At Hyundai Mobis, automation rules.
It must. Hyundai Motor Co. relies so heavily on the affiliated supplier that Hyundai Mobis' plants must spew out multiple parts for multiple vehicles in multiple versions.
For example, there are about 860 chassis versions for one SUV - from one factory.
Such acrobatics might help North Americans understand why the U.S. auto industry is suddenly hearing of Hyundai Mobis. And they're sure to hear more now that Korea's largest auto parts supplier is supporting production at Hyundai's plant in Alabama and preparing to supply a rolling chassis to the Chrysler group's new Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.
The most important part of Hyundai Mobis' business is making modules - big assemblies of parts that are installed in vehicles on the assembly line in one piece.
Through its module manufacturing, the company supplies a significant percentage - estimates range from 15 to 40 percent - of what goes into the vehicles made by its largest customers, Hyundai and Kia. The more vehicles the automakers produce, the more modules and parts Hyundai Mobis supplies.
Last year, the supplier's 10 module plants together generated $3.7 billion in sales, 60 percent of corporate revenue. Once the Toledo project is running, the supplier expects its contract to generate an additional $151 million a year.
Although an Asian auto parts company might be perceived as underpricing rivals through the use of cheap labor, Hyundai Mobis uses the latest manufacturing technology to make workers highly productive and keep its work force lean.
Hyundai Mobis' plants are mostly new, with highly automated processes designed to enhance productivity and prevent manufacturing defects.
Welcome to Ewha
Nowhere is Hyundai Mobis' reliance on automation more evident than its Ewha factory at Hwasung, 90 minutes south of Seoul. The plant makes complete chassis modules and cockpit modules for the Kia Sorento SUV. It also builds cockpit modules for four other Kia models.
The Ewha plant gets the specifications via computer for each Sorento as the body leaves the paint and body shop at the Kia plant three miles away. Hyundai Mobis must deliver the chassis module to Kia within 126 minutes and the cockpit module seven minutes after that.
For Sorento chassis modules alone, Hyundai Mobis must make about 860 variations. For cockpit modules for the five vehicles, there are more than 2,000 variations.
Handling is kept to a minimum. For example, when Hyundai Mobis receives the specifications for each car, a computerized system automatically selects the correct engine and places it on the module assembly line.
Workers configure the engine as necessary. Within minutes it is automatically installed on what soon will be the vehicle's frame.
As workers add other parts, computer-controlled lights on parts racks indicate the correct struts, for example, for the particular assembly. Guided by an indicator light, workers grab the right parts and install them.
Then, a different light directs workers to different struts for the next unit moving down the line.
Computerized torque wrenches tighten bolts to exact tolerances.
Computers track these processes throughout assembly. An electronic checkout system verifies the work.
At the end of the line, an automatic system loads the finished chassis modules onto specially designed trucks. The modules are loaded two to a truck, again with no handling. The truck's sides and roof close automatically. Then the driver pulls out.
Every two minutes, another truck departs for Kia's plant.
In case of delays, there are 18 minutes to spare between the time Hyundai Mobis plans to deliver the chassis modules and the time Kia will use them. For cockpit modules, the leeway is 53 minutes. On Hyundai Mobis' assembly line, the Sorento frames move along on big skids as parts are installed. Once the finished module is lifted off, the skid drops under the line and automatically returns to the starting point for another cycle.
The plant's two Sorento chassis lines together produce 800 units a day during two 10-hour shifts.