First, 43,013 people applied for the initial 1,200 jobs at the Kia plant in West Point.
Then, 11 months after starting production in November of last year, Kia launched a second shift after hiring another 900 workers from 44,507 applicants.
And now, with the third wave of hiring just beginning, Kia already has received more than 11,000 applications for up to 1,000 new jobs. Tens of thousands of more applications are expected.
Kia is flooring it, moving from one to three shifts and from producing one to three vehicles faster than West Point execs thought it would.
At the same time, the growth has not affected production quality — if a recent Consumer Reports survey is to be believed. The West Point-produced Kia Sorento (V6 model) placed first in owner satisfaction and second in overall scoring among the 24 SUVs in the survey category.
Given the explosive growth, I wanted to find out how quality was being maintained, especially since many companies, including Toyota, falter when sales grow rapidly. I went through the plant with Stuart Countess, director of quality, to see how Kia is attempting to avoid production missteps.
Here’s what Kia is doing:
– First, given the tens of thousands of applicants, the company is able to hire highly qualified workers — and then put them through extensive training. There’s a training facility on site and more than 1,000 workers have to be sent to Korea for additional training.
– From the beginning, doing each production job by following an exact procedure, step by step, is repeatedly stressed.
– Managers continually solicit ways to improve production. But suggestions are carefully evaluated. Until a change is approved, everyone follows the existing procedure.
– There are four daily quality meetings — two on each of the two shifts right now. Leaders from quality control and the four production shops (stamping, welding, paint and general assembly) go over key indicators from the previous day.
“We always have to take something back and improve on it,” Countess said.
– “Keepers” of production quality are positioned along the assembly line. After a car goes through a number of steps, a keeper inspects what has been done up to that point.
“You don’t want to ship a defect all the way down the line because it can get covered up,” Countess said.
– There are yellow pull cords along the line. If a worker pulls it, a light goes on and a team leader rushes over to see what’s wrong. Often, the line continues moving while the team leader fixes the problem, as the line worker completes the other tasks. If that can’t be accomplished, then the line stops until the problem is fixed.
– All cars — not just some — go through a test drive on a special course outside the plant. The goal is for the driver to detect any noises that can indicate a problem.
– Large signs, such as “Do it right the first time” and “Drive defects to zero,” are prominent throughout the plant, which Countess regularly walks.
“You can’t build a car from my desk,” he said. “I find out so much information by just talking with the people on the production line.”
That’s where quality lives or dies.
- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat
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