Step Inside the Factory Where Acura Crafts the NSX Supercar
At Acura’s new NSX assembly line, the goal is perfection.
Honda’s luxury arm has finally brought back its iconic supercar, in a 191-mph hybrid incarnation, and it’s determined to live up to the hype. The 1990 NSX was Honda’s hugely successful way of proving it could build a no-compromise supercar, and developed a cult-like following. Honda killed the car in 2005, but announced in 2011 that it was coming back—as a hybrid.
At the new 200,000 square-foot facility in Marysville, Ohio, tolerances are mil-spec. Humans and their robot buds will eventually crank out eight samples of the twin-turbo V6, hybridized sports car per shift. That’s the time it takes the plant down the road to build 900 Accords. They’ll go slowly, Acura says, because supercars demand exacting attention, even if they never experience the demands of a racetrack. To see how it’s done, we took a tour of the sleek new assembly line, for an up-close peek at Acura’s process.
The NSX assembly line, officially the Performance Manufacturing Center, even looks perfect: Floors are spotless, space is generous, you could eat off the robots. The 100 human workers are clad in crisp white uniforms that echo Honda’s spit-shined factories in Japan—with the occasional mullet thrown in. Built in the USA, after all.
Building the Frame
Aluminum parts for the NSX’s rigid internal frame are stamped, extruded, or hydro-formed off-site and delivered to the factory for welding. The six nodes holding the frame elements together, however, are manufactured via a new process called ablation casting, developed by Acura for the NSX.
Sand molds are filled with molten aluminum then rapidly cooled by water jets, which also wash away the sand. The nodes are hollow to save weight, and Acura tweaks their chemical properties during the casting process, making them stronger than conventional forged aluminum elements, which tend to be brittle, and able to deform predictably during a crash. This crash-worthiness allows engineers to create shorter front and rear overhangs, further reducing the car’s mass.
NSX assembly gets goings at the welding stations, where the space frame comes together. The frame supports the engine, transmission, and suspension and functions as the vehicle’s crash structure. (Body panels are added last.) Eight welding robots do all the work (an industry-first) for precise and repeatable bonds. A series of 360-degree rotisseries rotate the components to make robot access easier and faster.
Always Be Inspecting
Throughout the manufacturing process, technicians inspect the work to ensure it’s precisely executed. This is for performance reasons—for instance, weld placement and quality can affect chassis rigidity—and to ensure that components added down the line will be easily integrated. Here, inside the all-glass inspection room, a scanner measures the complete frame prior to painting.
Treatment and Priming
Once assembled, the frame marches through a series of dipping tanks to add a corrosion-resistant, zirconium-based primer, as well other treatments to prep the metal for painting. Using zirconium instead of the industry-standard zinc-phosphate eliminates 90 percent of the process’s waste byproduct.
Sealant is applied to the car’s seams on rotisseries, to ease access for technicians. It’s then inspected using precision-aimed colored lights: Each color reflects the type of sealant required, where it should go, and how much should be applied.
The Paint Shop
The chassis and body panels are painted by both human technicians and robots in a glass-shrouded facility in the center of the Ohio facility. (Traditionally, cars are painted off-site.) Each piece receives up to 11 coats of primer and paint, followed by a good polishing.
The Supercar Bits
Once painted, the cars start to look more recognizable, thanks to humans who spend over 14 hours assembling the powertrain, suspension, electronics, interior components, and exterior body panels.
Tools with built-in feedback mechanisms—both visual and haptic—ensure the parts are assembled properly. All the bolts are hand-started before torque-wrenches are applied, recording the torque settings for every bolt. The NSX’s dual front electric motors and the nine-speed dual-clutch transmission—both manufactured in Japan—are added before the engine’s installation behind the seats.
The NSX’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 engine is hand-built at Honda’s Anna Engine Plant. The engines are balanced, tested, and broken in with over 150 bench-simulated miles, so if the customer drives her new supercar straight to the racetrack, she can have at it, no problem. The engine is integrated here, before the stations for the suspension components, brakes, doors and body panels.
Always Be Inspecting (Again)
By this point, the car has circled back to the glass inspection center, where computer-armed technicians pore over the whole thing to ensure every last component is functioning properly.
Tuning and Tweaks
Once through inspection, the car goes through a final multi-station check. Wheel alignment, aided by a new tool that eliminates the risk of damage conventional tools pose, takes about 45 minutes. A dynamometer test validates brake performance as well as turbocharger functionality, and gives technicians a chance to make sure the exhaust sound is spot-on.
From here, the cars roll forward into the suspension evaluation room, where computer-controlled pistons rapidly elevate and drop each wheel in a 25-minute test to simulate a variety of road conditions. The car’s also sprayed with water to ensure it’s leak-free.
The Finished Product
After each NSX rolls off the assembly line—fully tested and evaluated without exposure to the elements—it is handed off to American Honda for transport to the dealers via a covered truck.
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