Automaker uses virtual reality to improve training to produce new model
Honda Motor Co. this week began production of the 2022 Acura MDX. The company is using virtual reality, in combination with traditional training, to get output up to speed.
“We saw an opportunity to engage our associates better,” said Joey Sippel, a training director for the Acura MDX project. “We wanted to give them a new tool.”
In this case, the new tool is a touchscreen training process with Vizendo software. It has four levels of difficulty. At level 1, the easiest level, different parts and systems are highlighted by having them flash. A worker then touches the flashing display for more information.
The interactive training asks workers to choose the right tools and parts in the assembly process. By the time employees reach level 4, they are simulating production work that they would perform on the assembly line. The virtual training is supplemented by traditional training.
“We wanted to make it as easy to manufacture as possible,” Sipple said of the redesigned MDX, the fourth generation of the SUV. “We wanted to train as early as possible. We are not taking away physical training from associates. We are doing a hybrid training.”
The company says the virtual training helped verify production processes before the first vehicle was built. Output began on Jan. 12 at the automaker’s East Liberty plant in central Ohio. The factory will be the sole production site for the MDX. It goes on sale on Feb. 2 and Honda wants production at full speed by then.
About 1,500 employees have undergone the hybrid training, with about 8,000 training sessions on the Vizendo software. “It allows us to get the associate up to speed fast,” Sipple said.
The new training program reflects the importance of the 2022 Acura MDX.
Acura is Honda’s upscale brand. It’s intended to compete against the likes of BMW AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus. The brand’s image isn’t held in the same regard as those brands.
The redesigned MDX is intended to be Acura’s flagship model and Honda has much riding on it.
“We’ve got that acceleration of this luxury brand we’ve been working on,” said Bill Ramsey, engineering/manufacturing leader for global production of the Acura MDX.
The company has been working on redesigning the MDX for about five years. The development and manufacturing teams originally went to an off-site location. Members of both teams looked at models made by competitors. They also took test drives of those vehicles.
Members of the development team conferred with the manufacturing group. They studied whether new features could be made with existing equipment at the East Liberty plant. For example, the redesigned MDX comes with a double-wishbone suspension, which improves handling.
One piece of new equipment was installed at East Liberty: a 5,000-ton stamping press. The company says the press allows for sharper sculpting of the hood and body panels while forming steel and increased amounts of aluminum.
“Styling is just spot on,” Ramsey said.
The hood and fender of the MDX are made of aluminum. That’s part of efforts to reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency.
The MDX’s impact will go beyond its sales. The SUV’s platform will be used in future light-truck models in the future.