KAMINO KAWA, Japan – Nissan’s “smart factory” has hardly any human workers. The robots do the work, including welding and assembly. They do the paint jobs and inspect their own paint jobs.
“Until now, people had to make production adjustments through experience, but now robots with artificial intelligence, which analyze the collected data, can do it. The technology has developed to that level,” said the executive vice president of Nissan, Hideyuki Sakamoto, during a tour. of the Ariya sport utility vehicle production line at its Tochigi plant on Friday.
The factory, on the outskirts of Tokyo, will be operational sometime before April, according to Nissan Motor Co.
Its assembly line is designed for all three types of models – electric; e-Power, which has an engine and a motor, and those that run on a normal combustion engine, can be built on the same line. Each vehicle is equipped with the proper powertrain as it moves along the line.
Factory workers can focus on more skilled work, such as analyzing data collected by robots and maintaining equipment.
All automakers are working on robotic technology that can increase adaptability and enable them to respond quickly to market demand.
During the tour, giant mechanical arms equipped with large screens illuminated the car’s surfaces from various angles so that the cameras could detect the smallest defects.
A mechanism quickly wrapped wires around a metal object that looked like a giant spool, a part of the motor that Nissan is using to replace magnets now used in electric vehicles. The company says the innovation eliminates the need for rare earth materials, reducing costs.
Nissan said the innovations being tested in Tochigi will be rolled out gradually at its other global plants, including the factories of French alliance partner Renault.
Sakamoto said it was difficult to estimate exactly how much the fully automated assembly line will save.
But he said manufacturing must adapt to a labor shortage, the coronavirus pandemic and reduce carbon emissions to help mitigate climate change.
Nissan says that by 2050 it hopes to achieve carbon neutrality in all its operations and the life cycle of its products, which includes the extraction, manufacture, use and recycling of raw materials.
A new type of paint that allows vehicle bodies and bumpers to be painted and baked simultaneously reduces energy consumption by 25%, the company says.
Before, vehicle bodies, which are made of aluminum, and plastic bumpers had to be painted separately at different temperatures.
Nissan expects to regain profitability this fiscal year, but like other automakers, it is grappling with a shortage of parts caused by the pandemic. Its brand was affected by a scandal centered on its former president, Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested in Japan on charges of financial misconduct in 2018.