Nissan's plant in Sunderland, England, is continually identified as Europe's most productive car factory, but plant boss Colin Dodge is even more proud of Sunderland's ability to cope with unpredictable market demands.
Under Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn's leadership the Sunderland factory has gone through what Dodge terms, "somewhat of a culture shock"- a reference to a new approach to production planning.
In the past, the plant would fix a line speed three months ahead and stick to it. This delivered production stability but little responsiveness to real demand fluctuations. Flexibility is now the key.
"Last year I had 60 volume requests - more than one a week - to change either the country or model mix that we were producing," Dodge says.
Line speed is now typically fixed on a weekly basis although some mid-week changes are still made.
This production schedule volatility has created extra challenges for suppliers and Dodge acknowledges there have been a few stumbles here and there as suppliers have striven to keep up.
Suppliers typically work to a "D minus 6" schedule, where D is the part delivery date and 6 is the point at which the factory has to commit to production. In other words, the next six days of a supplier's schedule should be fixed and relate to customer demand, although some flexibility in this schedule seems to be needed.
As the volume and model mix grows through 2006 and 2007, these flexibility demands will multiply.