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We travel to Hyundai India's Sriperumbudur facility to witness the Hyundai Creta being built from scratch.
Photography by Gurushankar Subramanian (MAGUmedia)
Mid-size SUV. The term itself makes one think of the Hyundai Creta. Its success, with more than 4 lakh units sold in India, has made every other manufacturer throw their hat into the ring. But the Creta was getting old and needed an update and Hyundai have done just that.
Close on the heels of unveiling the new Creta at the auto expo, Hyundai offered us the opportunity of a peek behind the curtain to witness it being made from scratch at the plant outside Chennai, we couldn’t say no. The Chennai facility at Sriperumbudur is an integrated unit where all of Hyundai India’s cars are made and it produces more than 700,000 units every year. Hyundai has its order books full and the Creta is rolling out in large numbers ahead of an expected launch later this month. is among the cars most in demand and it shows. Scores of cars roll out of the plant every single day.
It all starts at the body panel workshop. Rolls of stainless steel arrive at the workshop where all eyes are on the 5400-tonne capacity press that bears down on the sheets of metal to produce individual body panels. The dies to produce these panels are made months in advance and trialled for a full three months before production actually begins. This, Hyundai engineers at the spot told me, was to ensure that by the time production begins, the panels are created with a very high dimensional accuracy.
At the plant, the name Creta is replaced by the code-name SU2i and the purple colour code for the dies makes Creta parts easy to spot in the massive facility. After the gigantic press cuts out the metal parts, it goes through a few other processes in the same machine before shiny new panels are ejected out to the plant workers who stack them up. One in every 50 panels is checked for defectsand an oil stone is used to check for deformities. If an imperfection is found, the entire lot is re-examined.
After the panels are made, they are transported to the next stage of the process, the body shop, where the magic really happens as the high strength shell of the Creta is put together. More than 650 industrial robots take up the job of machining and welding parts on to the body panels. The robots have an efficiency of more than 98 per cent and errors are kept to a minimum. There seemed to be fewer human operators than robots in this part of the plant, with their role visibly limited to feeding the parts and components to be put on the rig for them to be welded together with the body panels. Are humans becoming obsolete in the body shop then? Not quite. The critical job of programming these robots is handled by skilled operators. Technicians at the site informed us that the robots can easily reach spots that are difficult to find and have a high accuracy for repetitive tasks.
After the body panels have all been fabricated and put together to form the body of the car, it is now time to get the cars painted. All the car bodies are taken to the paint shop where the cars are given an anti-rust treatment followed by multiple coats of paint and finally the clearcoat which gives the cars that great shine. The painting is done by robots and due to the presence of hazardous chemicals no one is allowed inside the paint shop during operation.
The assembly shop was easily the most human intensive part of the process. The underbody chassis elements are first attached and then the body panels are precision welded. Then comes an extremely critical part of the process called chassis marriage. Here the driveline components are attached to the chassis of the car. Mechanised platforms carry the engine components while the body is lowered from a conveyor for extremely skilled operators to attach the two in a matter of seconds. Oh, and by the way conveyors are everywhere. Every component and part to be attached is transported by way of gigantic conveyors across different levels of the assembly shop. After the driveline is married to the chassis, everything else is attached sequentially by workers manually. There are numerous steps involved where sub-assemblies are seamlessly attached to the body by skilled technicians at each station. The cars on the assembly line are constantly on the move and operators only have a few seconds with each car to get it right before another car arrives. The fact that the assembly line includes a variety of cars and operators work on different cars one after the other without missing a beat is rather commendable and demonstrates how streamlined the entire process is.
After all the components are assembled together, the blue protector panels are removed and at the end of the assembly line the car is switched on for the first time. After a few stutters every car on the line starts up and is driven to the holding area for the final step of the process – the Pre-Delivery Inspection. My question about cars not starting up at the end of the line was met with a grin from the technicians who said maybe a car or so every couple of months. Moving on to the Pre-Delivery Inspection line, every car is tested and every function and feature is evaluated over 800 seconds. A total of 150 checks are done in the meantime. Only when the car passes every test is it sent to the customer. Hyundai executives stressed on how important driving every car they produce is. A staggering 97 per cent of all cars that get to the PDI clear it in the very first attempt. The rest do so soon after.
A car rolls out from the assembly in less than a minute at the Hyundai plant. Even with such high production numbers, the fact that Hyundai can deliver remarkable levels of quality is a testament to the enormous faith that Hyundai places in its processes and its personnel. No wonder then that Hyundai's customers reciprocate with enormous trust in Hyundai's cars.