Chennai: Adversity brings out the best in individuals and companies alike. This is precisely what happened with Sundaram Clayton Limited's brakes division.
The division, which commenced operations in 1962 in collaboration with the UK-based Clayton Dewandre Holdings Limited (now part of WABCO Automotive group), is the pioneer in manufacturing air and air-assisted braking actuation system products for commercial (medium and heavy) and off highway vehicles.
Its product range includes, compressors for air generation, air dryers and reservoirs for processing and storage of air, valves for control and regulation of the system, electronic control system for air brakes (anti-lock braking system-ABS and anti spin regulation-ASR) and vacuum brake products for light commercial vehicles.
Those were the days when the Indian commercial vehicle industry was stagnant - and Sundaram Clayton's fortunes depended entirely on the air braking systems it supplied to commercial vehicle manufacturers. Both sales and profits had seen sharp a decline. Recalls managing director Venu Srinivasan, "The company started its total quality management (TQM) processes under very difficult and strained circumstances in the late '80s." Prior to introducing TQM, Sundaram Clayton had a traditional manufacturing layout and hierarchical organisational structure leading to inefficiencies and waste.
The man to machine ratio was 3:1 - each machine required three workers, one to load and unload the component, another to switch-on the machine and the third to inspect the part quality.
Similarly, the plant layout was process-oriented that resulted in accumulation of inventories. Peer-to-peer communication was poor. And, as is usual, middle level managers along with the workers resisted change.
A series of steps beginning with the diagnosis of the problems and challenges before the company led to a resolution in favour of the strategic direction to be adopted. This was followed by sustained communication and intensive staff 'education' on the change methodology in three phases: 'introduction' phase (1987 to 1990), 'promotion' phase (1990 to 1994) and the methodology deployment phase (1994 to 1998).
The aim of the first phase was to get the employees to `buy' the change. Conducting employee seminars that stressed the need for change achieved this. The visible barriers between workers and the management were broken - with a common uniform and canteen for all employees, dismantling managers' cabins to enable employees have easy access to their heads of the departments.
"This contributed to a change in the mindset of the employees, who began viewing the management as part of the same team," remarks Srinivasan.
At the same time, the shop floor layout at the manufacturing centres was restructured on the basis of products rather than processes. Manufacturing units (factories within the factory) were formed on the basis of product groups.
Workmen were trained to become multi-skilled so that they could work on various machines. The production managers were empowered and held accountable for quality, cost and delivery. The promotion phase, which started in 1990-91, involved the creation of company wide congruence of goals. The annual targets of the company were cascaded down to various departments and individuals. Towards achieving the company's objectives, guidelines highlighting broad strategies that needed to be followed by every one were provided.
Each department aligned its objectives and action plans towards achieving these broader corporate goals.
As a part of TQM implementation, the culture of quality by inspection was altered to quality control and quality assurance (QA). Ownership of quality by the manufacturing units themselves, supplier quality improvements and the genba audit concept were emphasised.
The deployment phase (1994-98) involved monitoring key processes, ensuring that targets were met and abnormalities detected, thus ensuring their non-recurrence. "Continuous improvement in all aspects of work, using total employee-involvement, became the norm," says Srinivasan.
The process of challenging the Deming application prize in 1998 helped the company to fine-tune many processes and provided an opportunity to review the TQM journey. The diagnosis of Deming examiners added to the drive for improvement.
To meet the ultimate objectives of customer satisfaction and business improvement, Sundaram Clayton identified the priority issues and initiated new TQM activities. These issues were identified based on the Deming examiners' feedback for further improving the TQM practices, changes in external and internal environment, and the core value system of the company.
For developing new products, a cross-functional team approach was adopted. A new process was documented using concepts like quality function deployment, benchmarking and structured design reviews. "All this led to accumulation of design expertise and a mechanism for using the expertise to prevent errors," says Srinivasan.
Technology and product development plans were formulated. Foreseeing the direction of infrastructure development in India, the launch of new technology vehicles towards improving the end customers' safety, Sundaram Clayton successfully designed and developed anti-lock braking system (ABS) and anti-spin regulation (ASR) for commercial vehicles. The company also commissioned a state of art test track near Chennai to check their performance.
According to Srinivasan, starting 1995-96 the brakes division started experiencing the positive effects of TQM in terms of its market share, profit and sales index, sales per employee, value added per employee. Even suggestions from employees for improvements went up from two per employee per annum in 1997-98 to 38 in the last fiscal.
Employee involvement in the TQM process.
All these measures paid off when Sundaram Clayton's brakes division was awarded the Deming medal in 1998. JUSE suggested the division to expand its product portfolio and improve quality and productivity to global standards.
He says, "The TQM processes also enabled us to attract overseas attention because of our competency in developing electronic control systems and become a total braking system solutions company, with the ability to develop products in a short time."
With TQM as its core, other systems like total productivity maintenance (TPM), lean manufacturing, QS 9000 are now in force at Sundaram Clayton.
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