Chennai: V Narasimhan, 55, is extremely meticulous by temperament. Set him a task and a date, and be rest assured that the executive director of Brakes India Limited, will see it accomplished. On time. Every time.
A masters degree-holder in industrial engineering with over three decades of management experience, Narasimhan heads the company's foundry division that won the prestigious Deming award from the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers (JUSE) last year.
Speaking on the positive impact of going through the grind of preparing for the Deming award audit, he says, "It is the usual practice in the foundry industry to work with customers' drawings and specifications. But we are increasingly getting involved with product design through collaborative efforts with our customers. We differentiate ourselves by getting more and more involved at the design stage itself."
According to him, the Rs230 crore foundry division works continuously to improve upon the value addition and is working towards emerging as a tier-I supplier to original equipment manufacturers (OEM) from the current tier-II / tier III supplier status.
Here he talks about the foundry division post-Deming and what the award and the total quality management (TQM) process actually mean to the company's bottomline. Interestingly the foundry division has been logging an impressive 35-per cent year-on-year growth for the past three years. Excerpts
What improvement did JUSE suggest for the company after it awarded the medal?
The JUSE committee commended the company especially for the work done in the following areas:
- Technological leadership in foundry technology through 'deep analysis'.
- Utilisation of information technology (IT) in operations and product development.
- Improving the quality of work life of the employees.
- Excellent role-played by the company in environmental management and corporate social responsibility and
- Posting excellent business results.
Having said that, the suggestions made by JUSE while awarding the medal were:
- Patenting the innovations in materials, processes and new product development.
- Extending the customer satisfaction surveys beyond the immediate customer to the ultimate consumer.
- Prepare and equipped the foundry for product validation exercises.
How far have the suggestions been implemented and what have the benefits been?
The TQM process is carried out through a PDCA cycle - plan, do, check, act - in the foundry. We had gone through the awareness, promotional and implementation phases prior to the Deming audit. The problems remaining at the end of each phase are taken on as the objectives in the next phase besides other additions.
Post-Deming, we have accepted some of the suggestions as the objectives and have identified the action plans and key activities to achieve these objectives, which are currently under implementation.
We have invigorated the process of periodic management reviews to compare the results with the objectives, identify the gaps and implement counter measures. The action plans identify individual responsibilities and the timelines, which are reviewed every month. We have set ourselves a one-year target. Till date, the progress has been very satisfying.
How has this impacted new product development and product innovations?
New product development and innovations are a key area in achieving business excellence through technological leadership. We have been able to reduce the developmental lead times to 25 per cent of what we started with six years back and have deployed computer-aided simulation for developing new products.
We have made rapid strides in doing things right the first time, every time by reducing the number of trials and iterations. We are increasingly getting involved with product design through collaborative efforts with our customers. Today, new products contribute to 35 per cent of our sales, up from 12 per cent earlier.
How do you correlate creating value for customers to these efforts?
Customer satisfaction is, of course, the objective of TQM. We have made extensive improvements in the supply chain by taking on additional responsibilities and integrated ourselves much better with the customer. We have added eight warehouses all over the world and posted customer services managers in Europe, the US and Japan to offer unique services that considerably reduce our response time.
Our value proposition is to continuously optimise the total cost of ownership to customer through continuous improvement in P, Q, C, D, S, M - productivity, quality, cost, delivery, safety and morale - besides emerging as the fastest-cycle-time competitor.
We have also put in place a current, live and dynamic quality management system, which integrates all the processes starting with the request for quotation (RFQ) upto after-sales- service to achieve customer satisfaction on all fronts.
How has TQM helped the company collect after sales customer and market information?
Through our journey to Deming and beyond, we have succeeded in continuously improving the electronic exchange of information with the market and customer and increasingly exposing back office information by integrating all the business processes. The posting of customer services managers abroad has made a big difference in collecting and collating vital information.
What does being a Deming company, mean to your domestic and overseas markets?
The tag a Deming company has definitely helped us emerge as a 'scale and substance outfit' and we are envisioning 'global footprints'. The Deming journey has considerably enhanced our status in the domestic and export markets and has helped us become the largest exporter of automotive castings from India besides the largest automated ductile iron foundry in India. We have been able to sustain a 35-per cent growth rate, year-on-year for the last three years. It is difficult to quantity the effect separately for the domestic and export markets.
Through the TQM journey in six years, we have:
- Increased exports to 48 per cent from 34 per cent of our sales.
- We increased the compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) from 10.2 per cent to 19 per cent.
- Reduced the developmental lead times to 25 per cent of what it was.
- New products constitute 35 per cent of the turnover compared to 12 per cent earlier.
- Customer end rejections have been reduced by 70 per cent.
- Customer concerns have been reduced to 20 per cent of initial levels.
- Inventories have been reduced by 30 per cent overall.
- Value addition per employee has increased by 73 per cent.
- Accident severity rate has come down by 90 per cent and accident frequency rate has come down by 73 per cent.
How do these compare with global players.
Through the TQM journey we have benchmarked ourselves against the best in class. While we compare very well in external failure rate, product life cycle management, process control, productivity, stocks and surface utilisation, we have gaps in internal failure rate, energy efficiency and output to input ratio where there is scope for improvement. We have prioritised these issues for concentrated attention through policy deployment.
And, finally, what now?