EAST LIBERTY, Ohio -- After 20 years of Civic launches, the U.S. engineers at Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. found themselves on a world stage for the summer 2005 launch.
Since Honda's East Liberty, Ohio, plant is the company's highest-volume producer of Civics, the group took responsibility for working the kinks out of manufacturing the car and advising Honda's other plants.
The rollout was about as international as global automaking gets. This year Honda Motor Co. will build the Civic at 13 plants around the world, including the emerging markets of China, Thailand and Vietnam. Startup at the six biggest Civic plants is scheduled over four months.
Japan still takes the lead on designing and engineering the car. But U.S. engineers such as Chris Poland, chief engineer for the Americas, and East Liberty Plant Manager John Pleiman got to know Honda's world picture a little better over the past two years.
Poland, Pleiman and other project leaders carried the U.S. team's manufacturing ideas to meetings with their counterparts from Japan, England Canada, China and elsewhere. In those meetings, dozens of staff members donned headsets for a United Nations-style translation. English was translated into Chinese, Japanese, Thai and other languages. Japanese was translated into English -- and then into Chinese. Vietnamese translators converted Vietnamese into English, which then was converted by Japanese translators into Japanese.
Inexpensive laptops also helped the project this time.
Instead of sending personnel around the world to describe ideas about improvements, the teams relied on animation artists. They illustrated ideas as digital 3-D animated clips. The clips could then be loaded into shop-floor laptops and e-mailed to engineers around the world. Project leaders in England or Japan could mull over the cartoons to see the proposed ideas in action.
The project dealt with more than 4,000 design changes.
Poland estimates that the animated e-mails helped reduce project travel time by at least 30 percent. One department at the Ohio operation cut travel in half.
"There was still a lot of travel," Poland says. "There has to be on a global project like this. But we found ways to do things more efficiently."
Working out small issues over the Internet helped speed up the face-to-face meetings, he says. "In the past, we'd get to Japan and spend half a day going over a design change. Now when we get there, they've already seen it, and we can pretty much knock out a decision in 30 minutes."
Approaches like that allowed the team to move up the development schedule by four months. Those months were built into the end of the schedule, Poland says, allowing Honda to test pre-production Civics on the road and look for last-minute quality issues.
"This new Civic was not only about the introduction of a new product," Poland says. "It was also about developing new strategies to build the product."
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