NMUK is located in Washington area of Sunderland, Tyne & Wear, in North East England, at the junction of the A19 and A1231 Sunderland Highway trunk roads. The factory is adjacent to the Nissan Distribution Centre (NDS) and a number of related suppliers. The landscaped NMUK site incorporates conservation areas, such as ponds, lakes and woodland.
In 2005, six 200ft wind turbines were installed at the edge of the site at a cost of £1.1 million. It was expected up to 10% of the plant's overall power needs could be met through these turbines, eliminating 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This impact was temporarily reduced as, in December 2005, one of the turbines caught fire and was destroyed. This caused disruption on local roads and forced the closure of the other turbines for a number of weeks The turbine was replaced in November 2006.
In February 1984, Nissan and the British Government signed an agreement to build a car plant in the UK. The following month, a 799-acre greenfield site in Sunderland was chosen. As an incentive, the land was offered to Nissan at agricultural prices; around £1,800 per acre. The North East region of England had recently undergone a period of industrial decline, with the closure of most of the shipyards on the Tyne and Wear, and the closure of many coal mines on the once prosperous Durham coalfield. The high unemployment this caused meant Nissan had a large, eager, manufacturing-skilled workforce to draw upon. The site, once the Sunderland Airfield, was close to large ports on the Tyne and Tees, within easy driving distance of the international Newcastle Airport, and close to major trunk roads such as the A1 and A19. The established company became known as Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd, or NMUK. A ground breaking ceremony took place in July, and work began on the site in November 1984, by building contractors Sir Robert McAlpine.
One of Nissan's more controversial demands during the talks was that the plant be single-union. This was unprecedented in UK industry. In April 1985, an agreement was reached with the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU). Critics argue that this means the plant workforce is weakly represented. Nissan argues that as a result of the single-union agreement, its workforce is much more flexible than at other plants, and it points to the fact that not a single minute has been lost to industrial disputes at the factory.
In December 1985, McAlpine handed over the completed factory building to Nissan for the installation of machinery and factory components. The building phase had been completed ahead of schedule. In July 1986, phase 1 of the plant construction was completed, and the first Bluebird rolled off the production line. That Bluebird is currently shown at the Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. In September 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher officially opened the plant alongside Nissan president Yutaka Kume. At this point, the factory consisted of a Body, Paint and Final Assembly Line. In February 1987, NMUK became the sole supplier of Bluebirds to the UK market. In the same month, work on phase 2 of the factory began. In 1988, Plastics moulding and Engine assembly began. In May 1990, phase 2 of the plant construction was completed. The Bluebird model was retired and the Primera went into production. In 1991, NMUK turned its first profit of £18.4 million, and in April, NMUK was awarded 'British Manufacturer' status by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
In August 1992, production of the Micra began as the plant began to produce two models simultaneously. The Micra was an instant success; in August it was voted "European Car of the Year 1993".
The Primera model was revised in 1995, and production began in January 1996, with the first customers taking delivery of their cars approximately seven months later.
In January 2000, NMUK became a three-model plant for the first time with the production of the MK2 Almera. This remained in production until November 2006, when it was axed in favour of the Japanese-built Versa - which, as of March 2008, has yet to go on sale in the UK. Meanwhile, production of the Nissan Qashqai crossover began at NMUK on 4 December 2006 on the production line left vacant following the Almera's demise.
The Primera underwent another model change, and NMUK won the contract to continue building the car. Production began in December 2001. The model is still in production as of 2008, but was withdrawn from the British market in late 2006 due to falling sales. Its successor is due in 2008, but Nissan has yet to confirm whether this car will be sold in the UK, or even where it will be built. At one stage, it was suggested that the Primera would be built alongside the Renault Laguna in France, but these have yet to be confirmed. It has also been rumoured that the new Primera will be based on the Nissan Altima, though the truth about the car's name and production facility remains unconfirmed.
NMUK won the contract to build the revised Micra, and production began in November 2002. Production of the first car was witnessed in a ceremony attended by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When Ghosn took over the CEO position, he remarked the plant as one of the most productive of all plants, therefore saving it from closure.
NMUK won the contract to build the 'Coupe & Cabriolet' (C+C) edition of the Micra in December 2003; production began in late 2005.
In late 2004 NMUK announced it had won the contract to built the Note, a 5-door hatchback. and a short time later in February 2005, Nissan announced the production version of the quirkily-styled 4x4 crossover Qashqai concept car would be built at NMUK. Note production began in January 2006.
This increased production meant that by 2007, NMUK would be producing over 400,000 vehicle per year, up from the 2003 figure of 330,000.
Since the building of NMUK was announced in 1984, over £2.1 billion has been invested in the site.
The Qashqai went into production at NMUK in December 2006, with sales beginning three months later. In its first year, Qashqai sold nearly 150,000 units across Europe, with a back-order of 54,000 vehicles still to produce. Although due to poor quality in building the Qashqai at the Sunderland plant, a decision was made to cease making the Japanese export version of the car, and move production to Japan. It was said that poor trim quality, leaking windows and other various quality issues contributed to this.
NMUK is split into three logical areas: Body Assembly, Paint and Final Assembly. Each is further broken down into areas known as 'shops'.
The first shop in the manufacturing process, the Press Shop is responsible for pressing the outer and inner body panels of the vehicle. NMUK houses a 5,000 tonne press capable of pressing two panels simultaneously - one of only two in use in any Nissan plant.
Linked directly to the Press Shop, the Body Shop is a highly-automated section of the factory with over 500 robots in operation. Pressed-panels are welded together to create complete body shells.
