Quake-damaged Nissan factory rebuilt to be more efficient
Photo credit: Hans Greimel
IWAKI, Japan -- A year after Japan's earthquake took Nissan Motor Co.'s Iwaki engine plant offline, the company is still repairing damage. But instead of just making the factory more quake-resistant, Nissan also wants to make it more efficient.
Last year's March 11 quake warped extensive sections of the factory floor, sinking parts of the floor as much as 6 inches. Now Nissan is in the final stage of repairs to return the V-6 engine plant to normal operations in August.
Among Nissan's factories, Iwaki suffered the most extensive damage from the quake. The plant, which makes engines for many Infiniti vehicles bound for North America, became a key bottleneck in the company's efforts to restore production after the quake.
Its repair and reinforcement to withstand another quake illustrate the rebuilding taking place across the Japanese auto industry.
Photo credit: Hans Greimel
On Monday, CEO Carlos Ghosn toured the plant, surveying areas of buckled floor. Cylinder-head and crankshaft lines that had been there have been moved to different areas of the factory while the original foundations are being reinforced.
"The people in the plant did not only concentrate on bringing it back into production, but I've seen today many examples where they are focusing on improving the performance of the plant," Ghosn said. "It's not only about the recovery. It's about improving the quality of the plant. They are working also on cost competitiveness."
During the factory's reconstruction, Ghosn said, plant managers had re-engineered one manufacturing process to cut costs more than 80 percent. Meanwhile, reinforced foundations will mean the plant will better weather future quakes and stay online.
The Iwaki factory was built in 1994. It makes Nissan's VQ V-6 engine for the Infiniti G and M series, the Nissan Murano crossover and 370Z sports car.
Nissan restored full output at the Iwaki plant on May 17. But it did so mostly through ingenious jury-rigging and stopgaps, such as using spanners to bridge the gaps in the warped floors to make sure all machinery was level.
Meanwhile, Nissan is accelerating earthquake countermeasures that already were earmarked for its other factories before last year's 9.0-magnitude temblor, Ghosn said.
Japan's industrial heartland, a region between Tokyo and Nagoya that includes Nissan's headquarters, technical center and many manufacturing plants, is a quake-prone region that scientists believe likely will be the epicenter of Japan's next big earthquake.
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