$1B Hyundai Plant Blooms

Mon May 10, 2004 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

Construction crews in Montgomery, AL, are converting a 1,700-acre (688 ha) cow pasture into a $1-billion automotive manufacturing plant built specifically for Hyundai.

The 2-million-sq.-ft. (185,806 sq m) facility is Hyundai Motor Manufacturing’s (HMMA) first U.S. plant. It will include an assembly plant, engine shop, central energy center, stamping and welding building, paint shop, administration building and a separate training center.

The company is scheduled to produce the sedan model Sonata at the facility starting in 2005 and the Santa Fe SUV in early 2006. The plant is expected to employ more than 2,000 and will eventually produce an estimated 300,000 vehicles annually.

Construction began in November 2002 and the plant should be completed by June of this year, noted John Martin, project manager of Rust Constructors’ Birmingham division. There are approximately 1,000 construction personnel working on this job site, including the process equipment installation.

“One of the biggest challenges,” added Martin, “is the facility is located in a region that has an extensive chalk substructure soil makeup, and keeping the site in a dry condition has been a serious challenge.

“There was a point last year where we exceeded the average annual rain fall in about a two-month period, and additional rains have caused delays. But [Hyundai] and Rust personnel have overcome that obstacle.”

The soil had very little bearing capacity when wet. After an area was graded, it was easily disturbed even by relatively light traffic.

Approximately 2.75 million cu. yds. (2.1 million cu m) of earth was moved for this project and an estimated 80,000 cu. yds. (61,164 cu m) of concrete poured. Because the land originally served as a rural pasture, considerable suitable backfill material was brought on site.

“This was a very challenging project,” said Trey Hard, operations manager of JESCO Construction, Inc., “There was a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time. In addition to meeting the strict safety requirements, we had to be able to supply sufficient manpower and have access to the equipment needed to complete the job.”

JESCO handled concrete foundations for the assembly building and the stamping and welding structure.

“There are two large pits in the stamping and welding building. We started the excavation for those in Janaury of last year and finished in March 2003. In total we did about 200,000 yards of machine excavation using two Hitachi 550s.

“It wasn’t easy, because the dirt was extremely hard blue marl. We’re talking very dense, very compact,” he said.

Jesco used numerous Volvo 35-ton (31.8 t) dump trucks and Caterpillar D6 and D8 dozers. The press pit was an excavation of about 30 ft. (9 m) and the baler pit was about 45 ft. (13.7 m).

“We also placed about 20,000 yards of concrete with a mat slab thickness ranging from three to six,” explained Hard. “We had up to 75 men working in two shifts. What hurt us was all the rain we had last summer. When that happens, the water goes in the holes.”

Jesco crews had to use a series of 6-in. (15.2 cm) pumps to get it out. There was a lot of night work, because of the logistics of moving that mass of concrete from two plants.

“We did an 1,800 yard pour and a 1,300 yard pour, which were pretty significant,” said Hard. “It took a lot of manpower and effort, but we got it done using a Kobelco 200-ton crane and an American 110-ton crane.

“We also probably did another 8,000 yards of concrete for the Assembly building and handled caissons and drill pier foundations for both buildings. They were anywhere from 15 to 30 feet and all went down into the hard pan dirt, which is like finding rock, it’s so hard.”

QORE Property Sciences Inc. of Montgomery handled soil and concrete testing to make certain the required densities and strengths were being met, said Operations Manager Alex Muncie.

“Our initial testing services included drilled shaft installation observation, reinforcing steel observation, concrete testing, asphalt testing and structural steel installation observation. Our additional services included roofing observation, paint thickness testing, floor flatness testing, and Roller Compacted Concrete testing,” he said.

A wide variety of cranes played a crucial role in the initial construction of the building and during the final stages of setting roof-mounted equipment. The cranes range from large Manitowocs to smaller Broderson cherry pickers. The more sizeable cranes were used to set the structural steel for the building frames, while the Brodersons were brought in to set pipe and other lighter utilities.

Other equipment used includes personnel lifts ranging from 40 to 120 ft. (12 to 36.6 m), both inside and on the exteriors. Those inside the buildings must have non-marring tires and contain spill/leak prevention protection.

Three crews from Fab-Arc of Oxford, AL, also put in long hours at the Hyundai plant, erecting the structural steel.

Fab-Arc used three 200-ton Manitowoc cranes to complete work on the assembly, engine, energy and stamping and welding buildings. In total, the company handled approximately 15,000 tons (13,608 t) of steel, noted Tony Pugh, senior project manager.

“The design changes and rainy site conditions were a challenge for us, but nothing compared to our work on the stamping building,” Pugh noted. “Working over these large, deep pits was very dangerous. With the excavation you can’t get your equipment too close to the edge because you don’t want unstable soil to shift and everything give way.

Fab-Arc used 120-ft. (36.5 m) personnel lifts because of this. There were also heavier, double and triple shafter columns to deal with. They were higher –– 60 ft. (18.2 m) as opposed to 40 ft. (12.2 m).

“That made it more difficult,” noted Pugh. “It was also tough dealing with so many trades trying to do work at the same time. Trying to frame out steel framing overhead while you’ve got someone pouring slab underneath and other folks dealing with sprinkler systems is not easy. Everyone is fighting for the same space while trying to meet their deadlines. That got pretty tricky at times.

“The other obstacle,” he added, “was trying to transport all the fabricated steel. We were dealing with overlength, oversized trusses that meant dealing with permit and escort situations when it came to shipping. That also meant a demand for long stretch trailers, which aren’t easy to come by.

“Our partner, Prospect Steel of Little Rock, did an outstanding job of helping us complete our work, as did subcontractor Capitol City Erectors of Columbia, South Carolina.”

One of the highlights of the construction is the administration building, which features panel siding, ornate glasswork and a large canopy and atrium entrance. Showrooms, presentation rooms, communications and IT rooms are also being constructed, along with a cafeteria and complete kitchen.

“Our Hyundai plant will be one of the most automated in the world,” said Hyundai spokesman Bill Lang of Montgomery. “We are extremely proud of what is taking place here.

“The vast majority of our team members will be from [Alabama]. Between the suppliers and HMMA, nearly 6,000 new jobs are being created in Alabama and $1.5 billion is being invested,” he said.

Hyundai is the fourth automaker in nine years to choose Alabama for a major production facility. Hyundai Motor Company is based in Seoul, South Korea.