Honda touts radical assembly line makeover

At the Thailand plant, teams of four people doing final assembly work travel with a vehicle as it snakes through a U-shaped line.

TOKYO — In old school auto assembly plants, cars inch through work stations as people plop in parts and wait for the next car.

Now Honda Motor Co., in its quest for ever-better efficiency, has turned that model on its head in its newest assembly line.

The fresh approach has a team of workers follow the car down the line, with the workers and vehicle sitting on disc shaped platforms like frogs floating down a river on a lily pad.

Honda dubs it an ARC line, short for assembly revolution cell.

The new line, which began running in March at Honda’s newly opened Prachinburi assembly plant in Thailand, is cheaper to install, uses less manpower and is more efficient to operate.

In Thailand, teams of four people doing final assembly work travel with a vehicle as it snakes through a U-shaped line.

Parts and people are loaded aboard the conveyor at the start of the U. After they move around the loop, the empty parts boxes are taken off, and the workers hop off. They then walk across to the starting point and climb aboard with their next vehicle.

In Thailand, they make the Civic sedan.

The process cuts unnecessary worker movement back and forth from parts racks and divides the car into quarters, assigning one worker responsibility for all processes in a certain area.

Increased efficiency

By doing so, Honda says it boosts line efficiency 10 percent over the conventional way. It also reduces the work load of handling and transporting parts by 10 percent, Honda said.

ARC lines are cheaper and easier to install because they don’t require digging pits or installing car hanging machinery. And cells can be added and taken away to adjust the line’s length and configuration like the tracks of a model train.

Under the new system, workers perform many more tasks as they move down the line with the car. One worker may execute as many jobs as previously handled by five, said Nobuhiro Kozasa, executive coordinator of body equipment at Honda Engineering Asian Co., the subsidiary that developed the technique.

Not about headcount

But the main purpose is not to cut headcount, Honda insists. While ARC lines require fewer factory workers, Honda said it will offset that by hiring more workers in product development.

Honda won’t say when it started developing the ARC line. The first trial happened in 2013. Honda used it in Thailand because that was the first plant to open after the technology was ready.

Honda has no immediate plans to introduce ARC lines to older plants. But Kozasa said the lines may be used when Honda opens a new greenfield site or renovates or expands an existing plant.

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