Business Operations

Business Operations

Beyond the Buzzwords: Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

Technology is constantly changing. But how will this era of digital transformation change the manufacturing industry?

The NAM’s Leading Edge program partnered with Siemens to present “Beyond the Buzzwords: A Digital Thread Journey,” a four-part webinar series dedicated to understanding how cutting-edge ideas affect manufacturers. In the first episode, we put the digital transformation journey in context by introducing the “digital thread.” In the next three, we dove deeper into cloud acceleration, artificial intelligence and radical flexibility.

Cloud acceleration: A business’s digital needs are covered by a combination of software, hardware and physical infrastructure. If you turn to an offsite partner to provide any of those elements, then you are probably already using cloud acceleration to support your business.

  • We spoke with Surf Loch Director of Project and Process Development Bryan Behr, Siemens Senior Vice President of Cloud Application Services Raymond Kok and Surf Loch Systems Engineer Miles Miller to learn more.

What it is: Cloud acceleration refers to a wide range of on-demand computing services hosted outside of your organization.

  • Kok explained that cloud acceleration “is really a layer cake with three layers to it.” At the highest level is “infrastructure as a service,” like data centers. In the middle is “platform as a service,” which might provide you with the building blocks to create your own applications. And at the final layer is “software as a service,” which is what you would typically get from a commercial software vendor.

How it helps: Cloud acceleration is easier, more cost effective and more flexible than managing all of your computing needs internally.

  • “The cool thing about the cloud is how containerized everything is,” said Miller. “Data is readily available in a very organized fashion. … If there’s a problem or something needs to be solved, we can put that data in the right hands.”
  • Behr also pointed out the benefits for digital security. “It’s either rely on one thing to maintain our security on premise or rely on a very sophisticated cloud team as part of a set of resources. … [I]t became pretty obvious that that appears to be a safer place for us than potentially on premise.”

Learn more: To learn more about cloud acceleration, check out the full webinar here.

AI/machine learning: We know that AI and machine learning are affecting every industry. But how should manufacturers use this new technology?

We brought together Siemens Advanta North America CEO Rani Russell Shea and Schaeffler Special Machinery Head of Electrical & Software Engineering Stefan Gahabka to learn about how to approach AI.

How it works: “The basic idea with AI is that you use data to train models,” said Shea. “Those models can run analytics and then essentially make decisions while learning things, like pattern detection. And then when you’re talking specifically about industrial AI, you’re talking about using AI for machine learning solutions, to solve business problems, things like factory optimization.”

Augmenting humanity: According to Shea and Gahabka, AI is intended to elevate the human factor in manufacturing, not replace it.

  • “Everybody really wants to be able to do their job better, faster, more accurately, more safely, more sustainably,” said Shea. “AI … is going to help us do that, and by doing that, it’s literally elevating the role of people so we’re free to then use our creativity, our experience and our knowledge to really address the complex stuff.”

Doing more: AI can be used to measure, model and optimize everything from energy usage to supply chains—even helping manufacturers find the right partners to match their sustainability objectives.

  • “We talk about the hard things like quality and cost, but can also think about the next step,” said Gahabka. “We can search for suppliers that have sustainable locations and goals.”

Learn more: To learn more about AI and machine learning, check out the full webinar here.

Radical flexibility: Many think of efficient manufacturing in terms of highly standardized automatable processes. Today, though, new technology is creating new possibilities for manufacturers.

We convened an expert panel with Vice-President of Digital Enterprise at Siemens Alastair Orchard, Global Engineering Director and Automation & Robotics Lead at Unilever Cesare Gibilaro, and Process Orchestration & Manufacturing Hub, Manager for Business Operations at Unilever Louise Gigg to introduce us to radical flexibility and the future of manufacturing.

What it is: Technological advancements are making it possible for manufacturers to make only what is needed when it is needed, rather than having hard-coded machines that limit what your business can do for the sake of efficiency.

