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Honda Motor Co. first built an Accord sedan at its Marysville, Ohio, factory in 1982, and humans are still an integral part of the assembly process.

Even as doom-and-gloom reports suggest robots are poised to replace human labor, workers keep toiling side by side with machines in Marysville. And Honda's approach is working: The Accord won the prestigious North American Car of the Year award at last week's Detroit auto show.

Honda isn't alone. Japanese rival Toyota Motor Corp. uses just a handful of robots on the Camry final assembly line at its plant in Georgetown, Ky., and has no plans to add more, according to Mark Boire, chief production engineer. Markus Schaefer, production chief at Mercedes-Benz, in 2016 said the carmaker was de-automating and relying more on humans to install the endless array of options that luxury customers demand.

Honda does use robots for almost all painting and welding. But in final assembly, where workers install motors, wheels and interior trim components, the level of automation hasn't changed much since the Marysville plant opened, according to plant manager Rob May.

The 10th generation Accord, which Honda began building in high volume in September, is still made with manpower and machine. Before the company launched the new model, it installed a big blue robot to lift rear suspensions up into the bottom of the car. But it also assigned two humans to place six bolts and four brackets on the suspension before the robot begins its lifting.

The robot isn't smart or dexterous enough to reach in and around the suspension to place the bolts, May said. The workers must use their left hand for some bolts and their right hand for others, since they're operating in a tight, awkward space, and they have to visually inspect their work -- all in the span of about 40 seconds.

Business on 01/24/2018

Print Headline: Honda factory prefers human touch

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