GM India plans to focus its production at Talegaon as they increase output and add new models
This year the plant may become the company’s only production facility in India as it plans to closes the older Halol site in Gujarat. But this isn’t a reduction in operations, far from it; GM has big plans for the plant and ambitious targets for future production. However, although the facilities are to be expanded at the green field site, it is the work force that will be key part of the OEM’s success in the region.
My guide for the day is Regional Quality director (GM India) Asif Khatri who along with vice-president Manufacturing (GM India), Norm Strachan has been tasked with increasing production at the plant. Quality and achieving a consistently high standard, is a priority and it is seen as a keystone to the increase in volumes that are being targeted in the coming months. To achieve this Khatri explained that he and Strachan are working to cultivate a feeling of self confidence and a strong belief in quality amongst the teams by establishing ‘boundaries’ within which the teams and sections are encouraged to develop their own solutions tailored to the specific skills and experience within them. So in the long term the aim to actually reduce quality control oversight so section and team leaders take on more responsibility for quality and assembly workers use “built-in-quality” approach to the vehicles they produce. I liken this to ‘shrinking the state’ devolving power away from central management.
The Talegaon management team are working to build a culture of responsibility throughout the assembly process.
Auditing quality Our first stop as we enter the assembly hall is the Global Customer Audit (GCA) section and this is arguably the most important area in the plant at present. Here a specially assembled team work through a batch selection of finished models that have successfully passed through the end-of-line CARE (Customer Acceptance Review Evaluation) final inspection process, and conduct what might be described as a forensic level of quality checks. The GCA performs two main tasks; firstly they check vehicle body dimensions, equipment functions, assembly, fit and finish of trim and interiors against set benchmarks. This allows them to monitor the overall consistency of the vehicle build over a period of time and as such determine the quality of operations. This is especially useful in gauging if new or changed processes are working.
A second function is to monitor feed back from customers (and dealer staff) regarding the overall performance of the vehicle they have purchased. The GCA can thoroughly investigate any issues that have been raised, working to identify either a component issue or problems relating to manufacturing.
It’s an interesting operation in that members of GCA are drawn from the team leaders within the plant who demonstrate the right aptitude; I was told that one important selection criteria is to have the ‘right attitude’. This, it transpires, means being able to stand your ground regarding findings, against the opinions of more senior managers. Something highlighted was that the GCA is essentially an autonomous operation within the plant and this independence is important to avoid any external influence of its findings. The GCA holds daily briefings with all the team and section leaders to discuss any problems or progress to help steer the development of production operations. This process will potentially involve criticism of any sections that have allowed quality to slip or processes that haven’t worked or that need further development. All the section leaders are held responsible for evaluating the GCA feedback and taking appropriate action.
The GCA will also regularly conduct a focused assessment on one aspect of the vehicle build and will work closely with the section leaders to identify where improvements can be made (this in addition to the daily meetings). This is a continuous process to underline the importance of quality, but it also represents the very open and transparent culture of communication that aims to reinforce the sense of responsibility with all levels.
Immediately this served to underline two key features of operations at Talegaon and at other vehicle makers I’d visited across India: the reliance on people (manual rather than automated processes) and the drive to achieve consistent high quality output in large volume production.
“A lot of the expansion activity you would have seen around the plant is a combination of the enablers for production of the new models, some of which will need unique tooling, and increasing capacity” – Kaher Kazem, GM India
General assembly GM has stated it will introduce up to five new products in next two years and is investing heavily in its Indian operations. The plant currently has a production capacity of 130,000 units per year but the plan is to increase this to 220,000 by 2025. Khatri explained that in 2015 out of the overall production 24,000 vehicles were exported (with Mexico being the largest export market), but the export target for 2016 is 50,000, so there will be very steep increase in production capacity with an even higher target for 2017. Khatri noted that the assembly equipment at certain stations is mounted on both sides of the line to cater for both RHD and LHD vehicles (domestic and export) underlining the plant’s growing role as an export production hub. The general assembly hall has one line (120 stations, 24 JPH, takt time 150 seconds) for all models currently produced at Talegaon and this, I was told, will be the same policy for planned future models. New models being introduced to the plant include a new Chevrolet Essentia and Beat Activ.