  • For much of the past century, according to Orchard, manufacturers had been focused on “removing degrees of freedom from manufacturing, making it more rigid, so that automation could be applied to extremely repeatable processes … radical flexibility really challenges that assumption to its core. And we asked: what if nothing was hard coded?”
  • “The radical way of looking at it,” said Gigg, “is reconfiguring the asset that you have on automation [and giving it] a new task or a new capability that it didn’t have yesterday.”

How to use it: Radical flexibility is all about using your assets more effectively and more efficiently to deliver more options for your customers.

  • Gibilaro highlighted the ability to change directions with incredible speed. “With radical flexibility, we have the opportunity to reconfigure the line. … It is not a matter of hours, but a matter of minutes.”

Why it matters: Because radical flexibility allows processes to shift quickly, there’s less wasted time and inventory.

  • “It’s this ability to make things where you need them in small quantities,” said Orchard. “You’re risking much less, and you’re not forced to make these giant bets.”

Learn more: To learn more about radical flexibility, check out the full webinar here.

Business Operations

Beyond the Buzzwords: Manufacturers Tackle Digital Threads

A manufacturing business is filled with internal processes, workflows and standards, and the average factory generates thousands of data points per day. But how does a manufacturer capture that data? How do they preserve institutional knowledge? What if they could automate workflow, create seamless project handoffs and track development around every stage of a project’s life?

The NAM’s Leading Edge program, in partnership with Siemens, asked a panel of experts these questions in “Beyond the Buzzwords: The Digital Thread Journey,” the first in a four-part webinar series focused on understanding the “digital thread” in the workplace. In the first installment of the series, Siemens Vice President of Industry Strategy Dale Tutt and Anduril Industries Chief of Engineering Tom McCarthy introduced us to the idea of the digital thread—what it is, why it matters and how manufacturers can harness its power to succeed.

What it is: The digital thread is a concept rather than a specific technology. According to Tutt, it is about capturing and connecting every piece of a project’s life cycle digitally, and using that connectivity to provide a seamless transition of information from one functional area to another.

  • “We often refer to a digital thread as singular, like it’s a thing,” said McCarthy. “But really, in my mind, it’s a lot of threads. … it ends up being more like a rope than a thread.”

Why it matters: A strong digital thread can automate a manufacturer’s workflow, capture data more effectively, preserve institutional knowledge, trace development processes and even capture the context that informs how decisions are made.

  • Radically new technology means that organizations can accomplish these tasks more successfully than ever before—and that those who ignore that opportunity could be left behind.
  • “The biggest risk is to do nothing and assume this fad will go away,” said McCarthy.

The challenges: One of the biggest challenges in building a strong digital thread in your own workspace is integration and data management.

  • Manufacturing systems need to manage lots of data coming to it in different formats. But according to Tutt, that data needs to be organized in a comprehensible way. “It’s about producing the right data at the right time in the right … format,” said Tutt.
  • According to McCarthy, a digital thread isn’t just a database. It is the key that deciphers that data and makes it accessible and intelligible for the user. “We need a Rosetta Stone,” said McCarthy, “to be able to understand how that data maps onto other tools.”

Implementation and technology: New technology and strategic concepts have enhanced our capacity to build strong digital threads—and with that new ability has come a new and urgent need to make use of the concept to strengthen the manufacturing industry.

  • To get started on your own digital thread journey, Tutt and McCarthy agreed that manufacturers should dig into the existing workflows in their organization and introduce one tool at a time, rather than trying to engineer a master solution all at once.
  • “You can work the digital infrastructure you need for that workflow in pieces, so you can build them up over time,” said McCarthy. “You got to keep your eye on the end game, but if you try to build it all at once, good luck.” 

Learn more: To learn more about digital threads, check out the full webinar here. 

Coming up: In the next three webinars in this series, Beyond the Buzzwords explores a few of those tools and concepts that drive the digital thread in the modern day: artificial intelligence, cloud advancements and radical flexibility.

