The redesigned 2016 Pilot that was just launched by Honda is the product of a new computer-driven development process in which the automaker was able to eliminate the production of hand-built prototypes, company officials said today.
The manufacturing processes used to build the Pilot were engineered and proofed entirely by computer simulation, while design and equipment changes were validated by using test parts quickly produced by 3-D printers.
The newest Pilot was developed “in a virtual world,” said Jeff Tomko, president of Honda Manufacturing Alabama, the assembly complex in Lincoln where the Pilot is built. “We developed the manufacturing process virtually so we can make changes before we start with actual builds.”
Tomko said the approach cut “several months” from the nearly three-year effort from when the new Pilot was envisioned to the start of mass production.
He also noted that Honda is producing many more variations of the redesigned Pilot than it did of the outgoing vehicle.
The Alabama plant will be the sole global production site for the Pilot and is expected to export the vehicle to China, Europe and South America — 46 markets in all.
Automakers have traditionally tested the manufacturability of a vehicle by assembling prototypes by hand in a research facility before starting test production on the assembly line. At Honda, an r&d group in Ohio usually builds prototypes to test and validate manufacturing techniques before assembly processes are transferred to the production site.
Honda used the new approach previously for some variants of the Acura TLX sedan, and in Japan for a compact minivan known as the StepWgn. The revamped Pilot is the first North American vehicle in which all configurations were brought to production without physical prototypes.
Other car manufacturers have also been able to reduce or eliminate physical prototypes from the development process. Toyota tried that in the last decade as part of a push to accelerate new-model launches. But after it was beset with quality problems, the company decided to rely less on simulated prototyping and would resume building physical test vehicles to eliminate design or manufacturing glitches.
Others including Ford and General Motors also use 3-D printing extensively to test out new part designs in development. Ford is working with a company based in Silicon Valley, Carbon3D, to look for new ways to use the technology.
Honda is using its NPD [no prototype development] process now for the redesigned Ridgeline pickup that is expected to arrive next year.
Both the Pilot and Ridgeline are derived from the global midsize truck platform that forms the basis of the Acura MDX. A new Odyssey minivan built from the same underpinnings is due late in 2016 as a 2017 model.