You never know who you’ll bump into on an automotive forum, and here’s a perfect example of that. NICO member “Promise Land” is Canaan Manley, who happens to be a Process Engineer for Nissan North America.
We caught up with Canaan and asked him if he’d be willing to share a little of his time with us, and he graciously accepted a question and answer session.
NICO: What exactly IS a “Process Engineer”?
Canaan: A Process Engineer works with Manufacturing to ensure the process of assembling a vehicle is done correctly. That means that the fit of the vehicle is maintained to design specifications, all parts are correct, etc. If there is a problem with an assembly process, that engineer diagnoses the problem and works with other groups in the plant to solve it.
NICO: What kind of education is needed to be a Process Engineer?
Canaan: The basics to start would have to be a degree in engineering. From that point, Nissan has a good internal training program that allows you to continually learn to be a better engineer. It also helps to have some ability to work on cars, but it’s not a requirement.
NICO: You mentioned you worked on the Nissan trucks lineup – Tell us a little about that assignment.
Canaan: When I started in 2005 I was assigned to work with interior trim of the vehicle and some of engine components. During that time I had those parts on all the vehicles we made in our factory. The full-size truck lineup was part of the vehicles I had parts on. It was an eye opener for me because I had worked for two suppliers to Nissan before then. I had knowledge of making the pieces that go into a car, but no knowledge of what it really takes to assemble a complete car.
NICO: What’s something that most people don’t know about new vehicle development?
Canaan: Probably the length of time it takes to bring a new vehicle from concept to driving it on the road. It takes years to go from a paper sketch to a vehicle on the road. Plus the time and thought that is put into every little thing on a car or truck. The process to bring a new vehicle to market is constantly evolving to reduce the time needed, but it still takes a couple years.
NICO: Tell us about a ‘typical’ day for you at work.
Canaan: There really isn’t a ‘typical’ day. Maybe the most typical thing is my start time and that everyday will bring a challenge. Beyond that it’s never the same day in and day out. Right now I am working on a new vehicle for the factory, so I have a lot of meetings with other engineers, manufacturing personnel, management, etc.
NICO: What’s the best (and worst) part of your job?
Canaan: The list of best things about this job could be a top-50 list easy. Some things on that list would be that I get to travel abroad sometimes which is a treat to go and experience a new culture. I also enjoy reading that someone is driving a Nissan or Infiniti vehicle and loves it.
The worst part of the job has been in the last two years because of the recession we’ve all felt. It was rough to sit and watch production numbers go down for everyone around the world and the effects that caused. I also don’t like to hear about or read about someone having trouble with their vehicle. You always want someone that has made the investment in a car to have the best possible experience with it.
NICO: You said you have to “understand any problems associated with assembly” – What does that mean, specifically?
Canaan: There are a lot of things that make a good quality vehicle. Things as simple as everything fitting together properly, all colors matching, all parts being tightened correctly, and everything working as designed are things that an engineer needs to understand. They all sound simple, but all basic facets of assembling a vehicle is something an engineer has to understand. The best engineers don’t know everything from memory, but they know how to find the answers.
NICO: Which project are you currently working on for Nissan? What can you tell us about it?
Canaan: I am currently working on a new commercial vehicle for the Canton, MS factory. The main info for it has been released out to the media, so I don’t really have any secrets to divulge. It’s the first new vehicle I have worked on from the concepts to starting production. I am a member of a larger team that has designed the assembly line inside the factory for the assembly process.
NICO: How did you get involved with NNA – Did you specifically choose Nissan?
Canaan: Yes, I chose Nissan. I grew up in Colorado and when I graduated college I moved to Nashville, TN. I had the crazy dream that I wanted to be a country music singer. After a year of working on that I realized I could be in the same spot for the next ten years. I had a degree in engineering so I started to work for an automotive interior supplier that supplied to Nissan in Tennessee. I stayed there for the next few years and then went to a body supplier to Nissan also. This company supplied to both the Tennessee and Mississippi factories. From those interactions with the MS factory, I was able to apply for an engineering position and relocated. I never really looked at any other automaker because all would require relocation to someplace I had never been. I was comfortable with Nissan from years of experience and really liked their products too.
