AMS visited the company’s impressively modern facilities in Chennai, where petrol and diesel engines can be manufactured on the same line

Hyundai Motor India Limited (HMIL) is the second largest automotive manufacturer in India, established in 1996 by the Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) of South Korea when the Hyundai brand was almost unknown in the country.

At the time of Hyundai’s entry into the market, there were only five major players: Maruti, Hindustan, Premier, Tata and Mahindra. Daewoo had launched the Cielo just three years earlier, while Ford, General Motors and Honda had started producing cars less than a year before. Maruti had a near monopoly over passenger cars; Tata and Mahindra were solely utility and commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturers, while Hindustan and Premier built the outdated, uncompetitive Ambassador and Padmini respectively.

HMIL’s first car, the Hyundai Santro, was launched in September 1998 and was a runaway success. Within three years of breaking ground on the plant, HMIL became the second largest automotive OEM and the largest exporter from India in the industry. HMIL currently markets nine car models. In the A2 segment, it has the Eon, Santro, i10, Grand i10 and the i20; in the A3 segment, the Verna; in the A4 segment, the Elantra; in the A5 segment, the Sonata; and in the SUV segment, the Santa Fe.

To cater to rising demand, HMIL commissioned its second plant in February 2008. This plant has an installed capacity of 330,000 units per annum, raising HMIL’s total production capacity to 600,000 units per annum. HMC has also set up an R&D facility in Hyderabad called Hyundai Motor India Engineering (HMIE).

As HMC’s global export hub for compact cars, HMIL is the first automotive company in India to achieve the export of 1m cars in just over a decade (in February 2010). The OEM currently exports cars to more than 120 countries across the EU, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Asia and Australia. It is the number one exporter of passenger cars from India for the sixth year in a row. Currently, Hyundai Motor India is exporting six models: the Santro, i10, i20, Accent, Eon and Verna. In 2012, in spite of the global slowdown, Hyundai Motor India exported 250,005 cars.

Press purchasing driven by demand
Taking a tour through Plant 2 with Rajkumar Balusamy, senior manager, manufacturing engineering, it is apparent that Hyundai’s rise within three years to become the second largest car producer in India (after Maruti) was no accident. The company is happy to make significant capital investments.

The tour began in the Plant 2 stamping shop, where rows of new presses from Hyundai Rotem are testament to two important points: firstly, unlike Maruti and General Motors, Hyundai Motor India has been in existence for just 17 years and so is still growing in equipment to meet increasing demand; secondly, it does not have legacy equipment to amortise or with faults to work around. The first presses at the Chennai plant were used units from Korea and these have been replaced in line with demand.

Automation abounds in the bodyshop
Moving on from stamping, Balusamy says the bodyshop is 100% automated for the latest models; the only operators in body assembly in both Plant 1 and 2 are gap and flush checkers and panel adjusters, who gently but firmly tweak doors and fenders for the best fit.

On some of the older models, the older Accent and the Santro, there are some CO2 welding operations, using Fronius manual and automated MIG welders, as Balusamy says: “On the older models, the lower volumes do not justify re-designing the bodies to eliminate some manual welding, the main areas still welded by hand are the screen pillar bases and some bulkhead (firewall) and inner front fender joins. These need to be very strong and the design does not permit spot weld guns to make the welds.”

Walking around the framing stations while the robots  work, one is struck by how few sparks are generated; indeed, safety glasses are not required. Balusamy explains: “You won’t see many sparks here; we use an anti-spatter oil on many panels and frame parts. This gives a very good weld and reduces sparks to a minimum.”

Door outers are mainly press-hemmed but roller hemming is used on panels where model mix complexity requires the flexibility that the more quickly programmable and adaptable roller system can offer.

A water-based & modern paintshop
As for Hyundai globally, Dürr has supplied the highly automated paintshop, which uses the RoDip single-sided electric transport system to immerse the bodies and rotate them up to 360˚ in the PT and ED baths. 

Six Kuka KR16 robots in each plant carry out general seam sealing and four of the same robots are used for underbody sealing, at the rate of 60 jobs per hour (jph). This is followed by water-based primer and basecoat, then a solvent-borne clearcoat for metallic colours, all applied by Dürr robots. Due to the fluctuating demand mix of domestic and export vehicles, in six different models, some manual painting is necessary on the interiors, under-bonnet and under-trunk lids of some cars. However, as the older models like the Accent run out, this will be more automated.

A highly automated assembly shop
In the assembly shop at Hyundai, what is striking is the level of automation. Powered handlers are plentiful and modularisation of the various units is more developed than in most Western plants. Rajkumar Balusamy comments: “Currently we have semi-automated assembly for the i10, Grand i10, Verna and i20.”

Doors are handled by a cleverly adaptable pair of handlers, one for the front and one for the rear. Manual changeover levers adjust the handlers for the four different models. As the doors come off, they are dressed on the ground floor, unlike in many plants where they often go up to a mezzanine or upper floor. “We have the space here to work on one floor and even with the many models, if we keep it well-organised, we can do it all on the main production level,” says Balusamy.

The space allows operators to pick parts from bins, and not using kits gives greater flexibility for the varying specifications of domestic and export models.
With vehicles going out to more than 120 countries, the possible variations in trim level are considerable, as Balusamy explains: “There are literally millions of combinations of trim when you include all the models and markets, and picking individual parts works best at present. We are not using kitting for door assembly at the moment but in the future we will move to that, as the model lines rationalise when older models are phased out”.

Fitting the instrument panel (IP) is done with a clever device that Hyundai calls a ‘crash pad handler’. This is semi-automated; it uses ‘soft’ power to assist the operator to pick up the IP module from lineside and slide it into place.

Indeed, modules are key to the speed of the assembly process. Balusamy says Hyundai is “always looking for more modularisation”. He continues: “We have front-end modules [FEM], IP and front and rear suspension modules already but we may integrate suspension, powertrain and exhaust in the future as well as increasing the size of the FEM as design changes allow.”

Bumpers come already painted from a local supplier and quality and colour match is constantly monitored by eye as well as with photospectrometers. With the volumes that Hyundai has continued to produce, even during the recent downturn, suppliers work hard to maintain quality. As Balusamy comments: “We are very happy with our suppliers generally. They have learnt a lot from watching our manufacturing methods, and for a supplier to have a Hyundai contract is something to be very proud of in India”.

Trust & the human factor
The two plants are currently running three shifts and are at 90-95% of capacity. The ‘churn’ or turnover of the approximately 8,500 employees stands at 5-7% per year, with 30% casual labour providing an effective buffer for demand fluctuation.

Indeed, the human factor is very well-developed at Hyundai. With a lot of part picking and no RFID (the plant uses paper sheets for all bodies and assemblies), a lot of trust is placed in the workforce.

As Thathipillai relates: “Hyundai is doing very well compared to much of the car industry in India. We are helped a lot by the big demand for exports, so employment is very good here and the company is highly respected.”

Interview with Sarangarajan Thathapillai, vice-president, Hyundai Motor India