Business Operations

NAM Gets New International Policy Lead

Former Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for World Trade Organization and Multilateral Affairs Andrea Durkin has joined the NAM as vice president of international policy, the NAM announced Monday.

An experienced leader: “Andrea brings a wealth of expertise to the job, with more than three decades of service in both the public and private sectors,” NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons said. “As a leader in international trade negotiations, her deep understanding of international policy will enhance the NAM’s strategic objectives significantly as we continue to build off of successful engagements with our counterparts across Europe and the North American continent.”

  • Durkin is a foremost U.S. expert on international policy, having worked in both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations. In her most recent role, at the USTR in the Executive Office of the President, she negotiated policy regarding issues before the WTO. She also led the operation of committees on technical barriers to trade, industrial subsidies, trade facilitation and more.
  • Her negotiations credentials include free trade agreements in the Western Hemisphere and the trade-related portions of United Nations’ multilateral environment and public health agreements.

A teacher and an entrepreneur: An adjunct professor for 17 years, Durkin taught international trade and investment policy at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

  • She is also the founder of Sparkplug, LLC, a consulting firm that specialized in advising corporate affairs teams and think tank leaders on organizational strategy.
Business Operations

Novonesis Lets Nature Guide Sustainability Plans

When it comes to good environmental stewardship, Novonesis takes its cue from the natural world itself.

“We are inherently sustainable because we draw from nature,” said Novonesis Senior Vice President of Planetary Health Biosolutions Rene Garza. “As biology matures, we find that nature has evolved to be an efficient utilizer of every single resource out there.”

Back to basics: It’s the perfect model for the newly formed Lyngby, Denmark–headquartered biosolutions firm, the product of a January merger between two Danish legacy companies: enzyme and microbial technology firm Novozymes and bioscience supplier Chr. Hansen.

  • The portfolio of Novonesis—which is a combination of the Greek words for “new” and “beginning”—includes enzymes, microbes, novel vitamins and other naturally derived offerings.
  • The business has customers across more than 30 industries: food and beverages, animal health and nutrition, energy, fine chemicals, dietary supplements, household care, plastics, plant health and more. 

An early adopter: Legacy firm Novozymes set its sights on sustainable business practices more than two decades ago. In 2002, it became the first company in the world to publish a triple bottom-line integrated report.

  • “We recognized early on that resources are finite, and the need to do more with less is part of ensuring a better quality of life,” Garza said of the company’s decision to undertake the annual report, a method of stocktaking on sustainability activities using three “bottom lines”: profit, people and planet. “We realized we’re not just here to generate money, but also to create an impact on society and our environment.”

Big goals: That’s why Novonesis has set lofty aims for itself (and is meeting them).

  • Firmwide targets include carbon net neutrality by 2050, as well as a 75% reduction in emissions from its own operations and a 35% reduction in emissions from its supply chain by 2030.
  • How is it doing all this? Innovation and persistence, according to Garza. “We want to improve our efficiency by as much as we can, and we do this by making improvement to our hardware—pump replacements, reengineering [of] our microorganisms. We also source renewable energy.”
  • In fact, Novonesis is on track to source 100% of its energy from renewables by next year. Between 2018 and 2022, it reduced absolute emissions by 63% while increasing revenue. 

Water, too: Novonesis knows how important water use is in the overall sustainability picture.

  • The company is piloting a reverse-osmosis filtration system at its North America headquarters in Franklinton, North Carolina, that lets it recycle and reuse water. The program, scheduled for full operationality by next year, is going so well there are plans to replicate it at other Novonesis facilities worldwide.
  • And at the company headquarters in Denmark, “we have been able to recycle 58 million liters [of water]—the equivalent of 23 Olympic-size swimming pools,” Garza reported.

What government can do: Novonesis and other manufacturers are making great strides in sustainability, but having the right policies in place at the federal level would make it easier for them to do more with less, Garza continued.

