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Australian parts vital for Nissan’s electrified future

Casting call: Nissan Australia’s casting plant in Dandenong was awarded the contract to produce the new-generation Leaf’s water jacket due to its ability to manufacture highly-technical crucial components to the highest standards.

More EV and hybrid production expected to add business to Nissan casting plant


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16 Nov 2017

DESPITE Holden, Ford and Toyota pulling up stumps on Australian production, Nissan’s Dandenong-based casting plant parts manufacturing is expected to grow in the coming years thanks to increased electrified powertrain construction.

The Nissan Casting Plant (NCAP) – which has been in operation for 35 years – produces some of the aluminium components found in vehicles including the Qashqai, Navara, X-Trail, Infiniti Q50 and Renault Koleos.

Crucially however, NCAP creates key parts for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV) and hybrid powertrains found in the Japanese-market Note and Serena e-Power, namely the water jacket, inverter case and stator housing.

Speaking to journalists at a special 35th anniversary event, NCAP managing director Peter Jones said it was the high quality of the parts produced and expansion of electrified engines that will ensure the facility’s medium-term future.

“As they expand the model range that e-Power is on … we’re trying to set ourselves up as the mother plant for production of those specific parts and, to date, we’ve been successful at doing that,” he said.

“We’re hoping as they look to move it to different models that we will be able to maintain contracts, or win contracts, on that and there’s nothing that would indicate that we wouldn’t get them based on our current level of pricing, our current efficiency and our current quality.

“Our aim is to be the preferred Renault-Nissan Alliance manufacturing plant for high-pressure die-cast aluminium for the electric vehicle components by 2020.”

With 13 casting machines in operation and nearly 192 people employed (149 permanent and 43 on contracts and temporary work), the casting plant produces 60 different components with expected volume this year set to top 2.6-million die-cast aluminium parts and over 16,000 tow bars – a combined value of $82.5 million.

However, NCAP is already running at about 80 per cent capacity with its current equipment, something that will need to be addressed in future, according to Mr Jones.

“What we’re looking at now, in terms of some of the contracts that we’re currently quoting on, is actually investing heavily and putting more casting machines in because that capacity is based on our 13 casting machines,” he said.

“Some of the things we’re looking at now will involve us buying some more casting machines and they’re around about $5 million each, and that’s a significant investment.”

Mr Jones said the 90,000-square metre Dandenong facility has “got the space” to expand NCAP’s footprint, but also identified the implementation of automated processes as another way to improve production efficiencies.

Another boon for NCAP, according to Mr Jones, is the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s acquisition of Mitsubishi last year, which is expected to add to the facility’s production numbers as the three brands work towards shared vehicle platforms.

“I think the alliance is in fairly early stages, but we’re always looking for synergies and as we look at manufacturing processes across the globe, it may well be that we pick up some of that, or they may pick up some of our technology, which would mean the orders would go up,” he said.

“But at the moment, there’s been very, very little impact.”

However, key to NCAP’s ability to stand out from the rest of the world’s die-casting facilities is its talent for producing top-quality, highly-technical componentry often needed for complicated and crucial EV parts, said Mr Jones.

“You can cast something anywhere around the world, but in terms of these EV parts … they are difficult to make, they are complex to make, and they require the highest level of finish and quality to ensure that these very, very sophisticated cars we’re making continue to function properly,” he said.

“Our parts have been of very, very good quality and we have the confidence of (vehicle manufacturing) plants around the world, and that’s half the battle.

“These parts … are only made in Australia. Some of the stator housings are made in other places around the world, but the water jackets and all that … this is the only place in the world that make them.

“And in some ways that’s a risk, and in some ways it’s a hell of a responsibility and we make sure that they’re (executives) aware of it.”

Mr Jones revealed that there is around $1 million invested into making sure its parts are of the highest standards, including an X-Ray machine to check aluminium integrity and stringent quality control processes.

In addition to its high-quality parts, Mr Jones said it was the calibre of people working at NCAP and its “agile manufacturing” capability that has allowed it to thrive in spite of the discontinuation of local vehicle production.

“We have very, very clever people – many of them have been here over 30 years,” he said. “In terms of the engineering side of our business, we have people here in Australia that allows us to be the only plant outside of Japan that has engineering capabilities – so we design new parts as well.

“We have that ability to change dies relatively quickly and do varying styles and varying length of runs on those parts.

“And of course, government support, and we’ve been lucky to enjoy government support on both a federal and state level.

“Nissan are going to buy it (casting machines) somewhere in the world – and these things are very, very expensive – but if we can get some help to buy it here – which drives our per part or per piece cost down – that puts us in a far better competitive position to win the business that keeps the plant going.”

In addition, Mr Jones said NCAP has been flexible enough to adapt to change regularly and expand its business to more markets around the world.

“Every time there has been an opportunity, we’ve changed,” he said.

“So we started off with a gravity-fed or low-pressure die-casting for cylinder heads and things like that, and that was just for export to Japan.

“We then introduced high-pressure die-casting and we started making gearbox components, we got new markets in Mexico and the US.

“We then went to machining and assembly, we got some more exports to the US and Thailand, we then changed to drivetrain materials and then EV components.

“Every time we changed, adapted and overcame if you like, we entered into new markets, and that level of flexibility has allowed us to survive.”

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