Nissan has unveiled a production line at its Tochigi Plant featuring the Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative, which supports the manufacture of next-generation vehicles using innovative technologies and contributes to attaining carbon neutrality.
“The automotive industry is in a period of great change and solving the global challenge of climate change is urgent,” said Hideyuki Sakamoto, Nissan’s Executive Vice President for Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management. “We see this as an opportunity to build the strength of monozukuri (manufacturing), a part of our DNA, to develop and apply innovative technologies to overcome the challenges we face.”
Nissan said since its foundation, the company has honed its ability to manufacture vehicles through high quality and highly efficient production processes and the skills of the company’s takumi (master technicians). However, the business environment surrounding manufacturing is undergoing major changes. In Japan, Nissan believes companies need to move away from conventional labour-intensive manufacturing to cope with the country’s aging society and chronic labour shortages, while climate change and pandemics such as COVID-19 also need to be managed.
At the same time, industry trends in electrification, vehicle intelligence and connected technologies are making vehicle structure and functionality more advanced and complex.
Nissan said it introduced the Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative at its Tochigi Plant to respond to these needs and trends. Nissan Intelligent Factory enables Nissan to:
- Use robots that have “inherited the skills of takumi” to manufacture next-generation vehicles of the highest quality
- Create an improved environment where a wide range of people can work comfortably
- Create a zero-emission production system, thereby accelerating efforts to achieve a decarbonised society
The Tochigi Plant will begin applying the processes of the Nissan Intelligent Factory to Nissan’s all-new Ariya crossover electric vehicle first, which is scheduled to start production by the end of March 2022.
INTELLIGENT FACTORY TECHNOLOGIES
Nissan revealed a number of areas where innovative technologies will be implemented in its pursuit of carbon neutrality. Many of them relate to mechanical components or areas, such as its new Simultaneous Underfloor Mounting Operation (SUMO) where multiple powertrain components that were conventionally mounted through multiple labour-intensive processes will now be batch-mounted from a pallet. The two-layer structure of the pallet, divided into front, centre and rear, allows 27 different module combinations (3 by 3 by 3) in a single facility and will use real-time vehicle position measurement and highly accurate (±0.05-millimetre) component position correction.
However, Nissan also announced multiple improvements to body and paint:
- Integrated painting and baking of bodies and bumpers: Nissan will use newly developed waterborne paint that cures at lower temperatures than before, allowing the company to combine the painting and curing of metal bodies and resin bumpers in one process. Currently, Nissan processes the two pieces separately, painting the body and curing it at 140°C while painting bumpers and curing them at 85°C. With the Ariya, Nissan said it will paint and cure both of them at the same time, with curing happening at 85°C. The company said the process results in a world top-level water-based paint coating and reduces energy consumption by 25 percent.
- Dry paint booths utilizing highly efficient air recycling: Nissan’s new paint booths use dry powder to absorb floating paint mist for reuse. The capture and reuse of such unused paint waste contributes to waste reduction efforts while also reducing energy consumption by 25 percent.
- Automated paint inspection: Nissan’s new paint inspection system introduces multiple robots that inspect the body and bumpers using “zebra lighting”, which flashes light from different angles and detects if the light reflects the wrong way to determine paint flaws. The company says this achieves “100 per cent detection of dust and debris up to 0.3 millimetres in diameter”, with inspection results saved in a centralised management system for enhanced traceability. Human inspectors will be able to confirm inspection results with a smartphone strapped to their arms if needed.
Nissan also announced a roadmap to achieve carbon neutrality across its production plants around the world and the life cycle of its products by 2050.
The company aims to achieve carbon neutrality in manufacturing by promoting innovations to support higher productivity in vehicle assembly, starting with the Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative, and by improving energy and materials efficiencies at plants. Plant equipment is to be fully electrified by 2050 through introducing innovative production technologies and by reducing energy use. To achieve carbon neutrality at production plants, all electricity used will be generated from renewable energy sources and/or generated with on-site fuel cells that use alternative fuels.
“By rolling out the Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative globally, starting at the Tochigi Plant, we will more flexibly, efficiently and effectively manufacture next-generation vehicles for a decarbonised society. We will also continue to drive innovation in manufacturing to enrich people’s lives and to support Nissan’s future growth,” Sakamoto said.