When Hyundai offered me the chance to tour their Montgomery, AL, plant, my first question was, “No pictures, right?” After all, every possible entry to every possible building was posted with “No Photography” signs, which I assumed would extend to visiting journalists as well as the general public. Not so, and Hyundai gave us media types unrestricted photographic access to the Montgomery plant. We were allowed to go just about anywhere we wanted, accompanied by a guide, except for Hyundai’s paint shop. It’s not that they’ve got super-secret-squirrel stuff going on with their paint, it’s just that they’re trying to minimize outside sources of dust and contamination. One thing we learned early on is that Hyundai takes quality very seriously, and each and every production line worker has the ability and the obligation to stop the line if they spot a defect or problem.
I’ll let the pictures tell the story of Hyundai’s Montgomery assembly plant, but consider this: every worker (called “team members” in Hyundai speak) we saw looked happy to be there. There were a lot of waves, smiles and shout outs, and even line managers took the time to pose for pictures. At the start of the tour, we were greeted by the president and CEO of Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama (HMMA), Mr. Young Deuk Lim, who took time to greet us, shake our hands and pose for a group photo. I’ve toured a lot of different plants and manufacturing facilities over the years, but that was a first for me. You get the sense that Hyundai treats the 2,700 workers at HMMA very well, and in return they work hard for the company. Ironically, that was the very principle that allowed Henry Ford to succeed with the Model T.
Hyundai is the only automaker in the world that owns their own steel mill, and all the steel used to build Hyundai automobiles comes from this plant. Here you see rolls of raw steel, being pulled into a machine that cuts the sheet steel into the correct shape for stamping.
Beyond these doors, 5,400 ton presses turn the cut steel blanks into stamped panels for later assembly. Hyundai’s Alabama plant is currently the highest production stamping plant in the world, according to the 2010 Harbour Report.
Stamped door shells, awaiting stacking in overhead bins. The stamping plant and the paint shop are really the only facilities that hold significant inventory; the rest of the plant relies on just-in-time parts deliveries from local suppliers.
The next stop on the tour is Hyundai’s welding plant, which utilizes 280 robots to join components from the stamping plant to form the car’s unibody, doors, trunk and hood. Hyundai team members are used to install hinges, doors, trunks and hoods, and to inspect the welds prior to painting. Once the body in white is assembled, it’s sent via an overhead conveyor to the paint shop, where the nine hour paint process begins.
Hyundai builds both the Sonata and the new Elantra at HMMA, and the two cars are built simultaneously on a single assemble line. Here you see a painted Elantra, minus the doors, hood and trunk (removed for assembly) that’s just had sound deadening foam and a wiring harness installed.
Robots are used throughout the Montgomery plant for any task involving heavy lifting. Here, partially assembled cars have just had the dash assembly fitted by a robot, and are awaiting a team member to bolt them in place.
Throughout the assembly process, platforms can be raised or lowered by workers to provide better ergonomics and reduce strain-related injuries. Here we see unibodies being joined to engine and suspension components.
Assembly complete, a team member checks the function of various components such as lights and horn, before driving over rumble strips to check for rattles. The next stop is Hyundai’s test track, where each and every car built is driven approximately 2.3 miles, over various road surfaces, to ensure that the vehicle has zero defects prior to preparation for shipment.
The last stop on Hyundai’s plant tour is the engine assembly building. HMMA build the normally aspirated 2.4 liter four used in the new Sonata, the 2.0 liter turbo used in the Sonata Turbo and is ramping up to build the 1.8 liter four for the new Elantra. Here you see racks of cast engine blocks (probably 2.4 liter variants) awaiting assembly.
Turbo assemblies, awaiting their marriage to a 2.0 liter engine. I suggested that Hyundai use the 274 horsepower turbo motor from the Sonata to build an Elantra R Spec, but they said, “show us the demand”. How about it – does a 274 horsepower Elantra R Spec with a six speed manual sound interesting to you?
Hyundai’s plant tours are free and open to the general public, but I doubt you’ll get the same leniency about photographs that we did. If you’re interested in a plant tour, you can schedule them here, and I’d say it’s well worth the stop if you find yourself in the area.