The IP Rings recipe for employee motivation

The company pulls out all stops to ensure that its workforce is constantly challenged. Story: T Murrali Photography: M Sathya

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 13 Jun 2007 Views icon5510 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
The IP Rings recipe for employee motivation
This is a company with a difference. Employee empowerment in the Chennai-based IP Rings has progressed to such an extent that the management acts only as the facilitator. This leading producer of steel piston rings is part of the Amalgamations group and has a strong technical base with Nippon Piston Rings, Japan.

Thinking and doing things differently has been the mantra for IP Rings, whether it involves offering customers better products or in the way they approach shopfloor management. This has yielded rich dividends in terms of enhanced business prospects, improved customer confidence, operational efficiency and high employee morale.

QUALITY PRODUCTS

For instance, in employee involvement, quite contrary to the conventional ‘top down’ approach, the company practises ‘bottom up’. Operators are empowered to make quality products with enough help and motivation from different levels of management. All improvement activities are carried out as a cross-functional effort involving workmen.

“Operators are not just hands and legs but people with brains and best suited to improve shopfloor activities,” says director, N Gowrishankar. By and large, the shopfloor is managed by the employees. Productivity and quality improvements are not demanded but happen naturally, he adds.

The 16-year-old IP Rings began its TQM journey a decade ago under the guidance of Prof Tsuda, as part of Maruti’s first cluster. Being a learning organisation, it continues to participate in various clusters like ACT-ACMA, Hyundai VQF, CII-TPM club and independent consultants like Takao Kasahara. With a host of certificates (ISO 9002, QS 9000, ISO/TS 16949:2002, ISO 14001 and ISO 18001) under its belt, the company is the single source supplier to many OEMs. It was the first to bag the quality excellence award in 2006 from Hyundai Motor India.

According to Gowrishankar, IP Rings believes in the dictum that only an unsatisfied mind (in terms of achievements) can create new improvements. In its constant quest for improvement and to benchmark itself against the best in industry, the company participated in the India Manufacturing Excellence Award of Frost & Sullivan. It won the Gold Award in the emerging automotive category in 2005 and Super Gold Award in the same category in 2006. As he puts it, organisations are akin to human beings where they evolve from the child to adult state. In other words, they start off largely in the reactive mode – doing what the customer wants.

##### CONTINUOUS EFFORT

In the adult stage, they get into the proactive mode and go beyond the market’s needs and expectations. Gowrishankar says that IP Rings similarly believes that continuous effort is the key to attaining this level of excellence. The company has a strong R&D base and the team put the concept of a proactive company to hardcore practice by offering customers much more than their actual requirements. For instance, when there was no demand from the market, it developed a cost-effective ring for a leading commercial vehicle maker who had been importing them for its utility vehicle.

IP Rings worked on this project for two years and spent substantial amount in research to develop these rings. The hard work paid off and the customer promptly switched over to the new ring and saved considerably as a result. Needless to add, Gowrishankar has reasons to be pleased with the kind of passion within his people to deliver defect-free parts. Operators are regularly taken to the customers’ assembly lines so that they understand how the rings made by them are assembled.

During such visits they also take a pledge in front of the customers to supply quality rings. These sessions also help them get more involved and committed to the cause of producing quality rings. The company has instituted a constant reminder system for operators -- ‘I am making rings for TATA, Maruti or Leyland’ -- reminding them of their commitment. Gowrishankar says that empowerment cannot happen overnight as it involves continuous training, motivation, rewards and recognition. The quality circle (QC) movement is one such process of empowering operators and this is something that IP Rings has done comprehensively. The management encourages the best QC teams to participate in competitions and they have done pretty well so far.

EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION

Awards are also given from time to time to operators as a means of motivation. These include those for attendance and suggestions as well as accident-free cell awards. The company’s inhouse journal ‘Ringside View’ highlights the good work done by operators. In addition, there are special occasions (like quality month, safety month or family day) dedicated to them where managing director, KV Shetty also participates.

##### IP Rings strongly believes that empowerment comes from trust because, by the end of the day, trust begets trust. To drive this point home, the materials store has no doors. Tools used for production are stored and maintained by operators within their own cells. The fact that none has gone missing so far reflects the levels of trust.

Gowrishankar says that despite practising TQM methodology with respect to quality, productivity, maintenance and safety, there were a few occurrences of non-conformity which led to abnormal rejections and breakdowns. This was because there were a host of instructions and visual displays on the machines which had to be adhered to carefully. This does not work perfectly all the time.

SYSTEM INTEGRATION

The company, therefore, embarked on a system of integrating these instructions and displays so that they were interlinked with the operation of the machine. This methodology, called TPrM (total process management) has a built-in system of permitting only authorised employees to operate prior to which they are reminded of safety and maintenance requirements.

This is followed by a reminder of customer-specific requirements relating to the operation and quality plan. The company has successfully implemented the system in one of the critical machines and the result has been positive. It now plans to extend this to other machines too.

IP Rings encourages employees to speak out and has, as part of this initiative, begun the ‘abnormality catching movement’. Here, they are rewarded for pointing out deviations after which they can do the remedying on their own. In that sense, every employee is also an internal auditor, says Gowrishankar. The company is also keen on continuous education and training of its employees. It has signed an MoU with a local engineering college to train operators on technical subjects. “The knowledge gained enables them to participate in improvement activities,” he says.

IP Rings also has training programmes on health care and personality development. Yoga and meditation classes as well as English language classes for operators are regularly conducted. Financial support for further education is also given to engineers and operators. “We not only encourage but also insist on their going up the qualification ladder,” he says. Two batches of senior operators were sponsored for the National Productivity Council’s supervisory development programme.

ASSISTING SUPPLIERS

To support vendors, IP Rings introduced sub-clusters and helped six of its vendors get ISO certification. Another initiative is on to help them pursue the TQM path effectively. All this has paid off with productivity doubling in three years and internal rejections down significantly. Power consumed per ring has reduced by over 60 percent. The company manufactures about 100 types of rings. The 10-million ring annual capacity will increase by 25 percent with minimal investments and emphasis on productivity improvements.
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