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SMART Plant almost ready for production

With SMART Alabama, Inc., just a month away from starting production, Human Resources Director Gary Sport said the state's largest Tier 1 automotive plant is hiring employees at the rate of 50 per week in order to ensure staffing requirements are met by March.

"We're sort of in a hiring crunch right now," said Sport. "Between Jan. 1 and the end of February we'll have hired 245 people."

When hiring is complete Sport said the plant would employ close to 600 people, including management personnel.

SMART will supply 70 percent of the inner panel parts for the Hyundai assembly plant in Hope Hull. The car manufacture's first United States production facility will produce its Sonata and Santa Fe models. Sport said currently all equipment is in place to produce parts for the Sonata with new equipment being installed throughout the year for production of the Santa Fe.

Sport explained that raw materials enter the plant and sections are inserted into a stamping press consisting of an upper and lower die. The press forms a part used in manufacturing the inner panel of an automobile.

"The presses, small and large, require constant maintenance," said Sport. "The dyes wear down with use and get out of specification and have to be rebuilt."

The parts are then taken to the assembly section of the plant where robots weld the components together to create a full section of a car's inner panel, whether it's a floorboard, trunk, or inside door panel.

Each panel manufactured by SMART is inspected by the assembly worker, quality control personnel inside the plant and is inspected again when it arrives at the Hyundai plant.

Sport said each prospective employee must advance through two weeks of training with AIDT (Alabama Industrial Development Training). Currently classes are running every night of the week, except Saturday and Sunday.

"They (AIDT) assist us with our recruiting," said Sport. "While students are in this class they go through team-building orientation and we observe how well they work with others. They're not working yet - this is pre-employment."

Sport describes the training as an on-going process.

"There's so much to learn and you don't find many people around here that's ever done this type of work," he said. "Of course it varies with the type of work done. Depending on the job, some people can catch on after a few weeks and others it may take a month."

Sport said, initially, operation at the plant would be around the clock.

"But once production is in full force, we should be able to maintain our numbers with two shifts on the assembly and three shifts on the press," he said.