IWAKI, Japan -- When the earthquake hit, V-6 engines tumbled off assembly lines, air ducts crashed like falling trees, and the factory floor sank as much as 4 inches.
Nissan Motor Co.'s ravaged Iwaki engine plant became a symbol of the destruction done to Japan's auto industry by the 9.0-magnitude quake centered just north of here March 11.
But two months later Iwaki is up again and capable of full capacity, its only limitation being a sporadic supply of parts. And far from being spooked by the tectonic time bomb that is Japan, Nissan is planning major investments to make all its plants here more resistant to future quakes.
During a press tour of the engine plant last week, CEO Carlos Ghosn said his company is investing ¥3.0 billion, or about $36.9 million, in Iwaki alone to make it more quakeproof. And the lessons learned here will be applied to Nissan's other plants.
"I don't think we can eliminate the risks," Ghosn said. "I think we can better protect the company."
The ground will be reinforced under factory floors. Steel pylons are being wedged next to machinery to keep it in place. Hanging equipment is being reinforced so it stays put.
"It was a learning experience for us," Ghosn said. "There are a lot of technical changes we made after the earthquake in terms of processes and equipment."
If such measures had been done before the March 11 disaster, they might have trimmed three weeks off Iwaki's down time. The plant was offline until April 18 and was restored to full annual capacity of 560,000 units on May 17, though current output is only half that level.
The Iwaki factory was built in 1994 and employs around 640 people. It builds Nissan's VQ V-6 engine for the Infiniti G and M series, the Nissan Murano crossover and 370Z sports car.
Today, the factory floor is a quilt of concrete patches mending cracks where the earth heaved. Whole sections either lifted or sank, leaving jarring 4-inch steps in places.
Ghosn said Nissan also will be modifying its parts sourcing in response to the quake experience.
Most Nissan parts are sourced locally, and most suppliers have backup sourcing plans in case of emergency. That doesn't need to change, Ghosn said. But some suppliers still source certain components entirely from only one plant. Nissan will attempt to reduce such risks.
"If one supplier is the only supplier, and he supplies from only one plant, what we will be asking is for alternate sourcing," Ghosn said.
"It doesn't mean we'll be asking for him to produce in two locations. But we'll ask him for his plan for how to divert sourcing if something happens."