Preparations for the start of production of the new Primera are well advanced at Nissan's European plant in Sunderland, north-east England.  In addition to taking on some 300 new temporary staff Nissan has added to its army of welding robots as the company prepares to increase production capacity to about 500,000 vehicles a year.

Over 90 robots have been added to the factory's body shop, bringing the total to 421. The investment will further improve the efficiency of what Nissan claims is Europe's most productive car plant.

Sixty of the new robots will form the basis of a high-tech Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS), which will initially be dedicated to constructing the body side of the incoming model.

The FMS will result in over 80 percent of welding carried out on the new Primera being automated. This will see the line speed initially increase to 40 units per hour, a speed that will allow line capacity to rise to over 140,000 units per year.

"The introduction of Body side FMS is our first step in a strategy to change our body assembly facilities to be more versatile and flexible to meet changing customer demands," said Engineering Manager Gordon Storie. "Versatility is important to reduce our customer order lead times whilst minimising our finished vehicle inventories."

"Our strategy to introduce flexible manufacturing systems means that we can programme our robots to produce different variants and models on the same line. Future model changes can also be implemented more efficiently and with less disruption to current model production."

Previously, adding a new model to a working line would result in a lot of time consuming and costly changes as existing equipment was removed, and new equipment added. With FMS however, the robots are programmed to pick up many different types of panel and lift them into position where they can be worked on by the automated tooling system.

"As well as making the production process more versatile, the FMS also saves precious factory space as the robots operate from a vertical position," Storie said. Previously, panels would be sent along horizontal conveyor belts which take up a lot more space on the shop floor."

Nissan is investing £215 million (about $US307 million) to build the new model. The current Primera has been produced on Wearside since 1990 when it replaced the Bluebird, Nissan's first European-made model, launched in 1986.
Over one million Primeras have rolled off Nissan's Sunderland production line, most destined for export to Europe, with some headed as far as Japan.