CKNA getting more jobs

Friday, May 20, 2011
CKNA Senior Vice President for Manufacturing Chris Fann listens to U.S. Rep. Diane Black's question as Human Resources and Legal Vice President Bob Masteller and Electronics Engineering Director Jeff Wright look on during a tour of the Japanese-owned plant here.

Approximately 50 more jobs are coming to the Calsonic Kansei North America parts supplier for Nissan vehicle assembly plants because an important part of the LEAF electric car's power train will be made in Lewisburg.

Some of the people without the qualifications to shift their workload to other car and truck parts manufacturing will be transferred within the company and some employees will have new assignments here, CKNA Human Resources Director David Vick said Tuesday.

But ultimately, CKNA must hire more people and Vick said the company will turn to local colleges and universities, including the Columbia State Community College campus in Lewisburg with the Career Center, for a workforce trained to fill the new jobs.

"The net effect is 50 jobs," Vick told U.S. Rep. Diane Black during a company conference room discussion and orientation to what CKNA does before the Gallatin Republican toured the electronics part of the Japanese manufacturer's operation.

Fifty is the number CKNA has been telling Tennessee officials about CKNA plans, Vick said.

Knowing that much of the work at the parts plant is automated, Black had asked about job security for CKNA employees. During her tour, she saw rolls of computer chips in plastic encasements fed into a machine from a spool that's similar to a movie reel so the tiny parts may be placed automatically by electronic arms and hands.

There are about 900 people working at the CKNA plant here "depending on the day," Vick said.

Electric and electronic parts for Nissan vehicles are assembled and made here.

They include control units for air bags, power doors, windows, seats and an array of related parts facing a driver, said Chris Fann, the company's senior vice president of manufacturing and material planning. Much of that assembly work is being moved to a CKNA plant in Mexico to make room for production of the LEAF's inverter.

The inverter is a 20-pound, cast-aluminum-encased device that receives electricity from the car's rechargeable battery, runs it through power modules to transform it into electricity to run the car's motor, Fann said.

When the car's accelerator is pressed, there's greater demand for power, so the motor has the inverter release more amperage from the battery to move the car. Heat is generated when voltage is stepped down from one level to another, and the inverter also disposes of that.

Amperage is how fast electricity -- or the number of electrons moving in a circuit -- is moving. Voltage is a measure of how much force those electrons are under.

The inverter to be made here was referred to as the "second generation" of the device compared to what was made for the LEAF sold in Japan.

CKNA has about $256 million in sales that "pass through" the plant here, Engineering Director Jeff Wright said. Of that $105 million is "made here," meaning value-added. Hundreds of thousands of various parts are made by CKNA.

One of the reasons for the congressman's tour Tuesday afternoon was so she can "help job producers ... do their job better," she said.

"What is Washington doing to you that impedes your work?" Black asked.

She was told that health care continues to increase the company's costs.

A health care clinic at the plant has helped CKNA address that issue, Vick said.

"In the long run," he said of the new federal health care system, "they are asking people to opt-out of a benefit plan."

Black responded saying the new system includes incentives to persuade workers in an employer's group health insurance plan to decide to switch to the federal government's national plan "so it will be one program."

That "narrows choice," she said, concluding that it also narrows "freedom."

Black also asked about corporate business taxes and was told trade tariffs are greater when products are shipped from Charleston S.C. to South America compared to tariffs the business would pay when shipping to the same place from Mexico.

That adversely affects CKNA plants in the U.S. even when shipping from Charleston is shorter than from Mexico.

"There are advantages we could capitalize on if we could do something about the tariffs," Fann said.