Hyundai can make a Santro from scratch in 21 hours flat! How do they do it? We head to the plant in Chen­nai to find out

Evo India - - CONTENTS -

How does Hyundai’s fam­ily hatch come to life? Only a visit to the plant can an­swer that one

ATOS. OR SANTRO AS IN­DIA came to know the hatch­back that made Hyundai a house­hold name is back and glean­ing from just the first full month of sales, it is ev­i­dent that cus­tomers are warm­ing up to it rather well. In 1998, when the rest of the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try was seem­ingly still con­founded about what cus­tomers re­ally wanted, Hyundai had hit the nail on the head. The orig­i­nal Santro had ev­ery­thing the cus­tomers wanted. It had acres of space, a very re­fined and ca­pa­ble en­gine, com­fort­able sus­pen­sion setup and to top it all off, it was a fairly good car to drive. Hyundai in suc­ces­sive years con­tin­ued adding to the Santro and in a few years it be­came the en­try level hatch­back that was the per­fect first car for a va­ri­ety of peo­ple.

In 2014, af­ter more than a decade of strong sales, Hyundai de­cided to retire the Santro. Yet, less than four years later, it is back. Rein­vig­o­rated with fresh styling, peppy new en­gines and with all the at­tributes that made it a grand suc­cess still found in good mea­sure, it looks like Hyundai has a win­ner on its hands yet again.

Less than a month ago we re­ceived a brand new beige Santro to drive and we have been tak­ing turns to have a go at it ever since. We have found out over the course of a few short weeks that much has changed in the Santro from four years ago but a lot of what made the Santro such a great city car con­tin­ues to be present in this new-gen car. It is a re­birth of sorts for the Santro – dif­fer­ent avatar but with all the same virtues. So un­der­stand­ably when Hyundai pre­sented us with a chance to visit the Hyundai plant out­side Chen­nai and wit­ness the birth of the Santro, 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 700,000 units ev­ery year. The fes­tive sea­son is upon us and Hyundai has its order books full. The re­cently launched Santro is among the cars most in de­mand and it shows. Scores of Santros roll out of the plant ev­ery sin­gle day.

From AH2 to Santro

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 Santro is re­placed by the code-name AH2 and the orange colour code makes Santro 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 de­fects and 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. More than a hun­dred 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.

A Santro ev­ery 72 sec­onds

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 orange 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. 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 line ev­ery 72 sec­onds at the Hyundai plant and it takes ex­actly 21 hours to build a car from scratch. 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. ⌧


1: The die for the right-hand side outer panel. 2: I get much in­sight about the process from the press shop in-charge. 3: The Santro at the end of the as­sem­bly line be­fore the pre-de­liv­ery in­spec­tion. 4: The steer­ing wheel is mounted with a torque wrench cal­i­brated dif­fer­ently for each car. 5: Work­ers stack­ing up the pan­els mo­ments af­ter be­ing formed; the only job in the press shop that re­quires man­power. 6: Com­plex ma­chin­ing rigs like this were ev­ery­where at the Sripe­rum­budur plant. Right: Dash­board as­sem­bly is one of the fi­nal steps of the process

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