MARYSVILLE, Ohio -- Honda's Marysville assembly plant is so big - equivalent to 39 Wal-Mart stores under one roof - that it can't be modernized all at once.
So Honda of America Manufacturing has overhauled the 24-year-old flagship plant one department at a time to keep it one of the most efficient - and now one of the most flexible - assembly plants in North America.
Honda says it has revamped about 70 percent of the plant without losing a day of production. Several more overhauls are in the works, promising more flexibility and productivity gains.
The plant, which assembles the Honda Accord sedan and coupe, Acura TL sports sedan and Acura RDX crossover, was Honda's first assembly plant in the United States.
The improvements began in 2002 to coincide with the launch of the redesigned 2003 Accord.
Honda's latest improvement is a $123 million, fully automated paint shop that opened in January to serve one of the plant's two vehicle assembly lines. The paint shop, a stand-alone building, represents the first major improvement made outside the factory's original footprint.
The paint shop uses a new waterborne coating system. It uses 84 Motoman robots and reduces emissions of hazardous substances by 41 percent compared with the old paint shop. It can paint 1,000 vehicles a day. Half of the plant's daily vehicle production moves through the shop.
Not all robots spray paint. For example, one Motoman opens the trunk of each vehicle so another can paint inside.
Investing in flexibility
The upgrades have allowed the plant to assemble more than just sedans and coupes. Honda began assembling the 2007 Acura RDX in July at the plant on the same line with the cars. The RDX is built on Honda's new global truck platform.
"We made a major commitment to flexibility," says Tom Shoupe, senior vice president at Honda of America Manufacturing and former plant manager.
With the exception of the paint shop, Honda has completed these improvements without adding to the size of the plant.
Now Honda has turned its attention to replacing its cramped door subassembly area. Employees now do the work at old carousels.
Building the paint shop outside of the original plant freed space to modernize door subassembly, says John Mayberry, senior manager of the body assembly group. Door assembly is being moved to the former paint shop area, where the work will be done on two 400-foot straight lines.
Honda won't divulge a dollar figure for the new door assembly area. The first new door subassembly line goes into production after Thanksgiving; the second line after the December shutdown.