Kamino Kawa: Nissan’s “intelligent factory” has hardly any human workers. Robots do work including welding and mounting. They do paint work and inspect their own paint jobs.
“Until now, people had to make production adjustments through experience, but now robots with artificial intelligence are able to analyze the collected data. The technology has evolved to that level,” Nissan executive vice president Hideyuki Sakamoto said Friday. during a tour of the production line for the Aria sport-utility vehicle at its Tochigi plant.
The factory, located on the outskirts of Tokyo, is scheduled to open sometime before April, according to Nissan Motor Co.
Its assembly line is designed in such a way that all three types of models – electric; E-Power, which consists of both a motor and an engine, and which is powered by a regular combustion engine – can be built on a single line. Each vehicle is equipped with the right powertrain as it moves along the line.
Factory workers can focus on more efficient work such as analyzing data collected by robots, and maintaining equipment.
All automakers are working on robotic technology that can enhance adaptability and enable them to respond faster to market demand.
During the tour, giant mechanical arms equipped with large displays shed light from the displays on the surfaces of the car from different angles so that the cameras could detect even the tiniest of imperfections.
A mechanism quickly wound wires around a metal object that looks like a giant spool, a motor part that Nissan is now using to replace magnets used in electric vehicles. The company says the innovation eliminates the need for rare earth materials, cutting costs.
Nissan said the innovations being tested at Tochigi will be gradually introduced to its other global plants, including those of French alliance partner Renault.
Sakamoto said it’s hard to predict how much a fully automated assembly line would save.
But he said manufacturing needs to reduce carbon emissions to help mitigate labor shortages, the coronavirus pandemic, and climate change.
Nissan says that by 2050 it expects to achieve carbon neutrality across its operations and the life cycle of its products, which includes the extraction, manufacturing, use and recycling of raw materials.
The company says a new type of paint that enables vehicles’ bodies and bumpers to be painted and baked together, reducing energy consumption by up to 25%.
Prior to this, vehicle bodies, which have aluminum and plastic bumpers, had to be painted differently at different temperatures.
Nissan is expecting profits again this fiscal year, but like other automakers, it is grappling with parts shortages caused by the pandemic. Its brand took a hit from a scandal centered on its former president, Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested in Japan in 2018 on financial misconduct charges.