TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Look no further than Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.’s U.S. and global sales figures to see that the company is selling at a torrid pace.

But the run has forced Nissan, already an acknowledged manufacturing-efficiency leader with its Smyrna, TN, and other North American assembly plants, to look for methods to wring more efficiency – and quality – out of its operations.

Nissan’s answer? Douki, or “never-ending synchronization.”

Hidetoshi Imazu, Nissan senior vice president-manufacturing and industrial engineering, says Douki “aims to synchronize every factor throughout the manufacturing process in line with customer needs, including delivery time, cost and quality.”

Douki dovetails with Nissan’s already well-known and well-established high-efficiency production processes, the Nissan Integrated Manufacturing System (NIMS) and Intelligent Body Assembly System (IBAS). Imazu says NIMS and IBAS combine with Douki to help streamline the process from customer order to delivery, making the company’s manufacturing even more flexible.

Nissan's Hidetoshi Imazu is seeking more effiency for Nissan's North American manufacturing operations.

Nissan’s breakneck sales climb, as well as an ambitious plan for 28 new-vehicle launches globally in the 2005-2007 fiscal years, has placed considerable strain on the auto maker’s manufacturing arm, he says.

Imazu also notes that Nissan has consolidated its Japanese assembly plants from 16 to 10, and the new processes ensure that most assembly lines can produce four or more different models.

Most higher-end vehicles in Japan are built to customer order, Imazu says, and the typical delivery time is a little more than three weeks after the order is placed. From the moment it is filed, Douki begins to sync the customer order with every facet of the manufacturing system, including supplier production lines.

Imazu says Douki – and the fact that most of the auto maker’s global production facilities have converted to IBAS-capable body shops – has helped Nissan reach its high efficiency levels.

Meanwhile, the NIMS manufacturing environment continues to be adopted throughout the company’s global manufacturing empire. Nissan’s new Canton, MS, plant is fully NIMS capable, and the Smyrna site, consistently rated as the U.S.’s most efficient auto assembly plant, has one NIMS line for its body-on-frame vehicles.

Nissan’s plan, says Imazu, is to have most of its worldwide plants converted to NIMS by 2007.

Imazu acknowledges Nissan is trying to identify the reasons for uncharacteristically low quality ratings for all of the vehicles built at the new Canton plant. He says the biggest problem is correlating reported quality problems with possible causes, and adds that the process may take several months.

“We are analyzing the results” of the J.D. Power and Associates initial-quality reports for the Canton models, says Imazu. He adds that it may be determined the problems are not manufacturing-related. If there is a manufacturing connection, he says Nissan is confident its ongoing manufacturing-efficiency and quality-enhancement initiatives will provide solutions.

bvisnic@primediabusiness.com