My visit with Iljin came before my KBC visit, but, it has been harder for me to organize that information. I arrived to Seoul late on Saturday, and took Sunday as a free day to "de-jet-lag". This part I have described in my earlier article on Seoul, Korea.
On Monday morning Mr. Juno Yoon (actually, in proper Korean that would be Mr. Yoon, but he kindly asked me to address him as Juno, informal, I take that as an honorable thing for him to do). Juno took me to Iljin Global's HQ near my hotel, where I met some of his team: Jee Hoon Oh, Gi Won Seo and Jeong Ho Cha (the latter two Roberto Arce deals with in our purchases from Iljin). Jee Hoon Oh ("John", many here in the Orient give us Westerners a break and give themselves a nickname that is easier to remember) was Juno's assistant in our visits to their plants and did the driving.
At Iljin HQ, I was informed that not only is Iljin the world's largest manufacturer of wheel bearings, but that the company is owned by one person (whose name I will not disclose because I know that some of you, my dear readers, might try to ask for a loan...). It turns out that ALL THREE of our suppliers here are owned by one person or family each...
As I did writing my KBC article, I start at the end, when I was able to take a picture of my hosts (and the car they took me in):
I took the above photo in Changwon, South Korea as they dropped me off at my hotel and into the custody of KBC. On the left is "John" Oh and on the right is Juno Yoon. Both are family men, both work over 60 hours per week and both speak English very well.
I am not sure of what John's exact position is, as my contact with Iljin is normally with Juno alone, Ameru's Sales Manager (Roberto Arce) handles most communications with Iljin's export guys.
Juno is the Overseas Sales Department Manager (that is, he oversees ALL EXPORTS from Iljin to the aftermarket (replacement parts), and I believe he still helps negotiates bearings sales to the foreign car companies like BMW. Juno earlier in his career spent most of his time negotiating with the likes of BMW, Chrysler, GM, Ford, Peugeot and others to sell Iljin bearings on an "OEM" basis (that is, the car companies would buy Iljin bearings as the ones going right into their cars, OEM is an acronym: Original Equipment Manufacturers -- in this case the car companies).
Juno came to visit us (Ameru) in Peru in 2008! We then started buying Iljin much more quickly as they expanded their product range and we saw more Hyundai cars coming into Peru. As I have mentioned before, our sales of Iljin bearings has been rising rapidly as we better understand what they make and find the applications (what car they are used in) there in Peru.
Juno is very talented man who has worked very hard to get to where he is. This is a FACT. His English is fluent, I know about four words of Korean...
After the short visit to their HQ in Seoul, John drove us to Jecheon (in north central South Korea, about two - three hours away from Seoul by car), where Iljin has the most modern manufacturing facility I have ever seen. I have mentioned before about being amazed by by what I saw in Korea, but Iljin's bearing plant at Jecheon is the most amazing of ANY facility I have ever seen (but KBC's plants are modern and a wonder to behold as well).
(When I, as a typical American, think of manufacturing, I think of dirty, loud and dangerous factories... The bearing factory I visited in Spain some 15 years or so ago WAS dirty, loud and dangerous, there was a "big guy" who worked at the hot forge, who picked up each piece of orange-hot metal and placed it into the forge, the rest of the Spanish plant was similar: one machine, one worker. No air conditioning in the summer either...)
Jecheon is very different. There are no guys pulling along industrial boxes or pallet-loads of parts. In fact, there were many women employed there as factory-floor workers. Why is that? Because there is little DANGER or strength needed in the Jecheon plant needed to make bearings... They need educated people who can learn how to run extremely sophisticated machinery, not by hand, but with their brains. I do not think that I am revealing anything confidential here when I write that it is not "one machine, one man" (like in Spain), but more like "25 machines, one man or woman"... Yes, it is that incredible. Lots of robots doing their thing. I understand now why they did not want me taking pictures on the production floor, they might be the most advanced in the world (for rolling bearings)...
They did let me take SOME pictures though. The one below is of me standing next to their Welcome announcement (that is, welcoming me to their plant, upon reflection I was so impressed by Jecheon that I should have written how LUCKY I was to be able to visit...). When they took the picture, we did not realize that the glare from the daylight was reflecting on the screen of their sign, so alas we miss the details of the sign in this picture:
It might be a while before any of you see anymore pictures of me wearing a suit...
Later that day (Monday) we drove to Kyungju (central Korea) and spent the night. They took me to eat Korean barbecue... The next morning we saw their Kyungju plant, another marvel. That afternoon, they drove me down to Changwon for the hand-off to KBC.
Thank you very much Juno and John!
While I could not take any photos of the production lines, they have bearings on exhibit that visitors can look at and take photos freely. I am making these next three photos as large as possible so any of you interested in details about bearings can see what the differences are. This first picture is of "Generation 1" wheel bearings, they are very typical of what the Europeans used for decades in their cars (we call them "double row angular contact" bearings, or "doble hilera" in Spanish). You can see from where they cut away part of the Outer Ring exposing the steel balls inside. These are not complicated to make bearings. LOTS of bearing companies make them!
This next photo shows some details of "Generation 2" wheel bearings, fewer companies these, as they are much more complicated items to manufacture, the steel housings require other equipment... You can see the flange, bolt holes, gearing and other details here. Note that the bearing itself is tucked away inside the "Hub and Bearing Assembly" (the correct term to use re Generation 2 and Generation 3 bearings). Again, they cut out some of the finished pieces so that you can see how the bearing fits in there.
One of the Generation 2 bearings that we buy is out 3rd biggest selling piece (US$ terms) this year in Peru. It is not only a Generation 2 piece, but made with tapered rollers instead of steel balls as the rolling element, making tapered bearings is more difficult than making ball bearings. That Hub and Bearing Assembly that sells so well for us is their item number "IJ-212001" and is used in the Hyundai Grand Starex, a van you see in many countries, but NOT in the USA. As of mid-April we had sold 325 pieces of the IJ-212001 valued at over $17,700. Just the one piece... Only our "Tico" bearings sell more ($ terms).
The below photo shows some details of Generation 3 wheel bearings. The piece at the bottom right (front of the display case on the right) shows a complete unit. Each of THESE Hub and Bearing Assemblies have two flanges, and are even more complicated both to understand what is going on inside as well as harder to manufacture than the Generation 2 pieces.
Ameru has sold (again mid-April figures) over 100 pcs EACH of two Gen 3 items and smaller quantities each of several other sizes.
Why do I go into such fuss and detail about the "Generations" of bearings? Because these new generations are what the car companies now want (in most part) from their bearing suppliers (and most of their other OEM suppliers as well). They want already assembled products, thereby being able to use less labor (because all they have to do is fit a Hub and Bearing Assembly onto the wheel), and the OEMs do not have to worry about keeping track of thousands of pieces going into modern cars, they have their suppliers (like Iljin) make advanced technology pieces that simplify the manufacturing (mostly assembly now, the car companies themselves make relatively FEW items themselves...).
Iljin, a company that we had never even HEARD OF until 2006 (when we saw a piece of theirs in Peru brought in by a general auto-parts importer), is a high technology leader, perhaps the world's most advanced in wheel bearings (but, I am not an engineer, nor have I been to see what NSK and the other Japanese bearing companies are up to...).
Working with Iljin is an honor for Ameru. As Hyundai and other car companies start using more of Iljin's pieces, so we will be selling more and more of their product in Peru.
I'm telling you all: while America sleeps, Korea advances... Remember, Korea was one of the poorest and most destroyed countries in the world after the Korean War. What the Koreans have accomplished (not only Iljin and KBC) since then is a wonder that I am pleased to have seen.