Shifting Gears: Honda’s Pioneering Flexible Manufacturing System

In 1979, Honda began its bold venture into the North American auto market. The Japanese manufacturer chose Marysville, Ohio, as its first U.S. plant, with 64 employees focused on motorcycle production.

But the vision was always grander. Honda was testing the waters to determine if using the location as a full-scale automobile manufacturing facility was feasible.

It was, and Honda’s market presence quickly exploded.

The secret behind the plant’s success? Flexible manufacturing, a revolutionary approach that allows for multiple models to be produced on the same line.

When Honda overhauled the plant over several years, not one day of production was lost as workers methodically moved from one department to the next.

The flexibility means Honda can quickly adapt to changes in market demand. The approach evolved over decades, with an intensifying focus as the automaker sought ambitious growth.

Flexibility soon became synonymous with Honda’s production methods.

In 2008, prominent automotive executive Jerry York remarked at an industry event, ‘They have total model flexibility. They can go from building 100 percent Accords on Friday to 100 percent Civics on Monday. Their only limitation is the response time for ordering vehicles.’

As Honda grew its global manufacturing footprint in the 1980s and 90s, the automaker continued refining its flexible manufacturing processes with advanced robotics, automation, CAD design, computer-aided manufacturing, and lean principles.

The global financial crisis in 2008 prompted Honda to increase its flexibility even more. Today, the Marysville plant continues to drive automotive innovation.

In 2022, Honda announced it was investing 700 million dollars into several Ohio plants, including Marysville, as part of their mission to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.