February 27, 2024

Manufacturing: Far From the Factory, Adding Final Touches

TO travelers landing at Newark Liberty International Airport, the vast asphalt fields of vehicles on the ground below look like so many livestock pens. Staged in these open-air waiting rooms are thousands of cars and trucks that will shortly be hauled to dealerships up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

What can’t be seen from the air are the dockside finishing schools that apply the final touches to half a million vehicles that pass through each year. Here as at other seaports, dedicated facilities owned by individual automakers, as well as giant multibrand processing centers, shepherd autos arriving from overseas and ready them for buyers.

It’s not just a quick wash and wax. Within these nondescript buildings at the edge of Newark Bay, inspections are done, repairs are made and hundreds of accessories, from satellite radios to alloy wheels to roof racks, are installed.

Take, for example, the sprawling 250-acre operation of FAPS, which has the contracts for makers including Ferrari, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and Volvo. The company, which moved to Newark 55 years ago from New York, established itself repairing the damage done when imported cars were still hoisted off the ship by cranes. Today its services still include body repairs (though cars are now driven from the ship’s hold) but it also does the accessory installations and manages distribution logistics.

Toyota’s 98-acre operation at Newark’s port is something of a scaled-down assembly plant, though the work — adding a range of so-called port-installed options into 21 different models — is done largely by hand using simple tools, not by industrial robots controlled by computers. About 185 employees work in Toyota’s car wash, quality control center and five production shops here.

By adding items like floormats and GPS systems at its distribution centers instead of at its factories, Toyota gives customers a chance to tinker with their orders until just two days before the vehicles dock in Newark. And it gives dealers a way to stand apart from their competitors.

“We want to tailor the vehicle to what the customer wants,” said Bill Barrett, the national logistics manager at the Newark location. “We build the car they want.”

The facility, which Toyota has operated for more than two decades, serves as a way station for up to 12,500 cars at a time that arrive by ship from Japan. Nearly every Toyota, Lexus and Scion built in Japan and destined for sale from Virginia to Maine passes through the facility.

In a typical week, two shiploads of Toyotas arrive, though since the March tsunami slowed production, the pace has slowed to one ship a week. The process of customizing the roughly 3,000 vehicles that arrive on each ship starts the day before it docks in Newark. That’s when John Hagel, who runs the driving team, determines how many longshoremen and drivers will be needed to get the vehicles to their parking spots, which are assigned by the accessories to be added.

One day last month, for instance, it took about 100 drivers eight hours to unload a ship that had made the four-week trip from Tahara, Japan, through the Panama Canal. Once parked, the vehicles are inspected; any damaged in transit go to the body shop. Only one vehicle that arrived on that boat in August needed work, Mr. Barrett said.

Next, the bar codes on the shipping manifests, which include a list of accessories to be added, are scanned. Lexus vehicles, which receive more attention than Toyotas and Scions, are also driven on a bumpy track to check for squeaks and rattles.

This month, Toyota’s production returned to pre-tsunami levels. That means more to do for Nelson Noda’s team of about a dozen workers, whose job is to install electronics, including alarms, satellite radios and remote starters. The work is done as the cars move down the middle of a building about the size of a football field.

Employees at the work stations to the left and right complete a variety of tasks. One worker spent about 30 minutes installing a Bluetooth hands-free system under the steering column of a red Prius. He needed just a few tools to complete his task and test the system.

“Everything is now plug-and-play,” Mr. Noda said. “No splicing wires like we did years ago.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=f21641ff146c9e24f600dcc851c8d6f9

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