Hyundai's Billion-Dollar Commitment

"This new manufacturing facility reaffirms Hyundai's commitment toward investing in the U.S. economy, as well as its commitment toward U.S. consumers," said Mong-Koo Chung, chairman of Hyundai Automotive Group, on May 20 in Montgomery, Alabama.

"This new manufacturing facility reaffirms Hyundai's commitment toward investing in the U.S. economy, as well as its commitment toward U.S. consumers," said Mong-Koo Chung, chairman of Hyundai Automotive Group, on May 20 in Montgomery, Alabama. The occasion was the "official" opening of a $1.1-billion manufacturing facility which, if nothing else, indicates just how serious Hyundai is about the U.S. market. The two-million square foot plant is capacitized to produce 300,000 vehicles per year. The first vehicle launched at the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA) plant is the 2006 Sonata with the new 3.3-liter V6 engine; the engine is being machined and assembled in a plant on-site. Ordinarily, so-called "transplant" operations start with an assembly plant and then some years later install powertrain production; Hyundai is jumping in with both feet. The second vehicle to be produced will be an all-new Santa Fe SUV, but its timing, production launch in early '06, is predicated on making sure that the quality of the first product is up to snuff (to say nothing of being up to the 10-year warranty that the company offers). Each vehicle is expected to account for half of the production. HMMA employs approximately 2,000 people, a number of whom have come from other vehicle manufacturers. John Kalson, HMMA Production director, is one of them. He used to work for Ford at the AutoAlliance plant in Flat Rock, MI. Pick a vehicle manufacturer, and you're likely to find its former employees somewhere within HMMA. Kalson says that among his senior staff there are people who formerly worked at Nissan, Ford, DCX, and GM. "That's not coincidence," he said with a smile. When asked about what facilities they benchmarked, he cites facilities not only of those companies, but all of the usual suspects, too.

According to Kalson, the plant is modeled largely on a mother plant in Asan, Korea, but, he notes, it is more automated. The reason is simple: "We're a newer plant." The automation is evident throughout the stamping and assembly operations. For example, in the stamping facility, which is centered on two 5,400-ton IHI crossbar transfer presses (parts are processed double-attached; 17 different parts are processed, including all of the outer panels), material handling is fully automated, from the blanking presses to an automated storage and retrieval system. Then, in welding, the stamped parts arrive via electrified monorails, and are processed by 254 robots (welding and sealing). The paint shop, too, is fully automated; there is no hand-spraying performed. One of the technologies that they're most proud of submerges the vehicle in a cathode bath and then rotates it 360° a total of 12 times, thereby eliminating any air bubbles on the surface prior to the application of the water-borne base and primer. HMMA is working with DuPont and PPG in the facility. The paint shop, which was built by Dürr, is capable of handling five different models.

The general assembly area measures 8,620-ft2 and there is a distinct emphasis on ergonomics. This is evident by the fact that there are more than 7,000 ft of conveyors; within that, there are four different types (i.e., slat, skillet, EMS, shuttle), depending on the operation. There are a number of robots in general assembly, for tasks including installing the windshield, backlight, front seats, battery, and spare tire. There are automated fluid fill (e.g., coolant, brake fluid, washer fluid, etc.) stations, as well. But like most GA operations, the work is primarily done by people.

The completed vehicles undergo testing within the facility (i.e., roll test; high-pressure water spray), and then 100% of them are sent out onto a 2.3-mile test track on the property.

Time will tell how productive the plant will be. But consider this: In April, 2002, there was a pasture where there is now one of the world's most-advanced auto plants. The people at Hyundai are nothing if not hard working.—GSV