On the rise: Nissan Forklist reaching new heights
MARENGO – The 200,000th forklift rolled off the assembly line at Nissan Forklift Corp. last year, but the Marengo company isn’t concerned with benchmarks. It is committed to doing the heavy lifting needed for the long haul.
Considering the company – a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. – did not begin producing forklifts here until 1988, its dossier of accomplishments is remarkable. It took 14 years to reach the 100,000 production milestone and just 10 years to double that. From start to finish, production of a forklift takes 3 1/2 days.
"We are very proud of our transformation over the past decade,” said Tony Salgado, vice president of manufacturing operations for Nissan Forklift. “As an organization, we have become significantly more effective and efficient in delivering value to our market, while serving and respecting our employees and the community."
Nissan Forklift has about 300 employees – many of them assemblers, welders, material handlers at the 356,000-square-foot, former Barrett Industrial Trucks plant off Prospect Street. It also owns 51,000-square-foot parts distribution center, with more than 60,000 active parts in it, and Nissan Industrial Engine. Both are less than a mile from the main plant. The assembles and tests engines for Nissan – even some of its competitors such as Toyota, Komatsu,Yale, Hyster and Crown.
But Nissan Forklift Corp. President Peter Kruse was quick to point out that NFC offers more than 90 percent of the product models that are sold in the market today, and it is among the top 10 in market share. It has 65,320 small-part locations across the country, and a parts distribution center in Mexico serving Latin America. It also boasts a network of more than 100 authorized dealerships with more than 225 locations across North and South America, and those dealers have access to online parts ordering system.
Revenues top $1 billion a year. “We have a very, very strong presence int he U.S,” he said. “I think we have the great potential in the marketplace. We’re not the largest in the industry, but we certainly want to be.”
NFC also launched the University of Nissan Forklift and its College of Technical Service Jan. 1 in an effort to make its service technicians and salespeople as the most highly skilled and knowledgeable in the industry. Salgado said the company’s largest forklift customers are trucking, transportation and logistics companies for its larger, sit-down models. Warehouses, distribution centers and the grocery industry gravitate toward pallet movers and “reach trucks” popular when filling orders.
NFC makes 10,000 lift trucks a year – broken into a dozen models in five classes differentiated by design. Some feature internal-combustion engines, powered by LP gas or gasoline, while others are electric. Some rely on the weight of a standing operator to counter-balance the load. Others let the operator sit on a floating cab and still still other models the operator walks alongside.
But whether the the “trucks” use forks or hitches to move material, they are capable of safely transporting up to 11,000 pounds while offering ammenties such as greater fuel efficiency, lower maintenance costs, and sealed switches that enable machinery to operate outside in the rain or inside a freezer.
The average forklift takes about 2 1/2 hours to build, on two main assembly lines and a supporting assembly line, Salgado said, but that belies the 15 to 20 hours of labor that goes into each lift truck. But it is NFC’s flexibility that separates it from the pack. Cross-training enables its employees to produce different models back to back – challenging for sure, Salgado said, but much more responsive.
“Everything is built to order. We don’t do batch order,” Salgado said. That not only cuts down on the need to inventory parts and store assembled forklifts, it fits in nicely with the company’s lean management philosophy.
Automation has enabled the company to improve product flow and reduce lead time from eight to 10 weeks to three weeks. In a pinch, it can turn some orders around in as little as two days.
A laser table cuts sheets of steel plates, a half inch to five-eighths thick, with precision. Metal waste down by 70 percent in the past three years, Salgado said. NFC also relies on robotic welding, a machining center and fully automated painting/drying system that allows customers to customize colors. The result is a one-stop shop, Kruse said, that runs the gamut – from design to assembly to quality control. It has ISO-9001 and ISO-14001 certification.
“You want to diagnose the problem and come up with a solution,” said Lee Van Syckle, director of human resources and administration for Nissan Forklift. “The more complex problems might take months or years. ... There are so many variables because we are so lean. If outside suppliers are late with a delivery it can upset the apple cart for the entire day or week. In some cases things are out of our control.”
By training employees in three to five tasks, NFC hopes to avoid surprises. Having a comprehensive understanding of the process also helps workers solve problems and keeps them fresh and engaged, Van Syckle said. It one reason their average tenure is 13 years.
Company principles include the “value-up” program, that seeks to identify and solve problems quickly, and the “Nissan Way.” The latter encourages employees to maximize resources, stay competitive and measure performance, create an open and honest work environment, welcome diversity, improve productivity and pursue excellence. Through these initiatives, Salgado said, Nissan Forklift has improved labor efficiency by more than 28 percent, reduced internal quality defects by more than 66 percent, and reduced lead time on production by more than 80 percent in the past decade.
And it has done so in a far more environmentally responsible way. “We currently have programs in place to recycle 100 percent of all metal scrap, paper, cardboard, cans, glass and plastic bottles. We also recycle most plastics. Since 2007, we have reduced our total waste sent to landfill on a per-unit basis by 84 percent.”
In 2007, Nissan and NEC Corp. established a joint-venture company, Automotive Energy Supply Corp., to focus on lithium-ion battery power and its forklift applications. Internally timed lighting, reducing the amount of processing water in its paint department, recapturing heat and recycling waste are among the green initiatives the company has embraced.
"Over the past four year we’ve seen a 10 percent reduction in our CO2 footprint and a 20 percent savings in our pre-cost basis,” Salgado said, “Reducing our CO2 footprint also reduces energy. That saves the environment and protects the community.”
Nissan Forklift Corp.
Where: 240 N. Prospect St., Marengo
Information: 815-568-0061; www.nissanforklift.com
Fun fact: Nissan produced its first lift truck in 1957 and began distributing in the U.S. in 1965.