The first phase of a $160 million expansion at Nissan’s plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, is scheduled to come on line this year with completion of other phases to follow next year.
The Smyrna plant turned out more than 630, 000 vehicles in 2015, more than any other Southeastern automotive operation. But volume isn’t the only thing that has increased since the facility went into operation in 1983. “Not only did we grow volume but we also grew complexity, ” says Mike Steck, vice president of supply chain management for Nissan Americas.
“We introduced new models in the Smyrna facility. Compounding that was the complexity among those models for different markets, exporting our cars to markets we previously weren’t doing. With that, we have a lot more of what I would call buildable combinations, of vehicles being built and shipped to different destinations.”
The Smyrna plant builds the Altima, Maxima and LEAF in one system and the Rogue, Infiniti QX60 and Pathfinder in the other system. “There aren’t many systems that have six different models being built at the same facility, and there aren’t a lot of facilities building at our volume level, either, ” Steck says.
“There’s a good side and a bad side to that. If there’s a downturn in one segment, we have the flexibility to produce other models, ” he says. “The plant has to be nimble in being able to deal with that. But it’s complex, and with all of that comes a bigger challenge of managing the parts complexity.”
The expansion is creating space within the plant to rearrange the flow of materials for more efficiency. Says Steck: “The days of having all the material at the line side and having the operator choose from the appropriate parts bin that he needs for the particular model or market that he’s building, those days are pretty much over.
“It’s not possible for us to have a line side worker to have 10 different part variations of every single commodity sitting at the line side and being able to deal with that. It’s just not efficient.
“So, we’ve done more and more kitting and presentation of that material to the line side operator such that we’ve optimized his job. He’s not spending time chasing parts down. He’s spending value-added time installing parts of the vehicle. To do all that, to drive that kitting, we’ve made it such that all the parts to do that job are closer to the worker and that kit is customized for that particular vehicle they’re building, that color interior, that technology package, that sun roof, or whatever you have.”
A major part of the expansion project is a logistics center that will replace several warehouses Nissan currently uses. The center will consolidate incoming parts and outgoing containers. Steck says. “Costs are less, shuttling distances are less and having it all under one roof should make it easier to manage to cope with changes in volume and things like that when we have to.”
The expansion project also will create enough green space for suppliers to maintain a presence on the Nissan site. “A supplier on our site or next to us lowers the logistics cost compared to another state or what have you, ” Steck says. “This project is satisfying multiple needs at one time.” ν
Text by Dave Helms