Touring Hyundai’s first assembly and manufacturing plant in Alabama
By Charlotte Bowman
Early one morning in May, my children and I hit the road for Montgomery, Alabama. Our destination? Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama. It was a field trip that has been on my bucket list for years.
In June 2006 the History Channel featured the Hyundai plant in the Modern Marvels episode “Assembly Lines”. Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) in LaGrange was also featured in the March 2010 episode “Start to Finish“. Both Hyundai and Kia are are part of the family-owned Hyundai conglomerate in South Korea. So when my brother, a Montgomery resident, mentioned the possibility of taking a tour, I was eager to go.
The Hyundai plant in Alabama is the only manufacturing operation of Hyundai Motor Company, outside of Seoul, South Korea. Visitors are given a thorough overview of what the company does and how it does it.
One of the goals for the plant tour is to provide students with exposure to real STEM workplaces, primarily those in manufacturing. The tour highlights the plant’s serious workforce needs and how they translate into career employment opportunities. It also demonstrates in a eye-popping way that manufacturing today is a whole lot different than it was 20 years ago!
The Administration Building
Our first stop was the Administration building. After checking out the display cars in the showroom, we listened a short presentation and watched a video about the history of the company. We were giving headsets and safety glasses before boarding our tour tram. The headsets allowed our tour guide to speak directly into our ears, since the interior of the plant can be very noisy.
The Stamping Shop
Our tour started with a visit to the Stamping Shop. This is where the vehicle begins to take shape. Overhead cranes are used to lift large galvanized steel coils (weighing 20,000 to 40,000 pounds each) and fed into a blanking press. This massive machine cut the pieces down to size. The panels are then fed into two stamping presses which mold the tough steel as if it were clay. The machine presses the steel pieces into the various shapes of the auto body parts.
The Welding Shop
Our next stop is one of the most automated departments in the industry with a handful of humans and 280 robots. The robots perform the most difficult, dangerous and repetitive tasks, positioning the stamped body parts and welding them together to form the vehicle bodies. The vehicle bodies move down the assembly line where team members attach hinges, doors, hood and trunk, then check the quality of each car body. The end results is a vehicle body in need of a paint job.
The Paint Shop
This is the only section of the plant that is not open for tours. That’s because the Paint Shop is an environmentally-controlled building. Team Members must wear special overalls and gloves to protect themselves and the paint’s finish. Heaven knows no car owner wants to find a particle of dust or strand of hair under the paint finish of their new car! The painting process takes nine hours. Eighty-one robots apply primer, a base coat and a final clear coat. After drying, the freshly-painted vehicle heads to the General Assembly building.
The General Assembly building
The General Assembly building is shaped like an “F” from the air. Here HMMA currently produces three different models — the Hyundai Sonata, Hyundai Elantra and Hyundai Santa Fe. The 7,000-foot long assembly line is a bee hive of motion. It snakes back and forth through the building, creating a huge labyrinth. No space is wasted. The painted vehicles move steadily down the line as electronics, wiring, chassis, interior trim, brake controls, engine and drive trains are connected to each body.
It was fascinating to watch team members and robots working side by side to install the different components to complete the vehicle. In one section, a robot installed the rear windshield, then a team member checked the quality of the installation. Hydraulics lift the car and the heavier parts so team members don’t have to stand awkwardly or strain themselves, and robots handle the most precise work like welding in the body shop. If something goes wrong or there is a quality issue, workers have the power to stop the line and fix the issue immediately.
Once the vehicle is fully assembled, it is taken outside to a two-mile test track to check for rattles or other quality issues. This job sounded fun, until our tour guide explained that music and air conditioning are not allowed during a test drive. That’s because the test drivers are doing a lot more than just driving. They are using all of their senses, except maybe taste, to check out the car’s systems. If all quality standards are met, the vehicle is ready to be shipped to a dealer in North America.
The Engine Shop
The final building we toured was the Engine shop. The industrial smell was really strong here! Castings of engine blocks, head and crankshafts are delivered from suppliers and machined to HMMA’s exact specifications. Over 150 computer-controlled machines are required to build the engines. After a final quality check, the engine is sent on a trestle to the chassis section in the General Assembly building where it is attached to the drive train and the rest of the vehicle.
We ended our tour back in the show room where we took a group photo. Then it was time to head home to Columbus. I worried that the tour might bore some of our easily distractible students. I shouldn’t have. From start to finish, the tour was well paced with a mix of engaging activities. All in all, it was a fantastic field trip!
What to know if you want to go:
Reservations are required: To book a tour, click here. Tour reservations may be made up to six months in advance.
Cost: No Charge
Tour Days and Times: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 2:30 p.m by reservation only. You must have a confirmed tour reservation before you can enter HMMA.
School Tours: Children must be in third grade or above. One adult for every 10 children must accompany the group and supervise children at all times.
Length of Tour Experience: Approximately 75-90 minutes
Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama, LLC
700 Hyundai Blvd
Montgomery, Alabama 36105