TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Honda North America is rolling out an updated welding system to its assembly plants, but the automaker is taking a surgical approach to other changes.

While Honda is a relatively new manufacturer in North America, it has arrived at the stage of replacing equipment, but on a case-by-case basis, Jon Minto, senior vice president-Honda Engineering North America, tells WardsAuto here on the sidelines of the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars.

“We try to take an approach where we will update equipment as necessary,” Minto says, noting the current welding system has been in place in North America since the launch of the ’99 Odyssey in Alliston, ON, Canada.

The new general-weld system was pioneered at Honda’s Yorii, Japan, plant and saw its first installation at the automaker’s new Celaya, Mexico, facility, home to the ’15 Fit subcompact for North America.

Minto says Honda was able to make the new Fit’s body lighter and more rigid thanks to the new process.

The new Fit’s inner-frame structural members are assembled in a form using high-joining efficiency, and the car’s outer body is welded onto the inner frame, Minto says.

This replaces the previous Fit’s weld process, which assembled the upper and under body separately and connected them later.

The new process also negates the need for additional strengtheners, which cuts the Fit’s body weight 8.8 lbs. (4.0 kg).

The new general weld technology will become the standard in North America for Honda, Minto says, noting a similar system is being put in place in Alliston and at Honda’s Greensburg, IN, plant, for production of the next-generation Civic, which WardsAuto forecasts will arrive in fall 2015 as a ’16 model.

Yorii also pioneered the painting process being used at Celaya, which cut energy consumption 40% by eliminating a middle coat, taking a 4-coat/3-bake process to a 3-coat/2-bake one.

But Minto says other equipment is getting upgraded at some plants, not others.

Honda installed a new servo stamping press to do deep-draw stampings at its Marysville, OH, plant for the launch of the ’12 Accord, but at the automaker’s Canadian operatons, a stamping press in place since 1990 will stay put.

Honda continues to be guided, Minto says, by a “humans-are-best” philosophy, as processes updates usually result from employee feedback.

“One thing you have to think about, when we talk about manufacturing and processes in general, (is) if you just replace a process with a robot, the robot is intelligent in what it can do,” he says. “It can pick this part up and put it there. But it can’t improve itself.”

When Honda does eliminate jobs formerly done by humans, it puts the people elsewhere.

“It’s not, this process went from two to one and now that one guy is gone. He’s going to go do something else.”

In his speech to attendees here Monday morning, Minto touts Honda’s two new technical-development centers in Ohio, part of North American efforts to take on more responsibility within its global Japanese parent.

A powertrain tech center in Anna, OH, already is open, while another center in nearby Marysville for vehicle assembly will open this fall.

“We will be working diligently during the Technical Development Center’s first year of existence to fully define what it means to be a Honda engineer…providing both training and on-the-job-learning opportunities,” he says.

He divulges a bit of news on the plan to assemble the next-generation Acura NSX supercar in Ohio, noting Honda will not outsource body construction and paint, which has been a norm in the segment, and will use a robotic (metal-inert-gas) welding process “that will join the body in a way that is unlike anything we’ve done in the past.”

The next NSX is expected to debut next year in the U.S.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com