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How Honda Got Factories Ready for New Accord

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

Automaker prepped two Ohio plants for redesign of its flagship car

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Robots at Honda Motor Co.’s Marysville, OH, plant weld an Accord car frame. Photo by Bill Koenig

MARYSVILLE, OH – The interior of Honda Motor Co.’s Marysville, OH, auto-assembly plant is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Equipment is moved around as one version of the Accord gives way to another.

As the automaker planned for a redesigned 2018 model year Accord, Tokyo-based Honda’s flagship car, one welding area was shut down. Plastic injection equipment was moved for a new welding line. That included spending $165 million and buying 350 new robots. The changes were made as Honda maintained production of the 2017 model.

“Honda doesn’t do extended shutdowns,” said Don Warnock, a Honda senior staff engineer at Marysville. Indeed, Accord assembly was shut down for about a half hour as 2017 Accord ended and 2018 Accord began in September 2017.

This is the story of what the Marysville factory as well as a Honda engine plant about an hour’s drive away, had to tackle to enable that model switchover.

For the new Accord, the Marysville factory had to make adjustments. For example, the roof of the new model would have to be attached in a different way because of design changes. As an Accord’s roof is lowered to the frame, wire is laid into two seams. Lasers then melt the wire.

‘An Unknown’

“We thought long and hard about that one,” said Steve Rodriguez, global manufacturing leader for the 2018 Accord. “I probably went to Japan six times alone to talk about the process.”
The plant’s welding department shifted about a half-dozen people to work on the roof issue. “The welding manager took experts out of his team and said, ‘You will work on this,’” Rodriguez said.

“It was an unknown. It hadn’t been done before,” he added. “By agreeing to do the process… the exterior styling is so different from the previous model. It is a big part of the exterior.”

Manufacturing employees coordinated with designers during the development of the 2018 Accord.

“We had 10 associates who lived there [Japan] for two years,” Warnock said. “They worked with the design people hand in hand. We’re the voice of the [production] associates. It’s give and take.”

Honda has built cars at Marysville since 1982. The company estimates it has invested $5.2 billion at the plant. Besides the Accord, the factory also assembles the Acura ILX and TLX. It has about 4200 employees.

Getting ready for the new Accord was always going to be a big deal at Marysville.

“It’s hard to describe the Accord’s importance to Honda Motor Co.,” Rodriguez said. “It has such a long history with the company.”

The executive said during meetings an executive would say, “This is Accord! Do you know how important this is to the company?”

“It probably happened 20 times over the past three years,” he said.

High-Performance Adhesive

Rodriguez became involved in planning for the new Accord in mid-2015. In addition to the new welding set up for the car’s roof, there was also going to be increased use of high-performance adhesive in putting the frame together. Honda used the adhesive in its Odyssey minivan. Now it was to be used more extensively in the Accord. A robot applies the adhesive, which later gets baked in plant’s paint oven. Honda says the process improves the car’s rigidity.

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Robots weld the underbody of an Accord. Photo by Bill Koenig

With the changes, manufacturing the Accord had a “new level of complexity,” Rodriguez said. With the adhesive, he said, “we didn’t know how much of that we were going to get into.”

And there was making sure the plant could get enough robots.

“Robot manufacturers are booked,” Warnock said. “That was a little challenging.” The company had to order “way in advance just to get in a queue,” he said.

The company has a Honda Engineering organization. “They have a long history of supporting equipment install for all the North American factories,” Rodriguez said. “They know the global workload for the suppliers.” Honda ended up getting new robots from Yaskawa and FANUC.

Plans for making the 2018 Accord also called for having a front-end sub-assembly area. Previously components such as radiators and condensers were installed separately. Now, they’re put into a sub assembly which is placed into the car.

About 45 miles away, at Anna, OH, the company’s engine plant made its own preparations for the 2018 Accord. Honda invested $47 million at the plant and 102 additional employees hired.

The automaker opted to have turbocharged four-cylinder engines (1.5-liter and 2-liter) for the Accord. Adding a turbocharger meant engines could be lighter and smaller while still generating sufficient power.

Cylinder heads made at the plant “had to be redesigned to get the turbocharger spinning as fast as we can,” said Kevin Koesters, a senior staff engineer at Anna. Planning began in the summer of 2015 with the first trips to personnel from the engine plant to Honda in Japan.

In the auto industry getting off to a smooth start for a new or redesigned model is vital.

‘It’s Our Baby’

“A good launch creates a good experience for the OEM,” said Mark Stevens, project manager for the Center for Automotive Research (Ann Arbor, MI). “Companies that execute this are healthier companies.”

So did the Honda manufacturing leaders feel the heat?

Rodriguez said the work was “off the charts hard” and time consuming.

However, “I was never not confident,” he said. “There’s no way it’s going to fail. The company puts all of its resources to make it successful. In Marysville, it’s our baby.”

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