Nissans Got New Mock Assembly Lines for Overseas Glitches

By: RyanThomas

Like any other auto facility, robots are humming and swinging gigantic mechanical arms. But the assembly lines at Nissan's new Global Production Engineering Center is apart from the usual. The robots are there for testing purposes only.

The new mock assembly lines, shown to reporters Tuesday, are part of the Nissan Motor Co.'s effort to work out possible twists in production for the 30 new model launches that the automaker is planning for this fiscal year through March 2008. The new models are essential to the Japanese automaker's attempt to overturn its declining sales, and the center's tests will be applied to all future global productions.

And the new $42 million center in Zama city, west of Tokyo, which opened last year, is meant to guarantee quality notwithstanding the place of production of the vehicles, whether it would be in India, Russia or the United States. "We are about to go on a major offensive," said Senior Vice President Toshiharu Sakai. In the past, things have gone wrong in production, such as when a design for an auto part that looked right in its digital design stages turned out not to fit properly, he added. The testing center is meant to pre-empt such problems.

Nissan, which runs 26 vehicle plants around the world, has been producing more cars outside Japan than within the country since 2003. Testing production in advance on mock assembly lines may help fine-tune production and improve product quality, said Shozo Takata, the science and engineering professor at Waseda University. "It could serve the purpose of separating problems at the design stage from problems at the production stage," he added. "That tends to be meaningful."

Nissan has acknowledged that quality has sometimes suffered in recent years abroad, including its new plant in Canton, Mississippi. But Sakai and other Nissan officials are eager to catch potential glitches early in the game. Auto parts such as, , radiators, engines, shocks and more are now being tested to ensure quality.

With thirty models going into production worldwide in twelve months, production for three or more models needs to be tested a month - quite a challenge for the center, Sakai said. When problems are found, they are immediately corrected. The new production schemes go to the plants, often as digital data.

William Schwartz, the Executive Vice President of TBM Consulting Group, which advises companies on production methods, said that other Japanese automakers, including the Toyota Motor Corp. and the Honda Motor Co., test out production methods for experimentation and changes before sent to full-scale production. "The goal of production preparation is to create the best method with the least amount of waste. Worker productivity is improved regardless of the country or culture," he said.

Nissan Executive Vice President Hidetoshi Imazu said that the center helps cut the time for development and production preparation. "It is important that Nissan maintains the high levels of quality that our customers expect," he said.

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