  • “We need regulatory reform,” he told the NAM. “Federal regulations, if done well, really can drive innovation, particularly in biotechnology. … The government should [also] invest in pilot and demo scale fermentation capacity to allow startups to scale up.”
  • The U.S. has the largest concentration of startup companies in the world, he went on, but there is now a “valley of death” between discovery and commercialization of innovations in biology, which federal funding could help remove.
  • Finally, manufacturing in the U.S. needs the reinstatement of pro-growth policies from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including 100% expensing for research and development costs and accelerated depreciation for capital investments.

Stakeholder education: Getting more people aboard the sustainability train is doable—but it will require continued education campaigns.

  • “We need long-term thinking [and] to encourage stakeholders to prioritize the long-term over short-term gains,” Garza said. “Sustainability is about balancing immediate and future needs.”
Business Operations

IRI Announces 2024’s Top Innovator Finalists

The Innovation Research Interchange has announced the finalists for this year’s IRI Innovation Excellence Awards.

What’s going on: The honors given by the IRI—the NAM’s innovation arm—pay tribute to organizations and individuals whose outstanding vision and tireless pursuit of excellence are having a positive impact on lives today and shaping the industries of tomorrow. Honorees come from companies of all sizes and industries.

The categories: Awards are given in five categories, three to companies and two to individuals. They are as follows:

  • IRI Innovation Leadership Award (individual)
  • IRI Promising Young Innovation Professional Award (individual)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Innovation in Sustainability (company)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Outstanding Innovative Culture (company)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Digital and Technological Innovation (company)

Who participates: Each year, nominees comprise innovators who are leveraging technology to enhance operational performance at their companies or sustainability and fostering a collaborative workplace culture that celebrates innovation.

  • High-performing leaders who drive sustainability initiatives are also recognized, and consultants and university partners working on exciting innovation projects with a company are eligible for nomination, too.

Why they’re important: In addition to building team unity and encouraging executive leadership to invest further in innovation, the awards give companies the chance to revisit the successes, challenges and lessons learned throughout their innovative projects.

  • Selection as a finalist shows customers, prospects and partners that a company or individual is at the forefront of innovation.

Attend the celebration: Winners will be announced May 16 during the Innovation Celebration and Reception at the Innovators Summit in Boston. Celebration admission is included with summit registration.

About the IRI: The IRI offers insights, case studies, research, benchmarks and strategic connections—all built around a set of innovation growth drivers as determined by members annually. Learn more about the IRI here.

Business Operations

Norfolk Southern Pivots to Serve Customers After Bridge Collapse

a group of people standing on the side of a road

It’s been nearly a month since a cargo ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, resulting in six deaths, the destruction of the bridge and the shuttering of an important East Coast port.

  • But thanks to hard behind-the-scenes work by Norfolk Southern railway since the accident, customers aren’t feeling the supply chain pinch the way they otherwise would.

What happened: NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, along with an NAM delegation, visited the Port of Baltimore last Friday to tour Norfolk Southern’s operations there. The port is the largest for vehicle shipping in the U.S. and was the 17th biggest in the nation by total tonnage in 2021.

  • On March 26, the day the Singapore-flagged Dali cargo vessel hit the Key Bridge, Norfolk Southern—which moves 7 million carloads of cargo annually—began strategizing ways to support increased shipping volumes on behalf of its customers. And it’s been doing that ever since.
  • “We often say the weight of the world moves on rail … and it’s true,” Norfolk Southern Chief Marketing Officer and NAM board member Ed Elkins told the NAM during the site visit. “Our ability to serve the market through temporary disruption is really a demonstration of our strategy in action, where we leverage the experience of our railroaders and the strength of our franchise to find a Better Way to provide safe, reliable service.”

Quick adaptation: Norfolk Southern’s strategy for adapting to the closure of Baltimore’s port has included:

  • The launch early this month of a dedicated new service to move freight between the ports of New York and New Jersey and Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal;
  • The facilitation by the railway’s Triple Crown Services Inc.—a door-to-door East Coast truckload transit network—of a dedicated intermodal service for cargo owners who require door-to-door service;
  • The use of “Go Teams,” groups of employees ready for rapid response service and created by Norfolk Southern during the pandemic; and
  • Regional collaboration with the Port of Virginia to leverage service points including the Virginia Inland Port and others.

