Montgomery Business Journal

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Craig Stapely HMMA

Driving Ahead

May 2015

By David Zaslawsky  
Photography by Robert Fouts

When Hyundai Motor Manufacturing  Alabama began producing vehicles at its Montgomery plant 10 years ago this month, Craig Stapley envisioned the plant would be building as many vehicles as possible.

First-year production, which began in May 2005, resulted in about 90,000 vehicles and climbed to about 250,000 units two years later. The plant has built nearly 400,000 vehicles in each of the last two years.

Stapley has worked at a variety of production areas since joining the company in 2003 when the plant was under construction. He is now the director of engine sub-division for HMMA, which operates two engine shops.

“The first time I laid my eyes on that YF Sonata – the very first time I saw it – I knew that we were going to generate as many automobiles in this plant as it could possibly put out,” Stapley said about the 2011 Sonata. “When I looked at that Sonata, I said, ‘That’s a game-changer.’ It was so well engineered and went together so well. The first one we built on line as a trial, we had zero down time; zero skips or spaces. And it started and drove off the line.”

Then the company added the Elantra to the plant. “On the heels of that (Sonata), I saw the Elantra that we currently build and I said, ‘We’re not going to keep up. We will never keep up with the demand and we haven’t.” Korea still ships Elantras to the U.S. The company is rumored to be considering another manufacturing plant to keep up with demand.

“I call it manufacturability,” said Stapley, who came to Hyundai from Nissan. “When I looked at the parts and the processes, it was so well engineered and went together so well. It just lent itself to good quality.”

He understands the importance of having enough Sonatas and Elantras at dealerships. If a customer walks away because the dealer doesn’t have the vehicle they want, “it’s a lost sale and we’re not in the business of losing sales,” Stapley said. “It’s something we educate our people on all the time because we’re here to make a profit and make as many customers as we can. We have to maintain that market share.”

When HMMA began producing vehicles in Montgomery 10 years ago, the production staff was inexperienced – about as inexperienced as you can get when it comes to building cars.

That is one of the key ways the production staff has evolved – from novice to expert automotive workers, Stapley said.HMMA

In 2004, groups of new hires were sent to Korea for a month to learn how to build cars. “Folks we hired on that very first trip to Korea that were hourly vehicle assemblers have come up to be team leaders, group leaders, assistant managers and managers,” Stapley said. “That’s something that I am very proud of as local, home-grown people that have succeeded in this business that are true automotive professionals.”

Stapley recalled the task of getting 1,000 to 1,200 people in general assembly “all on the same page; all understanding what their roles and responsibilities were and individual accountability, and then seeing that group mature through the years.”

He explained that as a startup, the company had to bring in expertise. “What we created is sustainability and that’s even within our talent pool,” he said. “In all of these shops, you have a bench of people that inherently know what needs to be done to support what has to be done. The only thing we added over the years is more challenges.”

The latest challenge is building increasingly more complex vehicles. “The NF Sonata that we were building when we started was a much simpler car overall,” Stapley said. Now the new vehicles at the plant are equipped with lane departure detection, smart cruise control, rear intervention system, Bluetooth, sophisticated navigation and audio systems and Blue Link. “All those systems make the vehicle much more complex, so again, it’s attention to details and how you make all the processes repeatable,” Stapley said. He said that being able to consistently repeat processes is critical.

Although the production staff is building more complex vehicles, there are now fewer hours required to do the job because of efficiencies. It takes approximately 15 hours to build a vehicle, which includes nine hours in the paint shop and six hours in final assembly. Much of the plant is more automated than it was 10 years ago, although general assembly has added probably the least automation, Stapley said. Stamping, welding, paint shop and engine shops have become more automated, but he said jobs were not lost. In the engine shops, machines tighten nuts and bolts, which is more reliable than people, who may over-tighten or not tighten enough. Robots in the engine shops check about 60 items on each engine, he said.

Even with the automation, no jobs were lost. Production employees were given other duties. “We don’t have a downscale in the work force,” Stapley said. “We have never done that.”

Over the years, the production employees developed a comfort level, said Robert Burns, senior manager of public relations for HMMA. Now those same employees are making suggestions to improve production.

Stapley challenges the team leaders in the engine shop to work on an improvement in their area each week. Those suggestions “generate better and better and better work environments because now they’re tasked with going out and improving something whether it be cost, safety, quality, efficiency or productivity,” Stapley said. “That has kind of a snowball effect.”

He said that group leaders across the plant spend one hour each week on line with a different employee to get to know them and talk about their job and possible improvements.

“It’s really important that the supervisor knows his people and the people know their supervisor,” said Stapley, who worked on the assembly line for nearly five years with another automaker. He said that he personally invests a lot of time in getting to know the employees. For Hyundai, it is one of the core values – people.

The engine shops, which supply the nearby Kia plant in West Point, Georgia, with about 250,000 to 275,000 engines a year, produce a total of about 710,000 engines annually. They are operating at capacity, Stapley said.

Stapley, who has been in the automotive business for 30-plus years, said “if you create well-lit spaces, the team member on the line doesn’t feel constrained and it improves quality.” By eliminating clutter and presenting less material to assembly line employees, it makes their job less complicated. Lighting is that important. “You will be amazed by just adding light makes all the difference in the world,” said Stapley, who has run every shop at the plant.

He talked about eliminating the seven wastes, which originated in Japan and are called “muda.” Those include waste of time; waste of money; waste of space; waste of effort. “You start reducing all those wastes and then it’s only about adding value to the product that you’re building,” Stapley said. “Everything else doesn’t matter. Whatever adds value directly to the product is what people pay for.”

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