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Japan's Big Three push extremes on speed, flexibility

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Honda's new flexible production system has knocked 10 percent out of the cost of manufacturing Civics in the United States, the automaker says.

The approach, launched last summer at Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.'s East Liberty, Ohio, plant, also has reduced repair work on cars before they leave the factory and improved worker safety, said John Adams, Honda's senior vice president for manufacturing.

'At the East Liberty plant in Ohio, this has been the best vehicle launch in our history,' Adams said.

The heart of the flexible system is a body-weld line that allows Honda to switch from vehicle to vehicle with the flip of a switch. It also shortened subassembly lines in the factory and installed quality assurance points at several spots through the assembly process.

Honda is implementing the new system worldwide. The company is in the process of switching over its Accord and Acura plant in Marysville, Ohio, Adams said. Most of that changeover will be finished in this fiscal year.

The flexible line started with the launch of the new-generation Civic last year at East Liberty. The end of the model year has shown Honda a string of encouraging measurements, according to Adams. They include:

* A 75 percent reduction in rejects per unit, reflecting the number of errors per vehicle.

* A 20 percent improvement in 'straight ship,' referring to vehicles that are moved out of the factory with no required repair or corrective measure.

* A 10 percent reduction in plant electricity consumption.

* A 30 percent rise in safety rates and a 20 percent reduction in ergonomics-related problems among workers.

* A 25 percent rise in employee job satisfaction.

* A 35 percent reduction in plant waste.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com

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