Nissan’s presence in the North East remains as strong as ever. It set up a base in Sunderland in the summer of 1986 and the first Bluebirds were coming off the production line shortly after. The initial £50m base has grown massively since then and thanks to £3.7bn of investment will enjoy an even greater presence. It’s fantastic to see such economic development in an area that has suffered in the aftermath of the recession. The latest investment will see Nissan employ in excess of 6,500 people, offering above average salaries with career development opportunity. It will help regenerate a region which suffers from high unemployment.
Staff at Nissan are duly rewarded for their efforts, says Keith Watson, a veteran production supervisor. He’s been with company since 1985 and calls the trim and chassis line his home. He says that initially the production line would produce four cars in a day. When the bosses said that must increase to six cars per day, the staff panicked, thinking they were already at capacity. But investment ensured that level could be achieved. Today, the factory is producing 2,000 cars per day.
Innovative working procedures have enabled the production of so many cars. This has included the use of ergonomics and technology to reduce worker strain while simultaneously accelerating production speed. For example, seat shuttles developed in-house allow workers to be continuously transported to the areas of the production line where they are needed. This avoids physically walking among the various mechanical elements of the facility.
Robotics have also come into play with the body-shop progressing from manual welding to 93% automation. The new welding facility for the Infiniti, the luxury brand that Sunderland has just begun producing, is completely automated with 141 robots.
Staff, unsurprisingly, want to enjoy long careers with Nissan. Turnover of staff on the production line is low – just under 4% compared to the UK average of 13.6% – while some of the firm’s earliest employees now enjoy senior management roles.