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Nissan Xterra Pro-4X

Posted in Features on October 1, 2011
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It is getting harder to find products with the label “Made in America.” Out of curiosity, we recently went through our house looking for that designation and found only a few such items that get our daily use. When some people see the Nissan brand, they assume it’s another Japanese import, but they could not be more mistaken.

When Nissan offered to loan an Xterra Pro-4X to Lone Writer, Inc., for use during our 2011 season, it included a tour of its plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. That plant is one of the largest of its kind in North America. Under one roof, there is room to set up more than 90 football fields and have room for parking. It encompasses 5.4 million square feet of space. Construction inside that massive building is never finished as different lines are added and deleted. It all began June 16, 1983, and has grown to an investment of $2.5 billion.

More than 1,000 people had a hand in building the Pro-4X as it moved along conveyors that rarely paused. Each person along that line has a specific task in the process that begins with raw metals and ends on a test track outside the building. At peak production, there are 3,400 employees at the Symrna plant and many more at another facility that builds the engines one piece at a time.

Getting to a point where all that metal becomes recognizable as a vehicle takes a lot of work. All the panels were individually pressed and stamped, then welded together in a darkened room inhabited by computer-controlled robots. It is then placed on a conveyor and carried through a series of stations where each person performs a specific task to keep the conveyor moving.

It takes about 24 hours from the time bare materials enter the plant to be transformed into a vehicle that rolls out the door. The plant can produce more than a half million vehicles a year consisting of eight different Nissan models.

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In another area of the plant, the frame has been constructed. Engines are manufactured at a different plant in Tennessee and shipped to Symrna. At this station, the engine and frame are joined together. The process takes only a few minutes. The frame moves at a steady pace along a conveyor mounted on the floor. The engines travel along another conveyor high above. As the frame passes below, the engine lowers into its saddle in perfect synchronization. There are eight different engine combinations for SUVs and trucks, but the system knows exactly which engine to lower onto which frame. Workers bolt the two together as the new assembly leaves their station and enters another. Only moments will pass before another frame and engine will enter their station and the process repeats again and again.

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