A large order for a total of twelve complete die casting cells for manufacturing high-grade engine blocks from aluminum was awarded by the Hyundai Motor Company to Buhler Die Casting. The signing of this contract marks the culmination of a patient effort.
The first eight high-tonnage die casting cells have been up and running since August 2006. Four additional ones are scheduled for installation and start-up in the coming months. Once this Buhler large-scale project has been completed at the end of 2007, the Korean Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) in Ulsan will be operating twelve die casting cells with locking forces ranging from 2700 to 4200 tons – and the world’s most advanced die casting facility for manufacturing engine blocks.
The new die casting systems operated by Hyundai in the old iron foundry.
Engine block – the heart of a car
After BMW, Hyundai is another major carmaker who trusts the die casting systems of Buhler for manufacturing the engine blocks of its luxury models. The engine block is the actual heart of a car. The quality and strength of this die cast component is crucial for the life cycle of the entire engine. No wonder, then, that engine builders and automobile manufacturers around the world are constantly on the lookout for improvements in die casting processes and systems.
Hyundai has set itself the goal of manufacturing the best engines in the world. This applies not only to those incorporated in its own vehicles, but also to those it sells as a vendor to other carmakers. In line with this objective, the people at Hyundai went searching after the turn of the millennium for a die casting process that would be capable of satisfying the high quality requirements.
Invitation from Hyundai
Buhler’s Die Casting division, only set up an agency in Korea in 2002. The task assigned to the young team at that time was: Build a positive image and sell individual new die casting systems. Dan Lloyd, Buhler Die Casting sales manager for the Far East, looks back to this period saying: “We succeeded within a short time in finding buyers for our high-grade production systems. But we still had hardly any contact with Hyundai. This was true until one day toward the end of the year 2003, when we received an invitation from the Korean automobile manufacturer to present our products. Up to then, Hyundai had always purchased its die casting systems from Japanese manufacturers, but its attention had been drawn to the quality products from Buhler.”
Before receiving their first order, the Buhler specialists still had to make a big effort to convince the customer. This initial contract included on the one hand the supply of five complete die casting systems of type Evolution 270 D for the production of four-cylinder inline engines. It also comprised three systems of type Evolution 370 D for casting six- and eight-cylinder V-engine blocks from aluminum. Dan Lloyd: “Unlike the Japanese installations, our die casting systems work with very high operating pressures and are fully automated. This engineering and technology approach is entirely different from the one that the engineers at Hyundai were used to.” In order to convince Hyundai of the benefits of the Buhler systems, the representatives from the Korean automobile producer first had to be familiarized with a technology they did not know and with its somewhat different underlying pressure philosophy. “That took some time,” explains Dan Lloyd. “The Hyundai engineers wanted to know everything down to the last detail. What especially took some time was to convince them that the full automation of the die casting process is a huge advantage. It is in line with the Asian mentality to want to know and understand everything exactly.” Ultimately, this effort bore fruit.
Up to the preliminary acceptance of the first system, which took place in Uzwil in July 2005, the specialists from Hyundai and the team headed by Buhler project manager Urban Ehret were in constant contact. Meetings were held every two months to discuss all the components of the new system and to talk about minor improvements.
In August 2005, the 15-member team from Buhler Die Casting started installing the first die casting system in the vast hall of the former iron foundry in Ulsan, which covers roughly 10,000 square meters. The subsequent systems were delivered at regular intervals. In August 2006, all eight die casting systems including the peripheral equipment consisting of robots, spray devices, molten metal feeder units, and the aluminum supply system had been completely installed and tested. Ever since, an aluminum engine block leaves one of the eight machines every three minutes. The ultimate goal is to achieve “round-the-clock” operation. As soon as this happens, the eight casting cells will manufacture 850,000 engine blocks a year.
Additional showcase installations
Quite obviously convinced of the quality of the process and die casting equipment supplied by Buhler, the people at Hyundai ordered four additional complete die casting cells in the summer of 2006. They will go into productive service at the end of 2007 at the latest. For Dan Lloyd, this second order from Hyundai is definitive proof of the quality of “his” products. “With Hyundai, we have satisfied another major automobile manufacturer with our systems after BMW. This gives us another showcase installation. It also shows that we can more than hold our own in contending against our Japanese competitors.” For the 60-year-old Englishman, it is also important that “we learned a lot in executing the Hyundai project, and especially that we have aroused worldwide interest in our high-quality products with its successful completion.”
The Hyundai Motor Company (HMC) together with Kia Motors is part of the Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, which in turn is one of the five divisions of the large international Hyundai Group. HMC was founded in 1967 by Chung Ju-yung and is today South Korea’s largest passenger car and commercial vehicle producer. In Ulsan in the south of Korea – which the local population also calls Hyundai City – Hyundai operates the world’s biggest car factory. Hyundai did not enter the North American markets before the eighties, and Europe before the nineties. Worldwide, Hyundai is considered to be the seventh-largest carmaker.
Buhler is a global Technology Group and a system partner for the supply of plant, equipment, and process know-how in the fields of Food Processing, Chemical Engineering, and Die Casting, with some 6,000 employees worldwide.