Friday, May 18, 2012

KBC Visit

Going with the flow here in Seoul, I just went out and bought coffee.  Actually I did not even have to leave the hotel, there is one right there attached.  $5.00 for a small cup (to go) of Colombian Supremo...


I will write up an article on each of our two bearing suppliers here in Korea (and later our supplier MBS of Japan as well), but I will start with KBC as I have the information better organized.  I have to mention something else: each of the four guys (two KBC men here in this article as well as the two at Iljin) I talked with at length work 60 + hours per week, it is 5:34 PM Friday evening here in Seoul, I would expect that all four are still at work...

I have mentioned that KBC brand is typically very close to 50% of our sales volume.  KBC was a joint venture with large German bearing maker FAG, then FAG bought out the rest of KBC that it did not own, and then mighty Schaeffler (INA brand of German industrial bearings) then went and bought FAG out.  The bearing industry is consolidating, something like what the airlines and car makers are doing.  So, the brand is KBC, but the official name of our supplier is Schaeffler Korea Corporation.  Schaeffler, by the way, is owned by ONLY Mrs. Schaeffler (I believe she is widowed).  Her son helps her run that huge company (they also bought Continental, the German tire and auto parts maker).  I am guessing that Schaeffler is the second biggest bearing manufacturer in the world.


The people with whom we work there at KBC (shorter than Schaeffler...) often switch jobs, but the man helping us now is Sung-Su Kim (Mr. Kim).  Here is a picture of Sung-Su Kim as well as Jong-Woo Kim (not related AFAIK), "Kim" is a very common last name here in Korea (something like 50% of Koreans have the surnames Kim, Park, Lee and Oh).

On the left is Sung-Su Kim and on the right is Jong-Woo Kim.  Hey guys, you're famous!  Just behind them is Jong-Woo's SUV, a Hyundai Santa Fe.

Because I so rarely wear a tie, and recently shaved off the mustache that I had worn since I was 24 years old, I thought some of you might like this of me and Jong-Woo Kim:

Sung-Su Kim runs about 1/3 of the export business of KBC (he covers the Americas (ex. USA) and India and Sri Lanka as well).  He has been working directly with Ameru for perhaps a year now, he briefly worked with us in the past as people were moved around (I have to assume that all that buying and re-organizing by the German owners has kept the pot stirred there).  Sung-Su Kim was very patient with me as we explored a variety of issues, even some delicate ones...  He was one of the two guys who really filled me in on the Korean character, that is, how Korea rose from being as poor as anybody in Africa after the Korean War (South Korea was essentially destroyed in the war) to becoming a mighty manufacturer not only of bearings and cars, but high technology (Samsung smart phones, LED big screen TVs, semiconductors, etc.) as well.  Korea is AHEAD of the USA in battery and magnet technologies.

I met Jong-Woo Kim at their Changwon Plant 3 (I am not going in chronological order for the moment, as I wanted to put up the above pictures first).  Jong-Woo Kim was educated in the USA for six years and his English is very good.  He is a material scientist, and works for their R & D unit.  He took us on a tour of their R & D facility, which impressed me a lot.  They have MANY rooms with LOTS of equipment that I have learned to appreciate (even though I am not an engineer) through the years.  He wants to take a look at the fake KBC bearings (Chinese bearings being marked and packaged by counterfeiters in Peru) that I brought here with me.  KBC even makes some of their own machines...  And some for their parent company Schaeffler in Germany as well.

I met Sung-Su Kim after Iljin's two guys turned custody of me over to him late Tuesday (in Changwon, a city in the extreme south of Korea, very industrial but very clean).  Here is a "drive-by" picture of a piece of heavy equipment I saw when while being driven around Changwon:

And a bridge near Changwon (another "drive-by" photo):

On Wednesday, Sung-Su took me over to Changwon Plant 1, where they make most of the pieces that we buy from them, here is the entrance:

If you look carefully at the right part of the first archway you can make out the KBC brand name.

Unfortunately, neither KBC nor Iljin would allow me to take pictures inside their plants.  I have to assume, then, that each has proprietary technology that they do want leaked out to the world (and to their competitors).  Personally, I feel it is a real pity that I could not take pictures of such amazing factories.  I have NEVER seen anything like that in any other factories I have visited (OK, I have NOT visited REALLY hi-tech plants like semiconductor plants).  But, in comparing these factories to the one I visited in Spain some 12 years ago, I was extremely impressed with the automation and quality control I saw...

But, they did have display cases, just for for visitors who turn up, like me!  The below picture is the rear axle of the famous (in Peru!) Hyundai H-1 "Grand Starex", you can see the Grand Starex in my article not long ago about vehicles they have in Peru but not in the USA.  The below photos are not very high quality because all pieces were in display cases, and I could not get really close.

That axle uses six bearings (one double row type on each wheel and a pair each of tapered bearings on the pinion and the differential).  In my earlier article as well re the bearings we sell in Peru, I show two of the pieces we sell for the Grand Starex, one of them is the double-row type here, the other piece is a "Generation 2" type made by Iljin.

The below picture shows ball bearings:

You can see part of the outer ring cut away on the big piece at the right.

KBC tapered roller bearings:

Again, the pictures are not very good, sorry...

I spent that Tuesday night in a hotel in Changwon, in a district that was pretty lively...  Do Koreans ever sleep?

The next day, Sung-Su Kim and I flew back to Seoul (rather than endure a 5 hour road trip, security by the way pretty relaxed for domestic flights in South Korea, they let me bring my bottle through in my hand luggage...).  He put me up in a hotel near to the dead center of the city of Seoul, that afternoon I went out and took some more pictures of Seoul (earlier article, just scroll down the page).

On Thursday, I had a nice long and productive meeting with Sung-Su Kim in a conference room there at their HQ in Seoul.  I noted on the way in a congratulatory picture and note from Mrs. Schaeffler and her son, recognizing the fact that Schaeffler Korea sold over 1 trillion Won last year (about a billion dollars).  The conference room had those white boards that you write on with the erasable markers, it was my first shot at doing that...  I filled out three of them in great detail, I think Mr. Kim would agree, as he took several photos for his later reference (we covered a LOT of ground).  I even briefly met his boss (Kun-Soo Han) too.

So, there it is.  A really good meeting with our KBC counterparts.  Sung-Su Kim is really a great guy, a family man too...  But, probably still at work as I finish this piece at 7:05 PM on a Friday here...

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