Honda Motor Co. wanted to give its newest Civic an eye-catching profile to help it compete for the attention and dollars of young car buyers.
The resulting design not only changed the car's look, but also the way Honda's in-house plastics operation makes its part of the vehicle.
The car now sports a long, sleek front end with a sloping windshield. To match the glass, Honda designers came up with a larger instrument panel, but also faced engineering concerns about whether the component would be prone to squeaks and rattles from various connection points.
The instrument panel extends for about 25 inches between the windshield and the driver on the new Civic, compared with 16 inches on the old model.
Honda replaced mechanical connections on the instrument panel that previously used screws with a vibration welding system that it said improves manufacturing as well as sound quality.
``We understand the importance of this,'' engineer Chris Poland with Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. said during a Sept. 15 interview at Honda's East Liberty plant.
``This is one way that we do things, the way we can look at something during planning and design for it.''
Unlike the bulk of automakers, Honda opts for its own in-house injection molding to produce instrument panels and bumpers - so it has greater control over two areas of the car that consumers see and interact with regularly, executives said.
East Liberty has two 4,400-ton injection molding presses making instrument panels and bumpers for the Civic and the Element sport utility vehicle. A third 4,000-ton press will be added next year.
Honda first began using vibration welding for instrument panels on the Accord made in nearby Marysville, Ohio, said Shad Higbee, engineering coordinator for plastic injection at the East Liberty facility.
The swap to welding from mechanical connections showed an immediate improvement in squeak and rattle problems.
Screws can come loose or fall into empty cavities, he said, and with 20 of them used to connect the blow molded duct work to the old Civic instrument panel, there were plenty of opportunities for those problem spots.
The new Civic's instrument panel is deeper than the dashboard on the old model. There is also an added feature - an upper tier of the instrument panel providing readouts of the most important information.
It also has a five-piece, blow molded duct system that crosses beneath the length of the dash, so Honda engineers wanted to use the vibration welding system first put onto the Accord in the new Civic, Poland said.
The Civic may be a low-cost car - starting at less than $15,000 - but many of its buyers are young people who spend a lot of time fine-tuning their cars, and they are very knowledgeable about them, he said.
The East Liberty plant invested in a new Bielomatik welding system. The resulting panel has 43 separate weld points, and the part is finished in 45 seconds, Higbee said. That not only decreases squeaks and rattles, but also is more efficient, Higbee said.
The injection molding operations from Honda's Alliston, Ontario, assembly plant now are learning the vibration welding system from East Liberty.
``Our associates are continually looking for ways to improve manufacturing processes,'' said John Adams, general manager for manufacturing and executive vice president of Honda of America Manufacturing.
``New model launches provide the best opportunity to improve operations.''
Welding is not the only change for the new Civic.
The car is produced in 13 different countries. In response to end-of-life recycling programs in Europe and Japan, the Tokyo-based carmaker swapped out a PVC skin on the instrument panel, replacing it with a thermoplastic polyolefin panel. Honda also changed an under-body sound-deadening system from PVC to acrylic, according to Mark Parfumi of Honda research and development.