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Inside the factory where Acura builds its otherworldly NSX supercar

A lot of work goes into building a car before it hits the road. The factory is where the design, engineering, and planning of a car becomes reality. And when that car is the new Acura NSX, the reality is nothing short of amazing. To build it, Acura created the Performance Manufacturing Center; a special factory for a special car.

It’s an axiom of exotic automobiles that they must be personally built by master craftsmen, but honestly, most cars built by hand have serious quality and consistency issues. It’s the shameful secret of expensive hypercars. Yet who would want a supercar built on the same production line as an econobox? The magic just wouldn’t be there.

So how do you blend the personal attention of the very best builders in the industry with Acura’s legendary emphasis on quality and reliability? You build a factory that is carefully designed to leverage the advantages of the human touch alongside the best of Honda’s precision automated manufacturing techniques. The result is a boutique manufacturing center that is designed to produce just a few cars each day, but with the highest quality standards of any automobile facility in the world.

Preparing the facility

Acura set up shop in a small building at the end of the giant Honda Manufacturing of Ohio complex, located just outside Marysville near the city of Columbus. In this case, ”small” means just over 200,000 square feet, about twice the size of a typical Home Depot or Costco.  Acura spent more than $20 million renovating the space from top to bottom, with an eye for details.

Most cars built by hand have serious quality and consistency issues. It’s the shameful secret of expensive hypercars.

Absolutely everything in the factory has a purpose. The paint on the floor and walls is designed to reflect light, and the open floor plan is designed to prevent different functions from becoming isolated from each other. Glass is everywhere, so everyone can see each part of the process clearly.

The new space encompasses a robotic welding and measuring process for the chassis, an advanced paint shop to deliver top-grade finish, and a general assembly area designed to fit both the car and the workers. Notably, Acura placed the quality control area precisely in the center of the factory, in a large glass enclosure to reinforce the idea that build quality is central to the purpose of the facility.

When the new space was ready to go live, Acura dubbed it the Performance Manufacturing Center. This building exists to create the 2017 Acura NSX, and it has no other purpose.

Starting from scratch

There are a couple things Acura’s new factory doesn’t do. The NSX engine is assembled at the nearby engine factory in Anna, Ohio, but even there, the assembly process is unique. Each NSX engine is hand-built by a master engine technician with at least 20 years of experience. Then every engine is dyno-tested before leaving the facility to ensure consistency.

Related: 2017 Acura NSX first drive impressions

Body and chassis panels for the NSX are also cut and stamped outside the factory. With its space-frame design, the NSX is closer to a racing chassis than to any mass-produced street car. Where a conventional unibody design would use a single stamped steel floor pan, the NSX is built from lengths of square aluminum tubing welded to castings and small stamped panels. Except for a few small lengths of steel in the A-pillars and a few other places, the entire chassis is made of aluminum.

Human-guided robots

Each component piece of the chassis is fitted together with its mates and then precision-welded by a series of robot arms, overseen by experienced workers. Every structure is measured at its station, and any imperfect welds can be repaired immediately, if necessary. However, there was no visible evidence that the human-operated repair welders had ever been used.

Each welding station creates its part of the car, and then passes the parts on to be welded together into a finished chassis. Once complete, the chassis goes through an extensive quality-control inspection, including measurement to within a fraction of the width of a human hair, before moving on to be painted.

The NSX paint stations take up about half the space of the factory floor, and the process includes comprehensive cleaning and preparation. Because the factory is designed to produce just 10 to 12 cars per day, each chassis and its matched set of body panels receives individual attention. Up to five color coats and two clear coats are applied to every part by robot painting arms. Yet here again, experienced paint technicians monitor the robots and check results at every stage.

Personalized assembly

Once painted, each chassis is placed on its own rolling cart – and this is where the NSX build process radically departs from a conventional factory plan. Instead of a conveyor that brings each chassis in front of a single worker for 30 to 60 seconds for each step of the assembly, every car goes to a small team of workers for about an hour while those workers go through a series of assembly steps. The pace of work is relaxed, with plenty of time to get everything right. To offer just one example, every nut and bolt on the NSX is hand-threaded to avoid damage to the chassis or the fastener.

Each wrench used in the factory has a wireless connection to its workstation, and logs the exact torque applied to each bolt.

Another key difference in manufacturing techniques is that each worker has a large-screen display detailing the steps to be performed on this chassis. But the screens are far more than step-by-step instructions. Each wrench used in the factory has a wireless connection to its workstation, and logs the exact torque applied to each bolt. As each step is completed, the screen advances to the next step, creating a precise record of the construction of that particular NSX right down to the torque applied to each bolt.

The NSX takes shape as the various stations complete their task lists, and the cars become individuals. At the end of the production line, a patented inspection station allows workers to check every detail of the car before it’s fired up and driven to a rolling dyno for a series of final tests.

World-class manufacturing

To give you an idea of how seriously Acura takes this facility, all global production of the NSX is taking place under this one roof. On the day we toured, you could see right-hand-drive NSX models bound for Japan coming together alongside US and European-spec models. That’s a powerful statement of Acura’s faith in its Ohio-based staff and the work they’ve done on this facility.

With the new NSX starting at $156,000, Acura is set to run this factory at capacity for several years to meet anticipated demand. Just 800 cars per year are allocated to North America, with the balance bound for markets around the world. The NSX is priced to be a rare sports car, but not a unicorn like the limited-production and never-seen Lexus LFA or LaFerrari. That’s good, because what Acura has built in Ohio deserves to be recognized. And driven.