AMS spoke with Norm Strachan vice-president Manufacturing (GM India) and Asif Khatri Regional Quality director (GM India) about the plans to increase volumes at Talegaon and introducing new models
AMS: Given the planned increase in production how will you integrate the changes needed without disrupting the current operation?
Norm Strachan (NS): There’s no single answer to this, but, as simple as this might sound, the key thing is to plan; this is at the heart of everything. We will introduce changes in a very structured way and to do this we have a very detailed planning process. Within that planning process there are key ‘gates’ where certain things have to be in place and operating in good order when that gate is reached. If the elements required are not in place or functioning at point then we can’t pass through gate and on to the next phase.
So having this discipline in place is the only way you can control these steps in order to progress. An example of this might be if we were to change the line speed we would have a very detailed plan in place of how we move from speed ‘X’ to speed ‘Y’. So the plan might require hiring more personnel, changes to processes or installing new equipment, but all the details are strictly followed so we don’t miss anything or make mistakes. This detailed planning process is same in everything we do.
Norm Strachan vice-president Manufacturing (GM India)
The overall plan is the responsibility of one or two senior members of the management, this then cascades down through the organisation and then the relevant sections make their own detailed plan to meet those requirements. As a leadership team we have a process that enables Asif and me to review our status on each and every one of those programmes on a weekly basis. Currently we review on Friday mornings and it gives our teams the opportunity to discuss any issues they have and for us to help overcome any ‘roadblocks’ being encountered that might prevent targets being met. So we can integrate new processes into the old ones with out major problems.
AMS: This must be a very complex and challenging task. How do you balance achieving higher productivity while maintaining consistent quality levels?
NS: We operate a process we call a ‘ramp-up curve’, so if we have a run rate of 24 jobs per hour (JPH) we might start at 4 JPH then move to 8 JPH and so on in steps until we reach the target run rate, but these ramp-up curves have a short time scale and similar ‘gates’ to those mentioned earlier. So if quality standards are not met at a particular point then we don’t move on until the issue has been rectified.
AMS: The leadership team here set boundaries within which the teams develop processes and solutions, in line with GM’s manufacturing operations. Will this strategy continue through out the ramp-up process given the scale of changes needed?
Asif Khatri (AK): Yes, for example if we take line balancing, the leadership team will decide to shift this from point ’A’ to point ‘B’ then we look at what is needed to make this happen. We set up a line balancing group within which the team leaders will work out what elements to move from one job to another based on our end criteria. They have some ownership of this development and once the criteria are met we sign-off, and the team leaders work-up their standardised work plans and when all are ready we trigger the change. We allow ourselves no-more than 2 weeks to achieve the end target with built-in checks to ensure we are not compromising on safety or quality.
NS: We have something we call SPQRCE: Safety, People, Quality, Responsiveness, Cost, and Environment. This is the foundation of GM’s global manufacturing system and it’s in this order very specifically. So the very first thing we focus on is the safety of everyone in our manufacturing facilities and in terms of production operations, every team member. So we ask them to perform safe? Can he or she perform that task on a regular basis without harm to himself or others? If workers are being injured then something is fundamentally wrong so we need to ensure the safety and security of our workers.
“At present we have around 10% automation in vehicle production, but this will increase to 30% within the next 12 months, mainly in the body and paintshops” – Norm Strachan, GM India
Although there is a lot of automation in our industry everything is based around people; you need the right people in place and have them properly trained. Quality, Responsiveness (for us productivity) and Cost must be approached in that order. If you focus on building a quality product at a certain run-rate then the volume will automatically follow. Changing these criteria around won’t work.
AMS: It was mentioned during the tour that automation levels will increase in the near future. What is the percentage currently and how much will this increase?
NS: At present we have around 10% automation in vehicle production, but this will increase to 30% within the next 12 months, mainly in the body and paintshops.
AK: There is a tipping point where as the volume increases then for certain critical operations automation makes more sense regardless of labour cost or availability. It can help tremendously from a throughput and quality standpoint. As we saw in general assembly manual windscreen fitting is manageable at the current volume but as this increases we will have to introduce some automation to the process.
NS: At our current JPH we can manage with this lower level of automation but if you’re running at 60 JPH then it doesn’t matter how many people you employ you can’t maintain the quality and the throughput.
AK: We will be adding a lot of new things to this plant, but as a company these are things that we have a lot of experience with and here we can leverage that experience to make the integration easier.
AMS: There’s a large new building under construction here. Is this a new production hall?
NS: I can’t discuss the details at present but it is part of our future expansion plan.
AMS: Is it part of the plan to introduce of 5 new models to the Indian market?
NS: (smiles) Yes.
AMS: Will the emphasis be on growing production for export or will the focus be on models for the domestic market?
NS: We would like to get to a point where about 30% of our output is for export markets, so by implication we would like the larger part of our volume to be taken by the domestic market, but certainly we want to increase our position as an export hub.
“There is a tipping point where as the volume increases then for certain critical operations automation makes more sense regardless of labour cost or availability” – Asif Khatri, GM India
AMS: Does producing vehicles for export and domestic markets add more complexity to operations?
NS: From my perspective it’s an advantage to build for both markets. The vehicles, whether left-hand or right-hand drive should be exactly the same quality, so the more you can produce helps with the consistency of the standardised work performed, and the quality of the vehicles. Consistency is key in manufacturing.
AMS: What is currently the biggest challenge in building vehicles in India?
NS: Managing the speed of change; increasing volumes, adding export markets, expansion of the plant. None of these things are quick or simple to implement.
AK: Building the confidence of the workforce; developing the self-belief in the teams to enable them to take more responsibility and step-up to the challenges of improving quality and productivity. In the last 2 years we have seen great improvements and greater confidence in the teams here.