Reopening: The Port of Baltimore could be back to full functionality by the end of May, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said earlier this month.

  • “The NAM will stay in close coordination with our members regarding supply chain impacts stemming from the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge,” said NAM Director of Transportation, Infrastructure and Labor Policy Max Hyman. “We also remain engaged with leading federal officials on recovery efforts and will continue to support critical infrastructure projects such as the Port of Baltimore.”
Business Operations

How Will AI-Run Factories Be Different?

A common theme in science fiction is the fully automated, robotized factory that manufactures nothing but robots. We’re not there yet, but the fully automated manufacturing plant has already begun making everyday products, including computer parts, electric shavers and CNC machines.

The promise of AI: Now generative AI is promising to take manufacturing automation manufacturing to a new level.

  • At the 2023 Hannover Messe trade fair in Hanover, Germany, Siemens and Microsoft showcased an offering now in use in factories worldwide: a system that uses ChatGPT to generate code for industrial computers known as programmable logic controllers. (For a deeper dive into what this means for manufacturing, read the full version of this article by Tim Hornyak in the Innovation Research Interchange’s Research-Technology Management magazine.)

Why it’s important: The innovation allows users to ask ChatGPT to generate code for specific tasks (i.e., a program to operate the stamping of a part).

  • In addition to saving time and reducing the likelihood of errors, it is capable of understanding commands given in natural language, a characteristic that vastly increases the number of potential users.

Efficient designs: Creating more efficient designs is another early use case for generative AI.

  • General Motors has used the technology to evaluate better designs for some of the roughly 30,000 parts that go into the average car. For example, a standard seat bracket—an important safety component that binds seatbelt fasteners to seats as well as seats to the floor of the car—consists of eight separate pieces welded together.
  • Generative-design software used by GM analyzed the requirements and suggested more than 150 alternative designs, far more than the two or three options a designer can typically offer. GM engineers chose one: a single piece of stainless steel that is 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the conventional part.

Pharma applications: Generative AI looks promising for the pharmaceutical industry, too, given its potential for cutting costs and drug time to market.

  • Merck has used generative AI to create synthetic images of complex but rare defects, a group for which training data are limited. The drugmaker’s quality-control sensors use the synthetic images to watch for novel defects.

Other potential use cases: The possible uses for generative AI in other areas is vast and includes the following:

  • Reducing time and cost involved in creating physical prototypes
  • Automating search and summary of documents related to manufacturing equipment, which would speed repairs and maintenance
  • Accelerating supply chain operations by forecasting demand patterns, minimizing production downtime and suggesting better transport routes
  • Customizing products or solutions to better suit customer needs
  • Forecasting raw materials needs, optimizing production schedules and identifying production inefficiencies

However … Generative AI in manufacturing is not without its challenges. The energy cost to power a single server rack in the U.S. is $30,000 a year.

  • Just one training run for an AI engine consumes the power equivalent of 120 U.S. households per year.
  • With the reliance on large datasets, manufacturers are concerned about data privacy and security, necessitating robust data-protection measures.
  • The integration of AI in manufacturing may require a change in workers’ skillsets and corporate culture.
  • As AI plays a more significant role in decision-making, ethical questions about bias and accountability are emerging.
  • Manufacturers have to ensure that AI systems operate fairly and transparently.

Find out more: AI in manufacturing is just one of the timely topics covered in depth in Research-Technology Management, the journal of the IRI, the NAM’s innovation division. Learn more.

Business Operations

IRI Announces Winner of Prestigious Holland Award

Should manufacturers strive to be “cutting edge”?

