Thursday, August 8, 2013

New Faculty Tour: The Auto Industry and Economic Development

Written by Mi Geum Chorzepa, assistant professor of civil engineering in UGA's College of Engineering. 

Early Wednesday morning, the New Faculty Tour visited the Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia (KMMG) plant in West Point. The tour was arranged by Sean McMillan, director of economic development at UGA. As we drove into the site, I almost felt as though I was sitting in the conference room at the Georgia Power Resource Center. On Tuesday, Tommy Wade, senior civil engineer at Georgia Power, presented GIS-based site design and showed a virtual manufacturing building placed on a potential plot on Google Earth. Driving up, the building looked very similar to the 3D building model.

The tour started with a presentation by Kia employees. During the presentation, we learned that KMMG revitalized the West Point community and provided training and jobs to community residents. We also learned that they are growing in size - manufacturing more than 200,000 cars per year. We then started a guided tour of four assembly units. The first unit we visited was the stamping line, where the manufacturing process begins. Three models are mainly manufactured in this plant: the Sorento, Optima and Santa Fe. The welding shop was the next stop. It was, in my opinion, the most impressive stop. Approximately 300 welding robots put the body panels together, providing 2,200 welds per car.

And it wasn't just the technology that impressed the New Faculty. The safety and assurance programs in place were truly impressive. Moreover, the space was used very efficiently, fully utilizing the overhead compartments. The third stop was the paint shop. This shop cleans, conditions, Eco bathes and primes the metal bodies, and provides the final color coat. As we were walking to the last unit, the testing and quality assurance unit, we saw the cafeteria, fitness center, bank, medical center and learned about Kia's employee wellness programs and benefits. In the testing unit, it was amazing to witness the well-coordinated teamwork and safety and quality assurance programs. Kia's Georgia plant is capable of assembling a car in only one hour. It's hard to believe, but now we can testify to the speed!

It was touching to see the busy manufacturing lines and to be part of this vibrant community. As the nation struggles to find more jobs for its citizens, it is truly impressive that KMMG not only manages to stay in business but also successfully operates a manufacturing plant in the United States. Kia cars are not made until they have already been sold. As a part of the new engineering program at UGA, I realize our engineering students may also be able to provide the infrastructure and workforce that can attract more businesses like KMMG and make positive changes to Georgia cities and communities. Moreover, I strongly believe diverse research programs at UGA will bring more new business initiatives to Georgia. I look forward to visiting the plant again with our students.

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