The flexible production approach will allow Nissan to produce internal combustion engine, e-POWER series hybrids and pure electric.

Nissan announced a new plant technology rollout, which starts with 33 billion yen ($302 million) investment at the Tochigi Plant in Japan and will then be rolled out across factories globally.

The Japanese manufacturer has decided to introduce new production methods and a flexible production approach "to build electrified, intelligent and connected" cars.

"This latest investment represents a necessary rethinking of conventional carmaking and tackles the structural and technical challenges of producing vehicles that will lead the industry in a new era of electrification and intelligence."

Hideyuki Sakamoto, Nissan’s executive vice president for manufacturing and supply chain management said:

“We’re facing an unprecedented evolution in the capabilities of our vehicles. Our job is to make this evolution a reality by rethinking how we build cars. This will also mean shifting the efforts of our expert technicians from techniques they’ve already mastered to new, unexplored areas.”

For us, the most important part is about the intention to use the “universal powertrain mounting system”, which enables Nissan to produce internal combustion engine, e-POWER series hybrids and pure electric versions of particular models on the same line in a highly automated fashion.

In other words, there might be no all-electric only manufacturing lines in the case of Nissan for the near-term, which is the case of Volkswagen MEB-based plants, for example.

Gallery: Nissan new production methods

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Sealing is generally done by experts, as the necessary dexterity and speed can be acquired through training but isn’t easy to replicate. In addition to automating the process of applying sealant, Nissan’s engineers analyzed the precise movements and gestures of trained workers when smoothing and finishing sealant, and calculated the pressure applied at each stage. Next, they converted this information to instructions for robots and made further refinements through extensive trial and error.

As a result, robots can now apply and finish sealant quickly and precisely along even the most complex of seams.

Making better workplaces with robots

Robots can now perform certain strenuous tasks efficiently, freeing workers to perform more valuable jobs elsewhere on the line. This also improves ergonomics, making factories easier places to work.

One example is the installation of a headliner, the overhead layer of material on the inside of a car’s roof.

Workers must enter each vehicle’s cabin to perform this physically demanding job. The task has become even harder as cars come with more connected features, adding to the number of devices in and around the headliners.

Nissan’s solution is to use robots to insert the headliner through the front of the vehicle and then fasten it. Sensors monitor changes in pressure and use a proprietary logic system to determine when the clips have snapped securely into place.

Lower environmental impact

Nissan is also working to reduce the environmental impact of building cars. Changes in the painting process are especially noticeable.

Car bodies must usually be painted at high temperatures, because the viscosity of paint is hard to control at lower temperatures. By contrast, bumpers are made of plastic, so they need to be painted at low temperatures. This requires two separate painting processes for one vehicle.

Nissan has developed a water-based paint that maintains the right viscosity at low temperatures, so that bodies and bumpers can be painted together. This will cut carbon dioxide emissions from the process by 25%.

Nissan will also use a water-free painting booth that makes it possible to collect all waste paint and reuse it in other production processes.

“These new technologies and innovations are at the heart of the company’s competitiveness,” said Sakamoto. “They will be rolled out globally in the coming years, underpinning the future of Nissan Intelligent Mobility and reinforcing our status as a leader in technology.”