That’s the question explored in “Is ‘Cutting-Edge’ Good? Assessing Product Newness Factors in Technologically Turbulent Environments,” the paper that won the Innovation Research Interchange’s 2023 Maurice Holland Award.

  • The honor, named for the IRI’s founder, has been bestowed annually since 1982 by the IRI, the NAM’s innovation division. It goes to the best article published in the IRI’s flagship publication, Research-Technology Management.
  • Winning papers exemplify a commitment to significant work in research and development and innovation management, originality of new management concepts and excellence in presentation.
  • This year’s paper, by Michael Obal, Todd Morgan and Wesley Friske, does all three, according to the IRI. 

Providing value: “In innovation, novelty generates the most attention but does not always translate into better value for the company and customers,” said Research-Technology Management Editor-in-Chief Yat Ming Ooi.

  • “This article tells readers when and to whom novel new products matter and why companies need to strike the right balance to ensure better new product performance.”

Authors respond: Research-Technology Management “is a leading academic journal for innovation-related research, and thus having an opportunity to publish an article in RTM is a significant accomplishment in its own right,” said co-author Friske, an associate professor at Missouri State University’s marketing department. “I am also grateful for the opportunity to share this award with my friends and co-authors, and it is particularly important to me now that Todd is no longer with us.”

  • Co-author Morgan, an assistant professor at Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business, passed away in 2023.
  • “I’m honored to receive the Holland Award from Research-Technology Management alongside Todd and Wes,” said co-author Obal, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Manning School of Business. “All three of us have aimed to publish academic work that impacts practitioners throughout our careers, [so] receiving an award from a journal that specifically focuses on bridging the gap between academia and practice is especially gratifying.”
  • “This paper and award are bittersweet as Todd is no longer with us,” Obal continued. “[But] I am encouraged that his work will continue to have an impact.” 

About the IRI: The IRI offers insights, case studies, research, benchmarks and strategic connections—all built around a set of innovation growth drivers as determined by members annually. Click here to learn more about the IRI.

Business Operations

Baltimore Port Could Be Fully Operational by May’s End

a large ship in the water

The Port of Baltimore could be reopened fully by the end of May, according to POLITICO.

What’s going on: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is aiming to reopen the channel leading to the Port of Baltimore by the end of May, a timeline [Maryland Gov. Wes] Moore confirmed Sunday [on CBS’ “Face the Nation”] is ‘realistic.’”

  • The port has been closed since March 26, when a Singapore-flagged cargo ship hit the Francis Scott Key Bridge, destroying the bridge and killing six construction workers.
  • While Gov. Moore did not give an estimate of the cost to rebuild the bridge, the closure is costing the port about $15 million a day in economic activity, the Baltimore Sun reports.
  • And business analytics group Dun & Bradstreet has estimated the weekly economic impact of the closure on trade at about $1.7 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

“Absolutely committed”: The governor’s remarks came just days after the Office of Management and Budget urged Congress to authorize covering the full cost of rebuilding the bridge, according to Punchbowl News.

  • “My administration is committed—absolutely committed to ensuring that the parties responsible for this tragedy pay to repair the damage,” President Biden said during a visit to the site of the bridge on Friday. “But I also want to be clear: We will support Maryland and Baltimore every step of the way to help you rebuild and maintain all the business and commerce that’s here now.”

The NAM’s view: “The NAM applauds the bipartisan efforts of federal and state officials to reopen the Port of Baltimore and rebuild the Key Bridge,” said NAM Director of Transportation, Infrastructure and Labor Policy Max Hyman. “It’s important to note that reforming our broken permitting system would significantly speed up projects such as this, returning much-needed economic activity and jobs to communities throughout the U.S.”

If you’ve been affected: Manufacturers affected by the bridge collapse and port disruption can access vital resources at the new online Resources and Info Hub of NAM state partner the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

  • The chamber and its partners are committed to helping manufacturers navigate this disruption and get on the path to recovery.
  • Share your thoughts on the disaster and recovery efforts by filling out this survey.
Business Operations

Honda Winds Up a One-of-Kind Wind Tunnel

If the Honda Automotive Labs of Ohio facility is a marvel of technology and design, it is also a $124 million testament to the role of cutting-edge engineering in automobile manufacturing.

