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Nissan Now Forging Crankshafts In Tennessee

March 2, 2007
The automaker's new, 1.1-million units/year operation produces crankshaft forgings, which replace products formerly sourced from a Japanese plant.

Nissan's Decherd Powertrain facility in Tennessee produces all the engines for Nissan and Infiniti vehicles built in Smyrna, TN, and Canton, MS.

This 6,500-ton forging press is the core of the crankshaft manufacturing operation at Nissan's Decherd, TN, plant. It is capable of producing 1.1 million crankshafts per year.

For about six months Nissan North America Inc. has been forging crankshafts at its Decherd Powertrain Assembly Plant in Decherd, TN. In September 2006, state and local officials joined Nissan workers and executives marking the startup of the automaker's all-new, 63,000ft2 forging facility. Nissan invested $48 million in the forging operation, which employs about 60 workers. And, it plans a further expansion of the same operation, the addition of a cylinder-block casting plant.

During the opening ceremony, Dan Gaudette, Nissan senior vice president of North American Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, stated: "Having the forging plant and, soon, the casting plant located next to where these key engine components will be machined and assembled is a major opportunity for Nissan North America."

Gaudette pointed out that the Nissan recognizes its Decherd team is a top performer among worldwide powertrain operations. Then he added, "The continuing expansion of this plant not only supports our company's global production strategy, but it is a vote of confidence in this team's ability to deliver solid performance, as they have consistently done over the past nine years that they've been in production."

The forging operation is expected to reach full production in March. At capacity, it will produce 1.1 million crankshaft forgings annually for the engines manufactured in Decherd. This includes engines for all Nissan and Infiniti vehicles built at vehicle assembly plants in Smyrna, TN, and Canton, MS. Some forgings also are exported to Nissan's vehicle assembly plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Notably, these forgings are replacing crankshaft forgings that the automaker had sourced from its plant in Yokohama, Japan.

Nissan strategists explain that adding forging to the Dechard facility's functions allows the company to manufacture crankshafts at the site where they machined and assembled into engines, and that this new capability helps control transportation and inventory costs. The forging operation is located on the northeast side of the current Decherd facility, adjacent to the engine machining operations — to which it is connected by a delivery corridor.

6,500-ton press
Decherd's 6,500-ton forging press was supplied by Japan's Sumitomo Heavy Industries, and, to very little surprise, it is said to be the largest forging press in Tennessee.

The press was loaded onto a ship in Osaka, Japan, in January 2006, and six weeks later it arrived in New Orleans. It traveled by barge up the Mississippi River to the Ohio River, then on to the Cumberland River, to Nashville.

From the barge, it was off-loaded to a 160-ton dual-lane transport truck— measuring 220 ft long, 20 ft wide — for delivery from Nashville to Decherd. This approximately 100-mile road trip, directed along the way by the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation, took more than eight hours.

Now, the press sits on a 42-in. concrete foundation supported by 20 caissons drilled into bedrock. An isolation frame with 20 dampers keeps the press from shaking its surrounding environment during operation.

The press is central to the crankshaft production process. Steel billets are heated to approximately 2,200°F before forging. Each billet is forged into the basic shape of a crankshaft in three forging steps. After excess metal is trimmed away, the crankshaft is transferred by robot to a 400-ton hydraulic twisting and hot coining press. The finished crankshaft is then cooled under controlled conditions and loaded onto a pallet for delivery to the engine-machining department next door, or to Nissan Mexicana.

Decherd builds all the engines for the complete line of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles manufactured in the United States. This engine lineup includes a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder; a 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder; a 4.0-liter, 6-cylinder; and a 5.6-liter, 8-cylinder.

Construction of the Decherd plant began in March 1995, and production started in May 1997 with 200 employees. Today, the workforce has grown to 1,400 employees, making the plant the largest private employer in Franklin County.

The 1 million-ft2 powertrain assembly plant has been expanded three times since production began. The planned cylinder-block casting expansion will add another 51,000 ft2 at an investment of $34.7 million bringing the total capital investment of the Decherd plant to $682.7 million.

The plant has the capacity to build 950,000 engines and 1.1 million crankshaft forgings annually.

Environmental concern
As a global corporation, Nissan emphasizes, it places great importance on protecting the environment and minimizing its facilities' impact by conserving energy, water, and other resources. The automaker explains it is focusing on three environmental objectives in its operations, at Decherd and around the world: managing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions; recycling; and protecting air, water and soil.

All three of Nissan's U.S. manufacturing plants have been certified to the ISO 14001 international environmental management standard. The Decherd plant achieved certification in 1999.

Ongoing energy-conservation efforts include eliminating compressed air leaks, shortening startup times on process equipment, and establishing plant-wide task forces to generate energy-savings ideas. And, Nissan encourages employees to turn off air compressors, equipment, lights, and TV monitors when they aren't being used.

Nissan says its plants concentrate efforts on reducing the amount of waste generated, recycling waste materials whenever possible, and minimizing the amount of waste that has to be landfilled. At Decherd, the plant is expected to achieve zero waste to landfill by early 2008.

During 2006, Nissan undertook another initiative with environmental benefits at Decherd: It grew cotton — as a cash crop! — on approximately 365 idle acres adjacent to the plant.

"At Nissan, we believe that being a good citizen means more than providing jobs and contributing to the local economy. It also means protecting the environment, practicing conservation, and using all our resources wisely," said Brent Gill, Nissan's plant manager at Decherd. "This agricultural program not only enhances our site in Franklin County, it also enhances the wildlife habitat surrounding our plant."

Nissan leased the land to a local farmer to plant and harvest the cotton crop under the guidance of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service. USDA guidelines assure the cotton crop is grown following an approved pesticide- and nutrient-management program for the most beneficial farming methods. After the cotton was harvested, a winter annual cover crop was planted to reduce erosion of topsoil.

Previously, the land had been cleared periodically, only for maintenance purposes. Under the managed agricultural program, benefits to the land include reduced soil erosion, improved water quality from less run-off, and minimal soil disturbance, using no-till methods of farming. The cotton crop also reduces emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere through the capture of carbon.

Profits from the lease of the land will be used to enhance the entire, 968-acre Nissan campus. Plans include planting vegetative borders that prevent pesticide/herbicide migration from the cultivated areas and restore wildlife habitat. Starting in the spring, Nissan will plant field borders of native warm-season grasses on the land.