LINCOLN, Ala. - Honda Motor Co. had several ideas about manufacturing improvements when it gave the green light to its Alabama Odyssey plant, which opened late last year. So did Chuck Ernst.
"Like I didn't want to have to spend any more holidays working," says Ernst, the 45-year-old Lincoln plant manager and vice president of manufacturing operations.
As one of the architects of the $540 million Alabama greenfield project, Ernst led the team charged with translating Honda's newfound zeal for global factory flexibility into a plant layout.
A key goal was to make model changeovers less traumatic. At Honda, engineers traditionally prepare new models for production without interrupting the flow of the current one. Doing that means pushing tooling and engineering work through between shifts and during plant down time.
"I've been through those changes," says Ernst, who was formerly responsible for the powertrain and body equipment divisions of Honda's in-house tooling unit, Honda Engineering North America. "I was one of those midnight warriors who worked through every weekend and every holiday to get a changeover done on schedule." Of course, creating a simpler plant in Alabama required a few weekends of its own.
Honda asked the team to get the Lincoln plant up and running on a breathtaking 16-month schedule - and to do it with only a modest army of participants.
"We had up to 350 people to pull this off," Ernst says. "But that wasn't 350 people all in one place together. Those were people throughout the organization, wherever we could find the person we needed with the talent we needed for a certain issue."
The Alabama team used workers from Honda's U.S. engine plant in Anna, Ohio; the existing Odyssey plant in Alliston, Ontario; Honda's technical operations; other auto plants; and the home office in Japan.