Hyundai Motor Group’s first smart urban mobility hub, the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore (HMGICS), has finally opened its doors. HMGICS is a testbed of innovation that researches and develops manufacturing technologies to produce not only cars, but also other forms of future mobility as well. What makes HMGICS different from conventional factories is that it has introduced a new concept of space by combining manufacturing technology with cutting-edge IT technology. A large number of innovative production technologies based on various software systems have been introduced to HMGICS, which are closely connected to each other to pave the way for the development and efficient production of new mobility devices.
The innovative technologies applied at HMGICS include the flexible cell-based production method, digital twin technology, AI, data, and robotics. These five technologies are the critical foundation for HMGICS to become a truly smart production center.
But why is Hyundai Motor Group applying software-based manufacturing technology on a large scale to its new mobility production facility, and how are these technologies utilized at HMGICS? Over the next five parts of this series, we’ll take a closer look at the stories behind each technology.
In this part, we’ll investigate the features and background of the cell-based production method, and introduce in detail the completely different automobile production process by applying this new approach.
What makes the production floor at HMGICS different from the automotive factories that we know? In short, HMGICS uses a flexible cell-based production method. First, let’s discuss what a “cell” is. A cell is a small-scale “workshop”. In other words, it can be seen as a grouping of task or processes performed by traditional conveyor belts in a conventional automotive factory. These groups – performed in cells – are separated by function.
A conventional automotive factory produces cars around long conveyor belts that move according to a fixed process. These conveyor belts play a key role in the mass production of cars. Ever since Henry Ford, Ford’s founder, developed the conveyor belt system in 1908, the mass production of cars has been underpinned by conveyor belts. With the explosive demand for cars, conveyor belts have become the foundation for efficiently producing a high volume of cars over a small period of time.
On the other hand, cell-based production is a system that can produce cars in a time- and cost-efficient manner, with no limitations on the number of different models and specifications to be built. This makes it possible to reconfigure the process in real time, even when production demands for different mobilities arise at the same time. It also allows for more flexibility in production, as each cell can perform different kinds of work instead of following a set production line.
When you enter the HMGICS production floor, you will see several workshops with oval enclosures. As mentioned earlier, each of these workshops is called a cell, and within a cell, teams of workers and production robots work together to produce a car.
The HMGICS production floor consists of a total of 27 cells and is broadly categorized by process. These include trim cells, chassis marriage cells, flexible cells, final cells, and inspection cells. So, what is each cell doing?
When production begins, the car body moves into the trim cell. The area consists of a “manual cell” in which workers manually assemble certain components, and an “automated cell” in which robots automatically mount parts. Here, relatively bulky sections such as crash pads and rear bumpers are installed.
Here, we can see what’s unique about cell-based production. A job that would normally require five to 10 processes using the conveyor belt method is performed in a single cell. This is possible because the work is not conducted on a production line that is constantly moving, like a conveyor belt. Here, technicians work hand-in-hand with robots to ensure the quality of cars.
Once all the necessary parts have been fitted in the trim cell, the body of the car is loaded onto an AGV (Automated Guided Vehicle), a mobile robot, to arrive at the next stage of the production process, the chassis marriage cell. In other words, the AGV takes the place of the conveyor belt.
In the chassis marriage cell, work is carried out to combine the car body with the platform. After the body is raised high on a lifter, power electronics system, high-voltage battery, suspension, etc. are combined. At HMGICS, you can often see automated equipment and robots conducting what would be potentially dangerous tasks for humans.
Once the body of the car is combined with the platform, it is ready for the next step, the flexible cell. This is where various convenience and safety features are incorporated into the car. For this reason, the flexible cell is where the characteristics of the cell production method are most pronounced. This is because orders received can be flexibly reflected in the production process according to the detailed demands of various customers. In fact, in a single day, HMGICS can produce different models of cars with different specifications, which is unimaginable for a conveyor belt system that only performs set processes consistently.
After this, the assembled car moves to the inspection cell. Here, quality inspection is carried out using collaborative robots and an automated inspection system to ensure that the vehicle has been properly assembled. After going through all of these cell processes, the car is finally finished.
Until now, the cell-based production method has not been widely utilized in car manufacturing. Compared with general industrial products, automobiles often have a considerably larger number of parts, the production process is very complex, and most factories are focused on mass production.
So, why did Hyundai Motor Group adopt the cell-based production method for HMGICS? The reason for this can be found in the rapidly changing automotive industry. Due to the remarkable development of ICT and software technology, automobiles that evolve around software (Software Defined Vehicles) are emerging, and various convenience specifications applied to vehicles have also become more detailed and diverse.
In addition, with the emergence of last-mile mobility solutions — such as electric scooters, Purpose Built Vehicles (PBV) focused on user demand, and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM), demand for different types of mobility is rapidly increasing. In this way, the emergence of truly infinite mobility is expected to emerge in future cities where the boundaries between movement and daily life disappear and mobility services and devices are connected with each other.
The demands of the mobility market, which is expanding to include a diverse range of vehicles, have set the stage for new challenges for Hyundai Motor Group. By opening an innovation center in Singapore and introducing the concept of cell-based production to the production site, a structure was created that allowed for agile, flexible production of multiple vehicles. This provides the basis for creating a variety of mobility products simultaneously by applying different production processes to each cell. This is the exact opposite of how a conventional automotive factory works, which pursues mass production of small products with facilities and production systems tailored to specific vehicle types.
There are many key features to the cell-based production method, including the capability of small-batch production. HMGICS allocates cars ordered with different specifications to cells according to different market demands, and each cell completes vehicle production according to the work instructions issued for each process.
For example, if an order comes in for an IONIQ 5 and an IONIQ 6 (this will commence production at HMGICS in the near future) at the same time, instructions reflecting the specifications of both cars are passed to each cell, and each cell completes the two cars according to the set order and work instructions. This mixed production, which allows for different car models to be built simultaneously, is a representative feature of the cell-based production method.
Another advantage of the cell-based production method is its flexibility. With the conventional conveyor belt method, most of the processes and facilities are set up for a single car model, making it difficult to improve or change the processes. In contrast to this, cell-based construction allows the production plan to be changed relatively easily as the processes are carried out on a single cell basis. The AGVs take over the role of conveyor belts to transport the cars, and the cars can be produced flexibly by transporting them to the necessary cells according to the specifications ordered by the customer. In other words, with cell-based production, it is possible to quickly adapt the line with appropriate processes to accommodate the demand for a new car model.
Another distinctive feature of the cell-based production method is the application of new technologies to each cell process to ensure the quality of finished cars is to the highest standard. HMGICS includes processes such as quality inspection using Artificial Intelligence, indicating a recommendation to improve quality if needed in rare cases. This ensures production efficiency but also high quality.
Cells strictly manage quality with “AI Keepers” utilizing the Boston Dynamics robot ‘SPOT’ and guarantee that parts will fit together. Furthermore, HMGICS is also utilizing AR(Augmented Reality) glasses based on AI technology to help workers skillfully assemble cars and is considering the application of smart gloves that can tell through electrical signals whether electrical components are connected successfully once installed.
So far, we have learned in detail about HMGICS’ unique production system, which can respond flexibly to diverse mobility demands. However, a true cell-based production method can’t be implemented simply by applying a new conceptual production structure. This can only be achieved when all production processes are digitized and supported by a variety of software-based innovations. In the next part, we will introduce “digital twin” technology, which digitally connects logistics facilities, production cells, and numerous workers and robots to create a virtual factory.
HMG Journal Operation Teamgroup@hyundai.com
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