A Brief History on the Development of Yanmar Small Diesel Engines

Blog | April 7th, 2020

Yanmar Co., Ltd. is one of the most popular diesel engine manufacturers in Japan. It was founded in March 1912 in Osaka, Japan by Magokichi Yamaoka. What makes Yanmar notable is the fact that the company was the first to design and release a small diesel engine as early as the 1930s.

Setting up the Road for Greatness

Yamaoka first engaged in managing his own business in the summer of 1906. His business would revolve around buying and repairing unused gas engines, which is a feat for Yamaoka as his business gains attraction. His rebuilt engines were sold at a much lower price compared to new engines. Even the installation of these engines can be done without additional charges. 

Due to the growing popularity of his business, Yamaoka decided to finally expand his reach. He leased a piece of land at present-day 1-32 Chayamachi, Kita-ku and established Yanmar Co., Ltd, a full repair shop with an office. With various historical turmoils in Japan, his strategy of repairing and selling engines would later on collapse. But his fighting spirit would thrive, as he found a way to gain a new source of income for his business – manufacturing his own products. 

A New Era of Products from Yanmar

All it takes is just one visit to a friend, where Yamaoka saw a prosperous future with producing powered rice huller. His company would eventually produce oil-powered engines that can be useful for agriculture applications. More related products were produced along the way, but the looming recession would, again, slow down the success of his company. Various economic and labour issues were lurking around the company every day, pushing Yamaoka to contemplate his future.

The Perceived Potential of Diesel Engine

Producing the world’s first practical small diesel was somehow an accidental innovation that is not part of Yamaoka’s plan towards redemption. He would not expect that his trip to Germany in 1932 will paved way for something far more successful than his company’s previous achievements. A trade show in Leipzig showcased a lot of truly revolutionary products, but the only product that Yamaoka was interested in was the first diesel engine. 

He would frequently visit the same place just to watch the diesel engine’s promotional film. The film discussed the structure and the manufacturing process of the diesel engine. It also explained the qualities of the diesel engine that made it superior to the oil engine. The diesel engine is deemed safe, highly durable, and has great fuel efficiency. The only concern that he had about this type of engine is its huge size, which can pose difficulties in agricultural applications.

Developing the First Small Diesel Engine

Amidst some long-lasting recession and labour strikes concerns, his company would then start designing and testing their compact diesel engine. Numerous issues rose about the structural design of a small diesel engine, but he and his team would still try to solve these issues one by one. They managed to eliminate all but one problem of a small diesel engine – the occurrence of huge clouds of black smoke when starting the engine up.

Resolving this issue would take its toll on Yamaoka. There was even a time where Yamaoka would suspend the development of the engine, but his employees would still push harder to finish the work. So, he decided to resume the suspended project. Come December 1933, his employees would rush to him and report that their prototype small-size diesel engine is now fully functional without signs of any issues. The completed engine was named the “HB model” and consequently nicknamed as yokosui, a byword for a small diesel.

Small-size diesel engines have opened a lot of opportunities for their use in different industries. Today, there can now be used in locomotives, construction equipment, automobiles, and many more.

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