MARYSVILLE — Acura has announced that the all-new Performance Manufacturing Center (PMC) will begin serial production of the next-generation Acura NSX supercar in late April, with customer deliveries to commence immediately thereafter.
“You can’t believe how excited we are to come to this point in the project,” Chief Engineer Clement D’Souza told a gathering of newspeople from around the world. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would work on a supercar. It’s basically a low-flying jet.”
The NSX features a twin-turbo, 3.5-liter V6 engine, a nine-speed, dual-clutch transmission and a peak output of 500 hp. It’s top speed is 191 miles per hour. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a basic model with no options is $156,000. A fully loaded model will cost $205,700. Interested buyers can choose options and place orders now at www.acura.com.
The development process began in 2012 and represents a $70 million investment, but before anyone began to picture the NSX, designers and engineers looked at the methods used to produce other high performance cars.
“We benchmarked Ferrari, Lamborghini. ‘What does it take to build a supercar?’ (we asked). We also looked at facilities and came up with a unique manufacturing process,” said Project Leader Andy Stockton. Acura developers listed three things they hoped to accomplish: a new definition of craftsmanship, a production plant constructed to allow workers to engage with customers and the pioneering of new technologies.
During the trial period, they made 160 cars. When the company is in full production, it plans to make eight to 10 cars per day.
The NSX engine is being built at Honda’s Anna Engine Plant. During the press conference, New Model Manager Dave Jessen, of New Bremen, Ablation Casting Project Leader Dave Cordonnier, of Fort Loramie, and Engine Quality Leader Jim Mankin, of Wapakoneta, talked viewers through a video that documented the build process.
A 4,000-square-foot area of the plant has been given over to NSX engine production.
“It’s very clean, very bright and very quiet,” Jessen said. Six master builders and two technicians were selected from among experienced Honda employees to work in the new area. The eight craftsmen traveled to Japan to learn different assembly techniques. A cart was invented to hold the parts that would need to move to build stations.
“We’re very proud of it,” Jessen said. He is also proud of the build stations.
“There is one master builder for each station. There is not an assembly line,” he said. “Every fastener is started by hand and every torque is recorded.” Each engine has 547 bolts.
According to Mankin, every NSX engine will be broken in on a dyno that emulates 150 miles of driving.
“So all our customers will have a car that is ready to go. It’s the tirst time we’ve broken in an engine on a dyno outside of racing,” he said.
The engine is balanced as a full assembly, a first for Honda. The process was a challenge to develop.
“We could have balanced the crankshaft and the rotating parts,” said Jessen. “But we’d have to take those parts off.” Because the NSX is a hybrid, there’s a magnetic rotor that would have attracted iron shavings from a normal balancing process.
“So even though it’s the accepted method, it didn’t give us the results we needed,” Jessen said. NSX engineers want the engine’s tuning to be perfect.
“We had a wall put in (to accommodate the usual process), then we took it out,” Mankin said.
Cordonnier explained the process for making aluminum frame nodes, combining traditional sand-molding techniques with rapid solidification. A first-ever application of new technology in the automotive industry, ablation casting, developed by Alotech Ltd., is utilized for the creation of six nodes.
With trial production of the car underway and serial production starting in April, Acura revealed additional details of the innovative manufacturing processes at the PMC during a plant tour for the press. The 200,000-square-foot facility includes a lobby and conference room designed for visitors. The production floor is completely open to view. Even the paint area has glass walls.
It meets Honda of America “green” initiatives, too. There are LED lights, 80 percent of the waste water and 80 percent of the air in the paint booth are recycled, waste materials are reutilized.
Customers who want to watch their cars being built will see precision robotic weld technology. The NSX’s aluminum intensive space frame is constructed using advanced joining technologies. The multi-material space frame is created with 100-percent robotic MIG welding, an automobile industry first. Unlike conventional cars with unibody construction where exterior panels are attached in welding, the NSX utilizes a space frame design, so that the exterior body panels are actually the last parts to be installed on the car. This allows for the exterior panels to be installed at a high level of precision, achieving superior fit and maintaining a paint finish of up to 11 coats of paint.
The car is rigorously tested. Drawing from the company’s extensive race engineering expertise, the NSX undergoes a pre-delivery performance confirmation process that includes a 45-minute wheel alignment process, four-corner weight and ride height check and precision measurements of brake performance at all four wheels, along with other critical performance quality checks. Half of the PMC’s 12 U.S. patent applications relate to the unique processes created in this area.
The entire build process takes 14 hours. Acura engineers spoke about the marriage of man and machine in the construction process.
“We wanted to employ man to do what it did well and machine to do what it did well,” said Weld Engineering Leader Chuck Henkel. “In our opinion, this is one of the greatest collections of research and development talent in the world.” According to Andy Stockton, manufacturing technology and new model production project leader, Honda Engineering engineered cells to permit robots to function as they need to.
Quality is at the forefront of everyone’s thinking at the plant.
“We knew that if we developed targets that met expectations, we would meet them,” said Quality Assurance Leader Gail May. If something doesn’t work or a quality check shows something is wanting, production can immediately stop to remedy the situation.
“We have 100 percent accuracy,” May said of the test cars her team has evaluated so far.
Workers are proud of the car and proud of their contributions to it. Abby Pennington, of Bellefontaine, worked at the Anna Engine Plant for 18 years before being tapped to serve as a manufacturing technician at the PMC.
“This was a good move for me,” she said. “Anna is so fast-paced. You’re working on engines. Everything is small, precise. With the magnitude of this project and eyes being on us, it’s a very different experience, a chance for me to experience a whole new side of Honda.” There’s a volume difference too, she noted: eight cars per day vs. 900 engines per shift. At the PMC, Pennington completes exterior inspections of the cars.
“All of the innovative thinking and hard work that has gone into the creation of this state-of-the-art manufacturing facility has fulfilled our goal to build a supercar in America,” said D’ Souza. “The incredible passion and challenging spirit of our highly skilled associates enabled us to develop and build a new supercar factory from the ground up simultaneously with the ground-up creation of an incredible new supercar in the Acura NSX.”
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