You must have heard of Kawasaki Heavy Industries because it is a multinational corporation and a global manufacturer. However, you might not know that it was founded as a shipyard in Japan in 1878. It goes without saying that Kawasaki Heavy Industries quickly diversified and split into different sectors, eventually consolidating into five separate companies, 102 subsidiaries and 36,691 employees. Today, Kawasaki is engaged in energy solutions and marine engineering, aerospace systems, precision engineering and robotics, railcar manufacturing and the most famous company in the west, Kawasaki Motors.

The first Kawasaki motorcycle engines were produced in the early 1950s, and in 1974 a motorcycle assembly plant was opened in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was the first foreign car manufacturing plant in the United States. At the time, the US was the most dynamic motorcycle market and served as an ideal location for expansion. Lincoln, a medium-sized city in the geographic center of the country connected by I-80 and I-29, was ideally located for the manufacturing plant.

Located on 335 acres of land, Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing (KMM) Corporation’s Lincoln facility has grown from its original 286,000 square feet to more than 1.3 million square feet of manufacturing, office and warehouse space since opening in 1974. In 2001, the rail car plant was completed at the Lincoln site, adding 437,000 square feet for the production of light rail cars.

Nearly 4,000 people work for KMM full-time, part-time and on contract basis, making it a major employer in the Lincoln area. In 1989, the Marivillsky plant for the production of general-purpose engines was opened. The Maryville facility has grown to nearly 900,000 square feet on 113.7 acres of land and employs more than 600 people. KMM’s research and development centers are located at the Lincoln and Maryville facilities to meet customer requirements as quickly as possible.

Here in the US, Kawasaki may be best known for its green sportbikes, with the Ninja being one of its historically popular models. But in recent years, the manufacturer has significantly expanded its SUV and four-wheeler catalog to appeal to these emerging sectors. In fact, the consumer products division of the KMM plant no longer makes motorcycles, but is the birthplace of all Kawasaki ATVs, UTVs, and jet skis.

In fact, the sector is growing so fast that Kawasaki recently announced a $200 million investment plan for its Lincoln plant that will expand its consumer products division, increase automation, add more than 550 full-time jobs and support the R211 railcar contract for 3 .6 billion dollars. . Lincoln is growing fast.

That’s why the MPN team jumped at the chance to check out the facility for themselves when Kawasaki invited us to join them for two exclusive media events in mid-September. On our first day, we visited Husker Harvest Days, the world’s largest trade show for fully irrigated working agriculture. The second day brought us a comprehensive tour of the entire KMM facility.

You may be wondering why the MPN team was at the agricultural show – Kawasaki attends the show every year to show off their new product line, many of which are aimed at or heavily used by the farming community. New models of off-road, quad, off-road and dual-sport motorcycles were on display on the show floor, with members of the Kawasaki team making the full circuit.

Front and center was the all-new 2023 Teryx KRX 4 1000 eS (insert ROTW link), Kawasaki’s flagship UTV model. The 999cc parallel-twin 4-stroke engine boasts a new feature this model year with KECS – Kawasaki’s Electronically Controlled Suspension. The high-performance KECS suspension system provides the ability to adapt to a wide range of terrain in real time, providing the driver and passengers with a much more comfortable ride on rough terrain.

The Kawasaki Teryx line of UTVs hit the market in 2008, at the time it was one of the few UTVs on the market that wasn’t solely focused on utility. Since then, they’ve become more focused on recreational performance, though the base model (2-seat) Teryx and Teryx S LE are still 600 lbs. cargo bed capacity and towing capacity of up to 1,300 lbs. If you want utility (with added feel), then the Kawasaki MULE has always been your go-to.

Since 1988, the MULE (Multi-Use Lightweight Equipment) has been at the forefront of the “doing the heavy lifting” category, and Kawasaki has made sure that this mantra continues with the new versions. We took a close look at the MULE PRO-FX EPS LE at Husker Harvest, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a consistently popular workhorse. With an 812cc liquid-cooled 4-stroke engine, the MULE PRO-FX EPS LE boasts a curb weight of 999 lbs. cargo bed capacity and 2,000 lbs. towing capacity.

We saw even more Teryx and Mule models (and other SUVs) on day two as we toured the entire KMM manufacturing facility. The facility was so huge that we covered nearly five miles during our 3-4 hour tour.

After an introductory presentation detailing the history of Kawasaki and KMM, we found ourselves in the factory in the consumer goods area where all the four wheelers and jet skis are made. Initially, we were greeted by several assembly lines, which showed that, above all else, Kawasaki’s production lines are designed to be flexible.

Unlike most manufacturing plants, there are usually two or three machines running on the production line at the same time. The combination of high-tech tools, control systems and manual labor allows production to run smoothly and very efficiently. In this system, workers are typically trained in multiple areas of production rather than a single task, which provides greater variety and a broader skill set overall. At the end of the line, each vehicle is tested on a “pass road” where the engine is started, full engine checks are performed, and the vehicle is put through its full range of capabilities.

This complete assembly is only possible after production, and Kawasaki uses an army of robots to do much of the dirty work, including welding, moving heavy parts, pressing, painting and handling hazardous materials before they are used in assembly. They typically work early in the manufacturing process, cutting, shaping and welding raw materials such as steel tubing and sheet metal that will make up the car’s frame parts.

Even more impressive were the vast areas for KMM’s rail and aerospace divisions, where multimillion-dollar efforts were painstakingly pulled together by much smaller teams. High-tech cargo doors for the Boeing 777-X and railcars, prepared for the transit systems of big cities, lie on which workers can work.

It is not surprising that Kawasaki is the world leader in the production of railway cars, because the process in which they are created is very unique. Instead of using a traditional assembly line, each car is assembled on a long welding platform that workers can move freely without mechanical assistance. Combined with the extremely flat and polished floor, the cars can be moved to different areas and handled more flexibly.

By the end of the tour, we were a little exhausted, but very impressed. It’s not every day that you get to see with your own eyes what happens behind the scenes of the first foreign car manufacturing plant in the United States. 48 years on and KMM has pretty much perfected their unique production formula and it will be interesting to see where and how they decide to expand in the coming years.