Kia’s relatively new Zilina, Slovakia car factory (production started with the first cee’d in 2006) is, like most greenfield facilities these days, more than a one-site shop. It’s what the US calls a campus – no fewer than three Kia factories: car parts production and assembly and two engine plants. Only a few hundred metres away is a vast supplier park – ‘household’ names (if you’re in the car biz) like Faurecia on the buildings – containing multiple component and module final assembly and just-in-time, just-in-sequence facilities. Then, a few more hundred metres away is a huge training centre, similar to the one located about the same distance from parent Hyundai’s Alabama plant in the US.
Build it and they’ll come – it’s clear from the surroundings the country of Slovakia and the city of Zilina have put in all the infrastructure Kia needs to manufacture and assemble its cars and it was notable during our new generation Ceed test drive and, from the air, as our charter departed back to England, a large motorway project is under way which will no doubt help the automaker with future logistics.
This is pretty much a full manufacturing plant that stamps its own panels and makes more engines than it uses – 80 different pressings are made and the factory stores and accesses them with the help of a vast automated storage unit. A Kia plant representative said 100% of the welds are automated using 360 robots and there is also automated measuring. There are two main transfer press lines, a claimed “unique” inspection system and two main body bucks covering the various Sportage, Ceed and Venga models all made there.
The paint shop has a 360-degree rotate and dip tank. Bodies are rotated through a forward somersault while immersed in the tank and the cars get a five-year paint warranty and 12-year anti-perforation warranty as standard. So it’s imperative to get crucial rust-preventative primer paint into all those important little places – with the help of 80 sealing and painting robots.
Dwell time per final assembly station is one minute and the plant completes 1,400 cars a day. There is plenty of automation with items such as screen fit and wheel nut tightening carried out by machines or robots.
There’s a small test track alongside the factory and every vehicle built is given a run on it – each factory driver does 40 tests a day.
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Adjacent to the plant are two engine factories which ship half their output to the Kia assembly line and half across the border to the Czech Republic to parent Hyundai Motor‘s assembly plant. Gearboxes for Kias come in the other direction.
There are nine engine build lines in total processing block, head, crank assembly and adaptor plate and a considerable number of robots are used in construction. The two shops combined built 539,900 engines in 2017 and the tally since the factory opened is 34.5m and counting.
Suppliers include Nemak for cylinder blocks and heads, Donyang Piston for piston sub-assemblies and Hyundai Kefico for module high pressure pumps.
Around 125,000 people are employed by the big automakers VW, Kia and PSA with JLR setting up, plus Tier 1 suppliers.
Another 250,000 are employed indirectly by automaking and the supply chain and the autobiz itself accounts for 44% alone of total Slovakian industry output.
Vehicle output in the country was 218,349 back in 2005 and 1,025,000 last year.
The Slovakian plant can build 380,000 Kias a year of a company production footprint of 3.8m worldwide. It completed 335,600 units last year and the first half 2018 tally was 170,228. Sportage (66%) takes the lion share of production with Ceed accounting for 28% and Venga 6%. It will be interesting to see if the much-improved new Ceed alters the mix given also the tweaks to the latest Sportage.
By market, H1 output included 18% for the Russian Federation, UK 14%, Germany and Spain 7% each plus Poland 5%.
Zilina owes its origins to the mid-2000s when Kia established a policy of building cars in and for various markets. In Europe, at the time, that meant mid-sized three- and five-door hatchbacks and an estate to compete in the dominant C-sector. It also opened up the possibility for the Sportage compact crossover to be made much closer to its European customers, seen as important with the growth in sales for cars of this type.
The city was chosen because Slovakia, which had become a member of the EU in 2004, had a history in engineering, a highly qualified workforce, a well-developed transport infrastructure, an established automotive supply chain and a national government committed to helping new businesses. Kia was given tax breaks and land incentives by the Slovakian government and has in turn worked with the authorities for the benefit of the local community.
The local authority has established that training centre close to the plant where Kia has provided the expertise to develop courses in such areas as computer, hybrid and welding technologies. These courses are available for all people across the region.
The factory has brought a much needed boost to Zilina. Some 10,000 jobs have been created nearby with more than a dozen parts and components suppliers. Employment at the factory was increased to 3,800 staff when the third shift came into effect in January 2012 and, so far, EUR1.8bn has been spent on the facility.
Kia insiders noted Zilina was completed ahead of schedule, and the quality of the pilot production cars towards the end of 2005 was so good it decided to launch the then-new cee’d with a seven-year, 100,000-mile transferable warranty, subject to wear and tear limitations. That confidence has been more than justified by the consistent quality of the cars made there, the automaker said.
Early cee’d models came off the line in 2006, 2007 saw the first Sportage (generation two), the third generation followed in 2010, the first Venga was made in 2011, the second generation cee’d entered production in 2012, Sportage generation four in 2015 and this year has been particularly busy with the third generation Ceed and updated G4 Sportage dubbed PE (Produced for European customers) which includes a new 48V mild hybrid version.
Local weather had to be taken into account when designing the factory as Zilina lies deep in the Slovakian countryside at the foot of the Tatra mountains – early to mid 20s C in the summer but winter temperatures dip to minus -28 C. Winter lasts a full six months which greatly influenced the layout of the plant. The press, body, paint and final assembly shops are constructed in a square so that cars and parts do not have to go outside at any point. The engines assembled next door are delivered to the final line by overground tunnel. This enclosed facility means that large exterior doors are not needed. In turn this reduces the need for high levels of heating as doors are not constantly being opened and closed.