BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Nissan Motor Corp. is quickly and quietly closing in on the ability to take new models from design to production in a single year.
The startling speed-up in the traditionally laborious process of developing vehicles has occurred in just five years at Nissan.
As recently as 1994, Nissan pegged its own new-vehicle development time at 29 months to go from clay model to assemblyline. By last year, the company had shortened the process to 19 months. And this year in Japan, Nissan turned out its new Tino just 15 months after freezing the clay model.
15 MONTHS IS NEW STANDARD
'Fifteen months will be the new standard for us,' reports Karra Reddy, director of engineering for body and stamping at Nissan's U.S. manufacturing arm, Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. 'It has been a gradual improvement for us, but we have been trying to think and do things differently here.'
Reddy spoke last week at the SAE Southern Automotive Manufacturing Conference and Exposition in Birmingham, Ala.
Last year, Nissan began using a shortened development procedure that chops 10 months out of the old way of doing things.
Previously, Nissan relied on two development trials and three production trials, each requiring up to three months. Development trials are intended to validate the vehicle's design, while production trials validate the manufacturing process, tooling and the final product quality.
By embracing 3-dimensional simulations of its vehicles, parts, tooling and factory processes, Nissan is now able to perform much of its validation on computer before attempting it in the real world.
Now Nissan uses just one development trial and two production trials.
'We eliminated months of work that way,' Reddy said.
The change means that Nissan produces fewer prototype parts during the project. In its most recent projects, Nissan has eliminated 60 percent of the prototypes it previously required.
Although it was a minor project for the automaker, the new Frontier-based Crew Cab pickup took just 13 months to go from clay model to assembly line as a result of the changes.
Nissan also shaved its schedule by creating its stamping dies through three-dimensional computer drafting. The software can detect design flaws before the dies are cut.
'It used to take 10 months to create a single stamping die for a major body panel,' Reddy said. 'We can now do it in five months.'
Nissan will put all the new procedures to use next year when it begins developing the next Altima at its Smyrna, Tenn., manufacturing center.