This
process makes the engine installation go yery quickly. While a pair of technicians
places the engine in the frame, others install the chain over the countershaft
sprocket and hook up the engine wiring harness to the main harness.
Next in line, the throttle body assembly is placed on the engine and connected
A pair of technicians maneuver the exhaust headers into place and bolt
them down with an ease that makes all of us who have fought with pipes feel like
dullards. At the next station, a technician uses a pivoting fixture to bring the rear
wheel over to the bike.
With practiced hands, he slides the wheel in place while a
worker on the other side drives the axle into place. (Now you know why Suzukis have
the axle nut on the left side.) A quick jab with the impact driver and the nut is
Soon after the bike gets a rear wheel and an exhaust system, the radiator and oil
cooleraged as a set with the cooling fan-arrive on the bike.
Now with the coolant and
oil systems sealed up, they can be filled, a process that's done automatically through
overhead supply lines that are flexible enough to be able to follow the bike as it
moves down the line. Speaking of fluids) at this point a worker installs the brake
lines and then, some steps down the line, another worker, again with automatic
equipment, fills the systems with fluid. The brake fluid is provided under pressure)
and there's no bleeding of the brakes from the caliper side.
Another worker installs the airbox assembly, and the bike is ready for the fuel tank.
On a side line, painted fuel tanks are lined up on moving carts. A small subassembly
line immediately adjacent to the main line installs the combination bottom plate/fuel
pump/level sender apparatus.
The tank is then dipped into a shallow bath and a small
amount of air pressure is applied (less than 1 psi) while the technician looks for
bubbles. Seeing none, the tank is hoisted out of the pool) dried briefly, and placed
on the motorcycle.
Once the fuel lines and electrical connections have been made, the
tank is bolted down and the gas cap is installed. The key, which has been in the
ignition all this time, is checked to see that it works in the newly installed cap.
Then the bike is filled with a small amount of fuel-just enough to pressurize the
injection pump and injectOrs and run the bike at the end of the line.
With the tank in place and most major systems serviced and ready for action, your Gsx
R stans getting its bodywork. As expected, the fairings are preassembled in areas
surrounding the main assembly lines and so are ready to go when they reach the carts.
When bodywork is installed it is quickly covered with a protective pad to prevent
scrapes and scratches that might result from the remaining assembly tasks.
fairing is installed complete with the instruments, ram-air ducts, and mirrors already
in place. One quick click on an electrical connector and a couple of bolts through the
fairing bracket, and your motorcycle has a face.
The lower fairings are a bit more involved, because small air deflectors around the
radiator must be installed.
Still, it's the work of just a few seconds, and soon the
side panels are in place as well. Next comes the passenger saddle. The rider's saddle
is left off for the moment so that a technician can hook the battery leads to an
overhead cable that provides 12 volts to the motorcycle. At this time, the ignition is
turned on and the lights checked for the first time.
Work on your bike now slows appreciably, with quality-assurance inspectors starting to
take over. Every surface is checked for blemishes, and any small nicks and scratches
are buffed out on the spot. (There are remarkably few of these.)
A small auxiliary battery is pulled from a cart, and its leads are clipped to the
bike's battery cables.
Once again, the lights are checked, the horn honked, and the instruments scrutinized
for the proper indications. The next step is to roll the bike off the rear stand and
onto both wheels for the first time.
At this point, the bike is off the rolling
assembly line, which has conspicuously fewer stations per foot of track, so that the
inspectors at the end of the line have more time to do their critical jobs.
Rolling now but still not alive, the bike is pushed over a pneumatic center stand that
hoists the bike off the ground so the wheels can be checked for freedom of movement,
and the steering head is checked from lock to lock.
This step takes ten or fifteen
The next phase in the motorcycle gestation is perhaps the most exciting for onlookers
but seems utterly routine for the workers. The bike is rolled over to an in-ground
dyno. The worker turns on the ignition again, grabs the clutch lever, and... lights
the fire. Your fuel-injected Suzuki Gsxr wakes immediately into a smooth, even idle.
A puff of blue smoke-the result of assembly lubrication burning off in the
no-longer-virgin combustion chambers-wafts a foot or so before it is sucked up into a
collector that has risen from the floor behind the bike. The technician gives your Gsx
R a gentle prod or two of the throttle and pushes a button to lock the front wheel
into a special chock so that the rear wheel is centered over the rollers in the floor.
Now, with the engine alive for perhaps ten or fifteen seconds, the technician pops it
into first gear, lets out the clutch, and sets the rear wheel in motion. There's no
look of concern on his face. Is everything tight in there?
Did anyone forget a step?
Nothing. Rev it up in first gear, then grab second. Then third. Fourth.
Fifth and sixth, and then a short run in top gear at what is later eXplained is
between 80 and 100 kph (50 and 60 mph). Call it 4,500 rpm, max. The technician quickly
checks an overhead monitor that shows the results of the test. Then, clutch in,
click-click back through to neutral. (He gets it the first time.)
Another check of the
lights and horn, and he pushes the button that drops the chock.
Once more into first gear, the bike is driven under its own power-all of a hundred
feet or so-to the final inspection station. With the engine not yet up to temperature,
the muffler still cool to the touch, your Gsxr is shut off for the last time in the
land of its origin.
There's no time for reflection. Your Suzuki Gsxr is moved to a short line where the
fuel is removed (and recycled, naturally) and the rider's saddle bolted in place.
Another set of quick inspections-including one under bright lights to look for leaks
and assembly miscues-and the bike is ready for crating. In preparation for this, thin sheets of protective material are placed on the bodywork and a support is installed into the hollow swingarm pivot.
The crate is literally built around the motorcycle.
A baseplate is pulled onto a rolling line, and the motorcycle is hoisted up and over to the plate, where it is quickly secured. Then the thin metal sides of the crate are built up around the bike as various paperwork is placed alongside the bike. The windscreen is added to the crate, and a cardboard cover is readied and then gently lifted over the bike.
It is secured to the metal base by machine screws.
It's a short forklift ride from the end of the crating line to the small warehouse in back, but not many bikes stay home for long. In fact, the Suzuki Gsxr 1000 we watched start out as a collection of parts - perhaps your Gsxr 1000 - was forklifted directly to a waiting truck for shipment to the port.
From the moment the VIN puncher first kissed its steel into the soft aluminum frame until the bike was loaded onto the truck-oil still slightly warm, coolant in the radiator just starting to mix with the warmer antifreeze from the water jackets-astoundingly little time passes.
Seventy-five minutes. Give or take.