Now it’s time to take a close look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy. The wheels of a car are the parts that exclude the tires. They are often called the “shoes” of a car as they support the weight of the vehicle and the load of centrifugal force generated while driving. They also relieve the impact of the road surface and cool down the brakes, which makes them a very important part of a car. For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at Korean high-end auto parts makers and for the third and last installment of the series, we focus on Hands Corporation, a company specializing in aluminum alloy wheels which ranks first place domestically and fifth place worldwide. Here is Seung Hyun-chang, the CEO of Hands Corporation.
Our company began as a lumber company in 1972 but now we only manufacture aluminum wheels. At the time, my father was in the lumber business but he was looking to expand his company with new products. So, there was a machinery division and an auto division that produced aluminum wheels. That was during a time when steel wheels were more widely used than aluminum wheels, as aluminum wheels were quite expensive. I think my father had the future in mind, so he focused a lot more on aluminum wheels than lumber. After the Seoul Olympics in 1988 when there was a surge in the number of cars, our company started to grow.
Starting off as a lumber business called Donghwa and Co. in 1972, Hands Corporation entered the aluminum wheel manufacturing business in 1984. Although they are more expensive than steel wheels, aluminum wheels are 30% lighter, decreasing the total weight of a car by 300-400 kg. With car makers focused on producing lighter vehicles, currently around 70% of cars are equipped with aluminum wheels. Predicting that aluminum wheels would one day become mainstream, Hands Corporation worked on increasing their technology to grow into a company that takes up a 45% share of the domestic aluminum wheel market and a 7% share of the world’s market, ranking fifth place in the world. Hands Corporation was able to grow into a world-class company thanks to their plans for the future and fittingly, the company has already begun developing its next-generation growth engine.
It took about 20 years for cars to switch from steel to aluminum wheels. Before steel wheels become obsolete, we believe that the age of magnesium wheels will come. Electric vehicles are a hot topic these days but they have weaker energy transfer compared to standard cars. That is why electric carmakers are focusing on decreasing the weight of the car and we believe that’s where magnesium comes in. We are the first company in the world to develop a low pressure casting method for aluminum. There are around five companies in the world that use the forging casting method for magnesium, but we are the first to use low pressure casting. This is very sophisticated technology and we hold a patent for it.
Along with carbon wheels, magnesium wheels are being called the next-generation wheels and they are 30% lighter than aluminum wheels. However, magnesium is difficult to handle and expensive, so only a small amount is produced for racing cars and they are produced using forging casting. In 2013, Hands Corporation developed its own technology to use low pressure casting for magnesium which melts it and pours it into a cast. This development is changing the wheel market as it is cost effective and makes the magnesium wheel stronger and lighter, opening up the road for mass production. As a company that continuously pursues innovation, Hands Corporation has a unique company philosophy.
Other companies are always quick to catch up on technology. That is why we try to think outside the box and work on projects that others would say are impossible. Recently, we heard a lot about the hexagon shape being used in various designs. This prompted us to think about using the honeycomb shape and applying it to wheels. That is how our Honeycomb wheel was born. We received domestic and international patents for the design, which allows certain parts of the rim to be as thin as 1 mm. Using conventional designs, if the rim becomes thinner than 3 or 4 mm it can cause problems for the car, but the honeycomb shape prevents that from happening.
The company’s name comes from the belief that a good thought should be carried out by the hands. In order to encourage their employees to take challenges, Hands Corporation has implemented a system of giving 1/12 of the profits to an employee if their idea results in profit for the company. This has led Hands Corporation to develop technology such as the “lamp drying method,” which prevents specks of dust from sticking to the wheel and making it defective, which was common with the conventional hot air drying method. Another technology developed by Hands Corporation is Physical Vapor Deposition, a plating technology that replaces chromium plating which produces environmentally harmful substances. Hands Corporation also became the first company in the world to minimize the central part of the wheel, the hub, when it created the Hubless wheel, which reduces weight. By investing around 15 billion won each year into R&D, Hands Corporation is continuously creating new products and developing new technologies. As a result, the company has gained over 30 patents related to wheel technology and is a supplier to seven of the world’s top ten auto manufacturers.
In Korea, we supply our products to Hyundai, Kia, Korea GM, and Renault Samsung. In the US, we supply our products to the “big 3” car makers; Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Volkswagen is another company that we deal with and we are expecting the number of German carmakers to increase in the future. We received some awards recently related to quality from various carmakers like Volkswagen, Chrysler, and Ford.
Hands Corporation’s products have been acknowledged for their technology and quality by the best carmakers in the world. Capable of producing 13.5 million wheels per year, Hands Corporation has the fifth highest production capacity in the world. Now, it has a goal that it wants to fulfill.
Hands Corporation’s vision is to become a company that is the first to come to people’s minds when they think of wheels. Currently, most companies offer similar technology and quality, but we hope through continued R&D, we will be able to produce high-quality, lighter wheels that stand out from the crowd.
Hands Corporation is aiming to have its name become synonymous with wheels through quality products and the development of new technologies. It will continue to strive for innovation until that day.