Written by Frank Onochie; a current student on Operations, Logistics and Supply Chain Management MSc.
There was certainly a lot of anticipation ahead of the Nissan trip; with much of it produced by the many Nissan references from lecturers and case studies during lectures. Also, I currently live in Sunderland, relatively close to the plant and although I’ve not visited it, I’ve heard much about its regional economic significance and contribution.
On our arrival to Nissan, we were all surprised by the sheer physical scale of this huge manufacturing site. We were keen to explore and our day started with an introduction, a full safety briefing, and an introduction to two engineers who had been with Nissan from it first starting production. We were then divided into two teams and after team pictures in our safety gear we were on our way.
Having realised that that the complex looked extremely large from the outside, it was not until we walked into the manufacturing area that I really understand the scale of this operation. It was also brought to my attention that Nissan produce both the Nissan range of cars as well as the Infinity range.
The tour started off in the paints section, moved on to the body-work section and after a short break, we finally had a tour of the final assembly and testing line. It was eye opening seeing what goes into the entire manufacturing process. Rolls of sheet aluminium being fabricated and welded to become chassis frames, painted and assembled on the assembly line with all the components and parts with efficiency and finesse.
It was only the fourth teaching week of the semester however I was impressed by how much of the theoretical content I had already been taught during lectures was applicable and relatable to this industry visit. It seemed a harmonious collaboration between the factory operators and the automated robots, which executed the more repetitive technical tasks. The operators were enthusiastic and enjoying their work; the camaraderie between them was quite evident. I was also impressed with the emphasis that Nissan placed on sustainability in all aspects of their manufacturing practice in terms of the re-use of waste material, use of solar energy, re-use of waste water, their empowerment of local supplier businesses and the benefits afforded to their workers.
The two main points that I personally took away from the visit, included the importance of micro-planning as well as the concept of “Kaizen” (continuous improvement). We were informed that the plant produces approximately 500,000 cars per year and as such, minor improvements in processes have the potential to dramatically impact on operational efficiency, performance and profitability.
The engineers we spoke to were also above to give us a unique insight to the development of total production maintenance, total flow management and Japanese manufacturing philosophies.
All in all, it was a very valuable experience and my advice to anyone going on the tour in future is to make sure you wear comfortable shoes…