Rush mentality revives Kia plant in just 12 days

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Rush mentality revives Kia plant in just 12 days

A fire at a parts supplier’s factory last month forced Kia Motors to suspend all assembly operations at its plant in West Point, Georgia, in the United States.

But Koreans’ ppalli ppalli (hurry hurry) spirit and the full commitment of the company’s employees helped restore operations with lightning speed.

Full operations were restored last Thursday, just 12 days after the March 17 fire that torched one of the two assembly lines at Daehan Solution’s plant in Northwest Harris Business Park, which produces headliners and insulation materials for Kia cars. The fire burned 145,000 square feet of the 260,000-square-foot plant.

Kia partially restarted the factory on March 22 and produced 500 units of the Optima midsize sedans, also known as K5 in Korea. It resumed production of two other vehicles - the Kia SorentoR sport utility vehicle and Hyundai Santa Fe SUV - on March 26.

Now daily production is back to 1,370 units. Before the fire, the plant was producing 1,400 units a day.

Such a speedy recovery would not have been possible without Kia’s swift response and the employees’ full commitment. Employees gave up their weekends to help get the factory working again.

Like other manufacturing plants, the Kia plant has a “just in time” manufacturing system that minimizes inventories of components. A shortage of components translates into a shutdown of the entire factory.

Realizing the seriousness of the emergency, Ahn Byung-mo, president and CEO of Kia Motors America and Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, flew to Georgia from Los Angeles. Kim Geun-sik, an assistant managing director of Kia, also flew in.

Kia immediately called in 250 engineers from Korea and an Alabama plant of its sister company, Hyundai Motor. The company needed to consult engineers specializing in procurement, manufacturing, quality control and molding. All Korean employees stationed in Georgia worked until midnight to get the plant running again.

Kia also realized that Daehan was making similar components in Korea. It chartered planes from Korean Air and Asiana Airlines to ship components to Georgia. They delivered parts for 300 to 350 units of the K5 sedan per airplane. A total of eight airplanes shipped the parts for two weeks. According to Kia, it will employ charters for the next three to four months until the Daehan plant is fully restored.

Kia also learned that carpets for the SorentoR and Santa Fe could be made by local manufacturers in Georgia and Alabama and gave them the orders.

Although the fire torched most of the Daehan plant, the equipment that produced the headliners was spared. Hundreds of employees from Kia, Daehan and other suppliers helped pull the equipment from the damaged plant and relocate it to a former storage room.

Meanwhile, the 250 engineers started arriving in Georgia and Alabama. They were dispatched to Daehan and local components manufacturers and assigned to help produce the needed parts.

Ahn, CEO of Kia Motors America, also sought help from Nathan Deal, the governor of Georgia. The components flown in from Korea quickly cleared customs after simplified procedures. Immigration formalities for the engineers from Korea were also accelerated.

The American auto industry was surprised by the quick recovery. A U.S. industry official said that it could have taken one month to restore the operation if it had happened to another company and that it was amazing that Kia’s factory started running after only three days of total shutdown.

Later, Ahn expressed gratitude to those who helped Kia in times of difficulty.

“To have such a rapid and complete recovery would not have been possible without the strong support received from the State of Georgia, Troup County, Harris County, the City of West Point, the Hyundai Motor Group, suppliers and our team members,” Ahn said in a statement. “It is remarkable that our production is back just one week later, and I want to say a heartfelt thank you for the continued and ongoing efforts.”


By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

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