LINCOLN, Ala. -- Honda found itself at a crossroads here a few years ago.
After years of building light-truck engines with what was considered one of the industry's most efficient processes, Honda realized what it had been doing was no longer good enough.
As the U.S. industry braced for more demanding federal fuel economy regulations, Honda saw a future in which it would need more engines than its factory here could make, a future in which it would want more flexibility to change which engines it builds.
Its solution? Robots.
Lots of them.
Honda has changed its approach to engine- and vehicle-making and overhauled its 15-year-old process in Lincoln to create one of North America's most automated environments. The automaker installed 92 advanced robots -- some of them built from scratch to perform assembly tasks Honda had never attempted before -- and designed a factory that turns raw aluminum ingots into finished V-6 engines through a process that is 75 percent automated. Before the new system was launched this spring, Honda's engine-making had been about 30 percent automated.