  • “When I started 30 years ago, few really cared about aerodynamics,” said Honda Development & Manufacturing of America Full-Scale Wind Tunnel Lead Mike Unger with a wink. “Now everybody wants to talk to me.”

New interest: Though wind tunnel testing dates back many years, the increasing emphasis in recent years on greater fuel efficiency has brought a new wave of interest in the field.

  • Honda owns three full-sized wind tunnels near its global headquarters, as well as several smaller test facilities around the world for examining scale models.
  • But in 2015, Honda—which for decades had been sending its U.S.-based people, cars and tools all over the world for wind tunnel testing or else booking time at third party-owned facilities in America—began mulling constructing a North American wind tunnel, too.

Behold, HALO: The result was HALO, unveiled in 2022 in a 110,000-square-foot facility in East Liberty, Ohio.

  • To make it, the company had gathered its “wind tunnel road warriors”—Honda team members who boasted decades of combined experience in the world’s most advanced research facilities—and asked them how they’d do it better.
  • Among their top requests was the need for better, faster communications with the designers and builders of the cars they were testing. To facilitate this, HALO was strategically located just across from a Honda development center and a mere 10-minute drive from two manufacturing plants (including the Marysville, Ohio, facility where Honda has been building automobiles since 1982).

Wind-tested, Honda approved: Every new Honda passenger vehicle model undergoes extensive aerodynamic and acoustic testing during its design phase, and further changes are often made during the manufacturing process. Race cars, meanwhile, are tested primarily with an eye to managing the downforce caused by passing air.

The new digs: Now, instead of hashing out design challenges across oceans, everyone sits side-by-side in the same control room.

The state-of-the-art site also boasts a fully outfitted machine shop, custom loading bays and a car wash (the last a recommendation of Honda engineers who had more than once found themselves outside a wind tunnel with a dusty test car and a bucket of soapy water).

  • “Absolutely everything was designed with intention,” said HALO Business Strategy Lead Chris Combs.

The details: The tunnel itself is an elaborately engineered circuit. It comprises a settling chamber, a heat exchanger the size of a movie screen and a safety grill to catch any debris that might come loose and threaten HALO’s pulmonary system: a colossal, 6,700-horsepower fan with 12 hollow carbon fiber blades that are 26 feet long each.

  • Turning at 250 rotations per minute, the fan drives air through the tunnel and into an anechoic chamber.
  • On a recent day, that chamber held both a race car (for downforce testing) and an SUV from the plant across the field (for acoustic work).

Saving time: At most wind tunnels, switching from aerodynamic work to acoustic testing takes nearly two hours. At the HALO wind tunnel, however, technicians swapped the Indy car for the SUV and reconfigured the test chamber in about 20 minutes.

  • When it designed the facility, Honda focused on “simple things like that—things that really promote efficiency,” said HALO Operations Manager Jimmy Przeklasa.

Quiet and furry: HALO’s test chamber is lined with acoustic tiles and “teddy bear fur,” a soft, sound-absorbing material.

  • Even with the wind blowing, the room is so quiet that technicians working inside must don harnesses to prevent them from stepping into a gale they can neither see nor hear.
  • A software system translates the wind noises into visuals, similar to the way a weather radar displays a moving storm.

Complex but simpleTechnologically and visually dazzling, the HALO wind tunnel can seem like a futuristic fever dream: color-coded maps of the whistling wind, a two-story fan more finely tuned than a jet engine and a scale capable of sensing a breeze.

  • In fact, from its inception, the goal of creating the HALO wind tunnel was simple: make cutting-edge aerodynamic and acoustic research as easy, intuitive and cost-effective as possible. And Honda’s done it.

The last word: “This is the latest and the greatest,” Unger said. “This place is unmatched.”

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