NICO: What made you want to be a PE?
Canaan: I can’t say that I wanted to be a Process Engineer growing up. My grandfather had a Master’s in Engineering, so I had some idea of mechanics and science growing up. When I hit about 12 or 13 I started to get into cars. I had a friend that worked on cars with his older brother and father. They got me excited about working on cars. From that point on, I enjoyed working on cars and understood the basics of mechanics and science. They just sort of came together to create my interest in Mechanical Engineering. I loved taking things apart to see what made them tick and eventually went to college for Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State University after high school. My interest in cars kept going through college and I helped worked on the Formula SAE program in our department at CSU. That gave me some insight into design of vehicle and the research side of developing a vehicle. But I think really I just stumbled into the field by accident. I didn’t like it up North where most of the design centers are located. I just happened to be looking for a job when my first auto industry job was looking for a fresh engineer. It was just good timing. I didn’t think I would be where I am today when I took that job.
NICO: What did you drive growing up?
Canaan: I drove a lot of things. When I just turned sixteen my dad had an ’83 Ford Mustang 5.0L convertible that I could drive. I eventually wanted more power, so I had to go find my own project. I couldn’t touch the Mustang. I wrenched on a 1971 GMC truck after that for a couple years until a senior in high school. I got into the big lifted trucks from there. I sold the 1971 for a 1977 GMC 4×4 and lifted it 7″. I drove that for about 2 years until the gas was killing me. I was too poor of a college student to afford the gas bill on that monster. I changed to a Chevy Beretta after that. I drove it for a couple years, but came on an 1989 Mustang GT that had been repo’ed. I drove that for about 5 years until it just needed too much work. I went to a Chevy truck after that. Then through two Ford Rangers. Now I have an ’09 Nissan Versa.
NICO: Do you consider yourself a “car guy”?
Canaan: Yes, a little. I was really into cars as a teen and into my early twenties. Around 25 I started to race motorcycles and got away from the cars. I was more of a “moto guy” for about 5 years. It’s only been in the last 6 months since I got the Versa that my interest in cars has come on strong again. I understand the basics, but the new cars have so many electronics that I feel way behind. I am still trying to catch up on the technology. Thankfully I have NICO to read for hours and learn what I don’t know.
NICO: What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen as a PE?
Canaan: How about seeing a GT-R in Japan a month before they hit dealerships in the USA? Or seeing the new Cube in Japan a year before they hit dealerships in the USA? It’s hard for me to pick something as the coolest thing I’ve seen. We get to see things months or years before consumers do. I still feel proud when I read that someone bought a new Nissan and is very happy with it. It’s even better when it’s something we make in MS. That’s one of the best things I get to continually see on NICO.
NICO: What’s been the worst / most troublesome issue you’ve encountered?
Canaan: There isn’t a single problem I can think of that I’d rank as number one. One thing that I still feel behind on is the electrical technology in new cars. I understand how things work on a mechanical level, but as soon as someone starts talking electrical I feel like Charlie Brown listening to his teacher. My eyes glaze over. No comprendo.
NICO: Do member comments on online forums, like NICO, help drive any of the direction NNA uses for new car development?
Canaan: Forums like NICO have more input than people realize. Everything that is planned and brought to customers is based on qualitative data from research and marketing. Web boards give market researchers and product planners the opportunity to see the individual customer’s voice. Consumer Reports, Edmunds, and J.D. Power & Associates are other resources that also give planners information on what the customer likes and dislikes. And finally there are plenty of surveys (internet, mailers, etc.) that produce data on customer’s input.
NICO would like to take this time to thank Canaan for his time and the efforts he is putting forth with Nissan and the Nissan community.