Our plant tour began with a briefing by plant representatives Ted Pratt, Mark Morrison and VP of Manufacturing Operations, Chuck Ernst. We were amazed to learn of the total size of the operation in Lincoln and the sheer amount of time, effort and money involved. We were also amazed to find that the Lincoln operation was merely a small part of Honda's huge investment in North America.
After our initial briefing, Charlie and Ted (the local PR man) began our walking tour of the entire plant. Walking is emphasized because the plant is simply huge, and since some of us were suffering from jet lag and the effects of a red eye flight, the immensity of the facility weighed on us even more. We began in the general assembly area where we viewed the bodies in white being outfitted with doors, glass, interiors and the like. While the on-the-road result of Honda's engineering is something we're all familiar with, the amount of engineering effort that goes into the manufacturability of Honda cars is, in some ways, even more impressive. For example, the entire dash assembly goes in as one piece before the doors go on. And the entire front suspension assembly is installed with the front subframe and engine at the same time. Wasted motions are virtually extinct - each movement of a robot or human worker is applied to a task. In many parts of the facility, there are 2 production lines vertically stacked in order to maximize space utilization and/or movement efficiency.
After the general assembly area, we spent some time in the sheet metal fabrication area. This is one area of the plant that kind of draws you in. As you approach it, the first thing you might notice is a rhythmic thumping sensation through the soles of your shoes. As you get closer, you begin to hear the thumping sound and soon afterwards, the clash of machinery. Then you round a corner and there before you sit the gigantic presses. They are simply huge, stretching nearly four stories high - and then we were told they extend an equal distance below the ground! Each press exerts tremendous forces, ranging from 1000 to 2300 tons, and is capable of stamping out several huge parts per minute. In fact, the entire side assembly of the Odyssey unibody is stamped as one piece. Giant cranes run overhead to allow plant associates (Honda's term for employees) to quickly change out the press dies to make different pieces of the car.