Body shells are painted in a semi-clean environment using water-based paint and solvent based. Shells are dipped in chemical tanks to cleanse them, before entering spray-booths. The painted shells are then dried in large, open ovens.
1.2, 1.4 and 1.8 litre petrol engines are built on-site on the Unit Assembly line. The cylinder heads are machined along the machining line before being shipped to the Assembly line. The Unit Shop contains its own engine testing areas. Diesel engines are no longer produced at NMUK.
A second welding facility costing over £5m is currently being built to ease demand on the Axle Shop for Qashqai.
Trim & Chassis
There are two parallel assembly lines in NMUK; Line 2 currently handles Micra , the Micra C+C and Note. Line 1 handles the Qashqai . Painted bodies are stored in a large holding area, and are released in a specific scheduled sequence. They are brought into Trim & Chassis on suspended cradles. Each body moves through the assembly line and is fitted with interior (Trim), and exterior (Chassis) components. At one point in the process, the bodies are 'married' to a sub-assembled engine and subframe. Completed vehicles are sent down a Final Line, where all aspects of the car, from brakes to waterproofing, are tested. The car is then driven off-line to a holding area, ready to be distributed to a dealer.
Although the plant is made up primarily of manufacturing areas, there is also a large office complex, housing supporting functions including: Personnel, Community Relations, Production Control, Engineering, Finance, Purchasing and Information Systems. Some of these support functions, including Purchasing, Finance and Information Systems are not just responsible for NMUK but for Nissan Europe as well. During a company restructuring exercise in 2003, large parts of the Purchasing department were relocated to Cranfield. This angered many in the plant, but widespread industrial action was avoided. In 2005, parts of the Finance department were relocated to Budapest in Hungary. In both instances, NMUK adopted a policy of finding new jobs in other departments for those who did not want to relocate.
NMUK relies heavily on Information Technology to function. Computer-controlled robots and other machinery, particularly in the Body Shop, are vital to production. These machines are maintained and controlled by specialist engineering teams. Other functions, such as the complex scheduling of vehicles, parts control and ordering, vehicle tracking, etc. are managed by software written in-house. Most of the software resides on an IBM Mainframe. This Mainframe is not just responsible for NMUK; it controls business functions across the Europe region, including NMUK's sister plant, NMISA, based in Barcelona, Spain. The Mainframe is located within the European Data Centre (EDC), which, as well as housing and maintaining the Mainframe and over 50 PC servers, acts as a European helpdesk.
NMUK is the most productive car plant in Europe, producing more 'cars per man' than any other factory. There are 4,500 staff directly employed by NMUK, and approximately 500 contracted, indirect staff. Employees at NMUK work a standard 39 hour week. While Office staff work on a fixed 'Day shift' basis, manufacturing staff work alternating morning and evening shifts. Morning shifts run from approximately 7am to 3pm. Evening shifts run from approximately 4pm to midnight. Shift times can vary depending on requirements. When required, overtime is worked, although it balanced out during the year with planned downtime.
A '3-shift' system has been discussed, and if adopted, will mean the factory will be active 24 hours a day. The shift pattern is such that a night shift can be introduced, although this will require the hiring of an entirely new shift of workers. This is something which will only be introduced if NMUK officials can be sure demand for vehicles is high enough to warrant the increase in volume.
Although staff have been accommodating to all management changes in working practices and have seen a steady decline in benefits over the years this has not been reflected in the wages. A 2% increase has been offered to staff this year (2007) with a further 2% the following year. This is a reflection of the state of the motor industry and manufacturing in general in the UK. The proliferation of low cost countries (eastern Europe, China and India) is fueling a migration of manufacturing from the UK. In response to this, UK manufacturers are having to cut costs in order to survive in an increasingly competitive world market.
Is a Japanese word meaning 'Continuous Improvement'. NMUK encourages all of its workforce to seek out areas in which improvements in their working environment, no matter how small, can be made. For example, a line-worker may have to bend down to pick a part out of a box as each vehicle goes past. This could have health and safety implications, as well as wasting time. Kaizen teams would then investigate, and possibly introduce a method in which the box is stored at an optimum height, within easy reach of the line-worker. Kaizen teams are based in every department. The emphasis is on small, manageable improvements, although large Kaizen projects have been undertaken, e.g. platforms that follow the vehicle down the line to prevent workers from having to walk alongside it while working.
Just in Time (JIT)
The JIT philosophy, encourages the use of the minimum amount of resources (e.g. space, time, material, workers) necessary to add value to a product. NMUK uses this management technique throughout the factory and beyond. Synchronous Suppliers deliver parts line-side only when they are required, therefore reducing the need to store large supplies of parts at great cost.
In order to keep the workforce flexible, NMUK operates a policy of '1 man -> 3 jobs, 3 men -> 1 job'. In other words, a worker should be competent at at least three different jobs, and at least three people should be capable of doing each job. This principle ensures that each job can be covered in the case of absence. It also means that jobs can be regularly rotated to prevent a worker from becoming bored in a particular role.
In accordance with its Investors in People responsibilities, NMUK has a strong Training department and offers a wide range of on and off the job training. The Flexible Learning Centre established on-site is open to all staff and allows them to take part in over 300 courses.
Technical on-the-job training is available to all staff, and most of the courses are given on-site by qualified trainers. People-Development courses (e.g. Presentation Skills) are also provided. NMUK spends more per head on staff-development than the British industry average.
NMUK has a Continuous Development Programme (CDP) whereby staff are given personal and professional objectives every year, and are appraised against the objects. This Appraisal is linked to pay increases. This is also an opportunity for staff to identify where further training may be appropriate.