Montgomery Business Journal

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HMMA Gets Ready for Santa Fe Build

April 2016
By David Zaslawsky       
Photography by Robert Fouts

While producing 390,000-plus vehicles annually at a plant designed for a capacity of 300,000, production workers at Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama have been asked to learn how to build a new vehicle.

Just imagine that for a minute. The Montgomery plant is ramping up for Santa Fe production on the side and without any impact or disruption to the current building of Elantras and Sonatas, the company’s top-two best sellers in the U.S.

“We have a business plan that we’ve got to meet day-in and day-out and oh, by the way, we’re going to be launching a brand new vehicle,” said Chris Susock, vice president of production operations for HMMA.

“This is something we do every year, whether it be the LS Sonata (code name for the latest model) that we just launched here two years ago or the AE (Elantra) we launched last year and now the Santa Fe. We’re so used to this right now, it’s almost – I hate to say it – second nature.”

Whether it’s second nature or not, it is a monumental task and comes with a meticulous plan that is so detailed it nearly covers each hour. The timeline is developed by Hyundai Motor Co. and HMMA. “We have our requirements, so we tell them (Hyundai’s global manufacturing engineering team) that these are our requirements from a plant standpoint; from a business standpoint in order to make sure that we’re not having any issues or not impacting our current business plan,” Susock said. “Everything has to fit in.”Chris Susock HMMA

Corporate will design a project plan, and then it’s discussed and debated with HMMA. Susock said, “Is the plan feasible? What constraints have they not seen that we now realize might be affected? We go through it again and again to make sure that we’ve got all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted and we’ve thought of everything we can in order to make this happen.”

The finalized plan is now in place, but there still is tweaking along the way. Yes, there are milestones that must be made. Deadlines cannot be missed. There is a tight schedule with a launch date. The plant will be producing the 2017 Santa Fes in June.

“Every day, every week we’re reviewing and we’re meeting – where are we?” Susock said about the timeline. “Are there obstacles? Are there constraints? Before we get to the point that we’re not going to meet the (milestone), we’re meeting about it. There’s no ‘you didn’t make your time’ and move back the (start date).”

HMMA created its Santa Fe launch team by selecting 36 production employees from the general assembly area. “Each of these individuals are subject matter experts within their processes,” Susock said. They are from the chassis area, trim area and final area.

Those 36 employees will become the trainers, but first the company had to train the trainers and what better place than the Kia plant in nearby West Point, Georgia, where the Santa Fe is being produced. The 36 employees were sent to the Kia plant in February for three days, but the focus was not on the nuts and bolts. Instead it was on the processes of building the Santa Fe, which HMMA will basically mirror what Kia is doing, according to Susock.

They came back with notes and ideas on what worked at the Kia facility and what they could do differently at the Hyundai plant. The 36 worked with the plant’s process engineering team and “put their plans together on how we’re going to implement and start constructing the work stations necessary for production build with the team members out there,” Susock said.

That’s not a one-time deal for the 36 team members and the process engineering team. It’s an on-going process. “They’ll go back out on the (assembly) floor,” Susock said. “They’ll take a look at the work station. They’ll take measurements and do a visualization and say, ‘This is where the parts have to be; here’s how we have to set up the tooling.’ ”

Remember those work stations are being used for two passenger cars – Sonata and Elantra. The work stations have to be “integrated” for the Santa Fe.

“The thing that we want to impress here is, who knows better to build the vehicle than the people that are going to build the vehicle?” Susock asked. “We want them to make sure that they are comfortable with building the vehicle. They have to stay within the confines of the standards of how to build that vehicle in order to produce high-level qualities,” Susock said.

Some of the work has been done at the facility’s training center, which is adjacent to the plant. Inside the training center is what Susock called a “new model prototype training center.” Simply put, it’s a simulation of a work station. It’s where they can design a work station and they work on a body buck or body-in-white. The vehicle is actually built through the system at the training center. “It’s almost like a mini factory,” Susock said.

“All the team members will be able to start learning how to actually assemble their vehicle within the confines of their processes,” Susock said.

Those body bucks are run through the system and those 36 launch team employees are stationed in their areas and train other employees. Susock called it “real-time training.”

What happens is that employees will build an Elantra or Sonata on the assembly line and then the training buck comes along. The launch team employees show other employees what to do. “We’ll take it (training buck) off line as it comes to the end,” Susock said. “We’ll tear it all back down and we’ll run it back through again and we’ll keep doing it.”

There are pre-production builds and trial cars and trial processes. “We have milestone gates,” Susock said. “If we don’t meet the quality standard at a gate then we can’t proceed.” He said that not meeting the quality standards is the main thing that would prevent production from meeting its deadline.

When production employees are taken off the assembly line for training, they are replaced by temporary employees. There were no additional hires for the new Santa Fe production, but $52 million has been spent on robot programming, retooling and logistics.

Remember the Santa Fe was previously built at the Montgomery plant in 2006, but in August 2010 production was moved to the Kia plant after manufacturing 400,000-plus units.

That Santa Fe history remains alive as two-thirds of the production staff have experience building the vehicle. For those who have only built sedans, they now will be mounting a tailgate and the tailgate trimming instead of a trunk.

When you ask Susock how long the entire process takes, he answered: “It depends on the program. This one is pretty much quite condensed. We’re going to try to accommodate this within a four-month period.”

The plant was scheduled to shut down one week in March to get the tooling processes ready, but training was continuing.

“I’ve been in this business since 1989 – almost 27 years and I love it,” Susock said. “That’s what I do.”

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