Asked why the Trailblazer model was being imported for domestic sales in India rather than produced at Talegaon as part of the model expansion Khatri commented that all lines and production processes at the plant are currently geared towards uni-body vehicles where as the Trailblazer is a body on chassis configuration. He wouldn’t be drawn on if this might be a future option at the plant, but noted that the plant is capable of responding vigorously to the changing market conditions.
As production increases as planned, the line speed will effectively double and this undoubtedly presents a big challenge, certainly in maintaining acceptable levels of quality. Plant manager K V Ramakrishnan and quality manager Beena Kothadia, who leads the GCA team, explained about the daily section and team meetings held in the assembly area to discuss production targets/issues for that day’s two shifts (general assembly currently operates two shifts, 6 days a week). KV and Beena have the task of working with sections and teams to develop the most appropriate, efficient and effective process and solutions and this is an on-going process.
Quality leads the way In line with the overall policy, this open style of communication is intended to create a sense of inclusion for all and with it instil individuals with the confidence to take responsibility for operations. At present there is a focus on achieving high quality standards rather than productivity, but creating a solid quality focused production team will pave the way for increased productivity in the near future. Khatri noted the need to achieve and maintain high quality standards before increasing productivity.
As the plant prepares to ramp up production, one solution has been the extensive implementation of kitting, with the part’s carts placed on the moving line with the relevant vehicle (the carts are secured with a simple quick-release pin system, a neat little kaizen developed in-house). While the kitting of components places more pressure on the in-plant logistics operation, it is an effective way of reducing errors in assembly.
At the end of each section of the assembly line there is a quality verification check. Here 30-40 separate checks are carried out which are combined from all the individual checks that should be carried out at each assembly station. This verification is needed to ensure that a vehicle is acceptable to continue on to next section of the line and prevent faults going forward. Here each team leader is required to view the checklist and sign off as proof they have been to the verification point. This is another process to build the culture of responsibility throughout the assembly process.
Calibrating the senses The final part of the assembly line is the CARE section with final verification for finish, function and water tests prior to the vehicles being prepped for delivery. Each vehicle is also given a short test drive around a specially designed track and I was given the chance to sit alongside the test driver to experience the process. The driver is listening for any unusual sounds (knocks, rattles, squeaks, etc.) as the car is driven over a number of different road surfaces and performs sharp turns and braking. Interestingly this would seem to be a relatively subjective method of testing, however, the drivers are given extensive training to ‘calibrate’ their senses to consistently determine what is and isn’t a problem.
The usual sub-assembly lines are present next to the main line, including the engine dressing and transmission marrying, steering, suspension and braking modules. Here the cockpit and dashboards are also assembled at the line side. Asked why this was done in-house rather than delivered just-in-time, fully assembled by the tier supplier (as done by other OEMs) Khatri explained that it helped with quality control and that this fitted better with our business strategy. By which I took to mean utilising the readily available work force and possibly more cost effective? However, it remains to be seen if this operation will change as production volume is increased.
I was told that assembly operations would change significantly as production is ramped up, with changes to station layouts and parts delivery. Other currently manual processes such as windscreen fitting will become more automated in the future. I was also told the tyre mounting and balancing station (at the line-side indicating a high utilisation of the available workforce) would be upgraded, with more automation of the manual processes likely.
The task of upgrading the lines to meet the needs of higher volume will see a special launch team in place to integrate the changes into the assembly operations.
Quality control here is a big challenge with such a heavy reliance on manual operations, but as was pointed out to me it’s manageable if you organise your quality systems appropriately.