Is This Korea’s Best-Kept Secret?
By James D. Sawyer
Quick: Name the top supplier in the Korean auto industry.
Your answer probably begins with the right letter—H. The probability is great, however, that the rest of the name is not the same as the one Mike Huggett provided us with. Huggett, president of Hwacheon’s American operations, told the press at a recent event at the company’s Vernon Hills, IL, facility that not only does the family-owned company make machine tools used by Hyundai and its affiliate, Kia—4000 at Hyundai alone—but that it manufactures cylinder blocks, cylinder heads and crankshafts for the two Korean automakers.
“There is no other machine tool builder that is manufacturing on its own machines every day,” he said.
Hwacheon, he added, is No. 1 in machine tool sales in Korea, is the top supplier for high-speed cutting tools in that country and was the first Korean company to make an NC lathe. Given all that, why is the 60-year-old company such a little-known entity in the US?
Perhaps it’s the fact that the company is conservative and self-reliant. Another reason might be that machine tools make up only one-third of Hwacheon’s global sales. Its foundry business (which manufactures the cast-iron structure of the company’s premium machine tools as well as serves outside customers) accounts for another third of global sales. Contract manufacturing—using its own machines, of course—makes up the final third of sales.
“Hwacheon is vertically integrated,” Huggett said, “from foundry to machine tools. It does all its own heat treating, hand scraping, grinding and subassembly.” The company also does all of its own software programming. Ballscrews, CNCs and little else come from vendors.
Hwacheon machinery America has focused on turning centers to this point. Now it will be emphasizing milling machines that provide the high-accuracy and quality required by the die/mold industry.
“We are looking to be the low-cost alternative to Japanese machine tools as the price of those tools continues to climb,” Huggett said. The Vernon Hills operation is one of four Hwacheon tech centers. Of the others, one is in Europe and two are in Korea. Huggett said his facility is home to five service engineers and he expects to add two more by the end of the year. Hwacheon Machinery America’s 25 dealers have another 115 engineers available to assist customers. ME