But it's the marriage of in-plant automation and outsourced content that clearly dominates the picture at Hyundai in Alabama.
In body weld, workers inspect almost 2,000 welds made by 254 robots. But Hyundai's robot force is only part of the process of creating the 2006 Sonata. Suppliers are responsible for another 4,100 of the vehicle's welds.
Once welded into a body-in-white, the Sonata enters an elaborate paint system, created on a turnkey basis by Durr Industries Inc., that features a long 110,000-gallon dip tank.
Typically, automakers dip a steel vehicle body and then raise it for inspection before it gets the next layer of coating.
At Hyundai, automated carriers roll the bodies in 360-degree circles, flipping them end-over-end 12 times through the long dip tank as they proceed through the paint process.
Hyundai executives say the resulting upside-down submersions allow for a better coating with no trapped air bubbles.
And the robotic carrier arms make for a cleaner paint environment, replacing the chance of contamination that can come from traditional overhead carrier systems.
On the final assembly line, workers continue to put trim and wiring into place. But an automated arm lowers the vehicle's air conditioning unit into place from an overhead delivery system.
Heavy automation also represents risks, Robinet warns.
"Lest we forget Poletown," he adds, referring darkly to General Motors' 1980s attempt to automate its Cadillac plant in Detroit, nicknamed the Poletown plant. It had so much cutting-edge technology that workers struggled to keep it working correctly. The results: high expense, low output.
"There will be a great deal of maintenance required to keep the new technology performing as intended," Robinet says. "But I'm confident the Koreans can pull it off. They've shown a real interest in embracing new technology in the past few years, both in the factory and in the cars themselves.
"What I think they will get out of the Montgomery plant is a lot of reassurance about quality.
"They're looking to automation to give them a lot of consistency as they build vehicles around the world, in Korea, in China, in the U.S. They're serious players today. They know they've got to compete against the Japanese on quality now, and this is how they will do it."
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