Published Sunday, October 28, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
Board members and staff of the Three Rivers Regional Commission toured the Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia plant in West Point on Thursday.
The Three Rivers meeting for October was held at Kia’s training center, with the tour immediately following. Many board members invited family members to go along. Coweta representatives included Ed Bledsoe and Tony Sinclair.
Patrick Sands of Kia gave a presentation on the plant and Kia and led the tour.
The Kia site covers 2,200 acres along Interstate 85. The buildings cover about 650 acres, Sands said. “There is a lot of room for possible growth in the future,” he said.
The plant represents a $1.1 billion total investment by Kia. That’s up about $1 million from last year, thanks to a new stamping press, expanded paint ovens, new assembly lines and an expanded rail spur.
The plant can produce 360,000 vehicles a year, up from 300,000 before the expansion.
Three vehicles are built at the plant in West Point: the Kia Optima sedan, the Kia Sorento SUV, and the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV.
The plant employs more than 3,000 “team members.”
That doesn’t count the employees of several nearby suppliers — which supply various modules including wheels and tires, seats, and the cockpit.
The plant is highly automated, and what goes onto each vehicle is precisely controlled — from the paint color to the trim options.
All three types of vehicles are made on the same line — at the same time, with no separation. That’s possible because of the computerized controls.
The major process that was not on the tour was the paint shop. It’s not conducive to tours for several reasons. “It’s a very controlled environment,” Sands said. Employees have to wear lint free and static free suits, and can only wear approved colognes, deodorants, lotions and perfumes.
There are multiple dips and rinses to prepare and condition the metal. Next comes the “e coat,” which “should prevent corrosion for the life of the vehicle,” Sands said. Then the primer, base coat, top coat and clear coat are sprayed on, with time spent in the ovens between each coat.
It takes about nine-and-a- half hours for a vehicle to go through the paint shop — and that’s out of only 18 hours for the vehicle to be built from start to finish.
The other major facet not included in the tour was the 2.5-mile test track, where every vehicle off the line is put through its paces.
The groundbreaking for the plant was held in October 2006. The first Sorento came off the line on Nov. 16, 2009. Production of the Santa Fe began in 2010, and the Optima was added on Sept. 2, 2011, Sands said. They began production of the redesigned Santa Fe on July 19.
The response to Kia’s hiring “waves” was overwhelming. In the first wave, in January 2008, there were 43,013 applications submitted for 1,200 jobs, Sands said.
The second wave was in May 2010, and there were 44,507 applications for 800 jobs.
The third wave, in November 2011, garnered 45,745 applications for about 1,000 jobs.
On Feb. 29, the plant produced its 500,000th vehicle. “Next year, sometime, we should be hitting one million,” Sands said.
The tour began where the vehicles begin — in the stamping area.
Rows and rows of sheet metal, cut to size, wait to go into one of the two stamping presses. Color-coded dyes, for the different vehicles, are lined up in rows.
“We stamp out pretty much the identifiable pieces,” such as the exterior body panels, Sands said.
Some metal parts come from other suppliers, as do many other items including the engine assemblies, cockpit modules, seats and wheels and tires. Most are made locally.
After the chassis is assembled, the doors are then removed in order to make the process easier. Once they come out of the paint shop, each vehicle receives strategically-placed plastic covers — all color coded, of course — to prevent any damage to the finish while the rest of the car is assembled.
The engine assembly, which includes everything under the hood, as well as the front and back rotors, transmission, catalytic converter and exhaust, goes onto the vehicles in one piece. The engines themselves are made by Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama in Montgomery. The transmission is built by Power Tech and the engines and transmissions are brought to Kia by Mobis, Ga.
One of the last steps is filling the vehicle with fluids — which is all carefully controlled by a computer.
Then the vehicles head out to the test track, and come back in for the “shower test” and final inspection before being shipped to dealerships. Fifty-eight percent of the vehicles leave by rail, with the rest leaving by truck, Sands said.