Hyundai's Innovation Center Could Be The Future of Factories
A beeping noise behind the group reminds us to move aside. A black Hyundai Ioniq 5 is being carried by a robot to the next cell. After visiting potentially dozens of automotive manufacturing facilities over the years, the Hyundai Motor Group's Innovation Center in Singapore (HMGICS) yields some unexpected surprises beyond impatient robots asking you to move aside.
Built as a test bed for new ideas and the source of EVs for the Singapore market, the Innovation Center is an opportunity for the automaker to continue investigating best practices for building EVs. It's a facility filled with bold ideas, robots, and quite a lot of beeping.
On the factory floor, Hyundai has done away with the traditional assembly line. Instead, workstations called "cells" are where the action happens. One cell marries the battery to the body and another installs interior elements like seats and dashboard. What's impressive is that robots here are doing some of the fine-tuned work that traditionally humans completed.
That seems like bad news for those in the job pool, but the reality is that while there are fewer on the factory floor positions, the backbone of this system requires skillsets that even in Singapore where manufacturing is 20% of the country's GDP, Hyundai had to train new employees and pull some in from other countries including its home, Korea.
"So in the context of technology, the quest for better talent and the talent war is pretty much at play," Hyundai's VP and head of the HMGICS technology innovation group, Alpesh Patel told SAE during a roundtable discussion at the facility. Some of those new positions at the plant include machine learning specialists to work on computer vision for the robots and simulation creation specialists to help create a twin factory in the digital world to help test new ideas and procedures before they are deployed.
And of course, robotics.
Training is handled internally and via local universities. It mirrors what Hyundai is doing with its Metaplant in Georgia. Reaching out to local schools to help them create a curriculum that will lead to jobs at a Hyundai factory.
The Singapore facility is more than just a test bed for production, it's also the potential platform for other similar factories placed in urban areas around the world. For example, one could pop up in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Chicago.
"At this stage, I don't think there are specific plans yet. But the vision is to be able to replicate this as a concept in other environments," Patel said.
It's not just electric cars that could be produced at these facilities. "We could be manufacturing a large variety of mobility devices," Patel said. This could potentially include, electric two-wheelers, robotic aids for people, and urban air mobility devices.
That's where the cell manufacturing concept comes into play. Creating a traditional line limits the ability to add different types of vehicles to a facility. Patel added, "In this case, the thought if we can, try to manufacture as many different types of devices as possible. So it's the start, and we won't we won't put a ceiling at the start."
It's also potentially the beginning of a new sort of factory worker. One that deals with planning and oversight of the facility instead of on the floor.