Simulation saves Nissan Eu10 million

Establishing a UK manufacturing hub for Nissan’s first mass produced electric car, the LEAF, required sophisticated modelling to prove a sound and profitable business case.

Production of the new vehicle is so far being undertaken in Japan, but from 2013, Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) in Sunderland is expected to manufacture 50,000 LEAF cars per annum. Due to be completed in January 2012, the company is constructing a battery plant which will produce 60,000 lithium-ion batteries.

Because the LEAF represented relatively unchartered territory for Nissan, Nissan’s Sunderland-based engineers had to demonstrate that the plant could deliver the required throughput volumes. The project team had to plot operational efficiency and scrap rates against the three key stages of battery production. These included the manufacture of just under 12 million cells to create modules for each of the 60,000 battery packs; the linking and charging of anodes, cathodes and electrolytes; and battery pack assembly.

Having observed battery production at the pilot plant in Japan, the project team felt confident that they could build a new plant in Sunderland to cope with the 60,000 unit throughput demand, against a lower cost base. Building design and plant layout was integral to optimising production and supporting profitability of the LEAF, and the team set about creating a business case to demonstrate that the facility could manufacture the expected volumes, at greater levels of efficiency.

However, they needed to be able to prove beyond doubt that these investment cost savings would be possible, and concluded that the level of complexity involved was impossible to harness without sophisticated modelling software.

Proving the business case Nissan had used Lanner’s WITNESS simulation software in previous projects, and as it was proven, robust and cost effective, Nissan chose WITNESS to construct the complex battery production model. The WITNESS model processed a number of scenarios, and demonstrated the optimum plant layout to achieve the 60,000 throughput.

Exceeding expectations, the model also showed that through using this layout, the throughput could be achieved with an investment cost saving of Eu 2.5m for the Sunderland plant alone, when compared with the pilot plant. It also highlighted that if the optimised layout was extended to the additional three battery plants planned for Portugal, France and the US, it would increase savings to over Eu 10m.

“Having this model means that the team could not only provide a watertight assurance that our Sunderland plant could cope with the volumes, but that it could do so at a substantially reduced cost base – one which was far greater than we’d hoped,” says Bob Scurr, lead engineer at Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK). “Simulation was the only way to provide a scientific risk free business case which would optimise the layout and identify the most efficient and productive layout for battery production.” The additional battery plants in France, Portugal and Tennessee in the US will be built against a phased schedule over the next two years, with support from Lanner’s WITNESS model. According to Scurr, Lanner’s WITNESS solution has been integral to optimising battery production for the LEAF and its derivatives. “Without it,” he says, “changes and modifications to the production process would have had to have been tested in the real world, which is prohibitively risky and costly.

From our investment in WITNESS software we have seen an ROI of over Eu 10 million and have absolute confidence that our production is as lean and efficient as it can be.”