What makes the Chakan plant tick

Bajaj Auto’s unique plant has led the way in creating new benchmarks of excellence, reports Murali Gopalan.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 28 Feb 2007 Views icon11058 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
When Pradeep Shrivastava wants to get recharged, he does not head out to the nearest gym and sweat it out. Instead, the vice-president (engineering) of Bajaj Auto drives down from his Akurdi headquarters in Pune to the Chakan plant nearby and just soaks in the atmosphere there for a couple of hours. “It is amazing what this facility can do to anyone’s energy and motivation levels. When I want to work on an important idea or concept, the creative juices just begin flowing when I am in Chakan,” he says.

What makes this plant so special? For one thing, it has a workforce that is remarkably young (the average age is barely 24) and energetic. Further, the atmosphere within the place is one of complete passion and transparency. Passion not merely for the bikes assembled but for the organisation as a whole. As Shrivastava tells me, “Just drop a piece of paper on the floor and watch what happens. In no time, someone will have picked it up and thrown it into the wastepaper basket.”

CREATIVE IDEAS

This plant won the Frost & Sullivan India Manufacturing Excellence Award. What made it so special was that a Super Platinum Award was constituted this year to recognise the best of the best in manufacturing excellence. In the process, this Bajaj plant became the first company to get this honour. “The Chakan plant was planned to be different from the beginning in terms of productivity, quality, number of employees, vendors etc. Creative ideas have constantly been a part of its evolution. This is Bajaj Auto’s manufacturing laboratory which is the benchmark for our management practices,” Shrivastava says.

As readers are aware, Chakan involved a different set of priorities where things were dealt with quite differently. There was no supervision for instance because of a greater sense of empowerment. As he says, it is extremely important for people to understand the philosophy in the plant and new recruits are given a complete lowdown at the time of joining. Till 2003, the idea was to do things independently in terms of organising people, materials, quality and procedures.

The TPM exercise was formally kicked off in December 2004. During the exercise, the employees were constantly told by TPM guru and company consultant, Soue Yamaguchi that there was a kaizen apiece for workers, engineers and managers.

##### NEW FRAMEWORK

“That got me thinking on drafting a framework for improving manufacturing excellence which encompasses these principles,” Shrivastava says. In TPM, the focus is on improving efficiency of operations with less time and fatigue. “We have these eight pillars of TPM but I felt that we were being bogged down by improving operational issues. A book I read spoke of the need to improve processes and operations in order to get the benefits of manufacturing. In early 2006, I worked on a principle which involved the X axis as the engineer and worker kaizen while the Y axis was the engineer and manager kaizen,” he adds.

Engineers and workers continue to improve the operations while the manager has to look at organising the flow of material. These are the eight pillars of worker, engineer kaizen and engineer, manager kaizen. The results were extremely good and this was extended to the entire supply chain. There were remarkable improvements in terms of faster material flow and so on.

While there were improvements in operations and processes on the physical side, manufacturing still has a soft, third side. “This is why I created the Z axis which (in terms of motivation, team spirit etc) represents a fit organisation,” Shrivastava explains. He is categorical about the fact that plant must be kept young and insists that experience is not required at all levels but only in key areas. “Enthusiasm is more important and keeps the company hungry and eager,” he adds.

The employees at the plant are also taught to be customer-focused. The person who assembles the vehicles certifies it for quality which means he is actually giving the assurance to the customer. This has worked perfectly over the years at Chakan and the prime reason for this is accountability at the level of the line engineer instead of being confined to the manager as was the case in the past. This, in turn, only reinforces the sense of empowerment. The Chakan plant has 800 people. There is no obsession with hierarchy and facilities like the toilets, cafeteria etc are common to all. There is a sense of respect for everybody.

Shrivastava says that for most people, it is their first job and they are obviously proud of being part of a big company. As part of the motivational process, newcomers get a chance to bring their family over to their work locations on Sundays. They are picked up, shown the place where their son/daughter works, stay back for lunch and then dropped home.

NATIONAL PRIDE

“We tell the team that they are working for the country and inspire them to excel. The guiding principle here is pride in the nation and we work to make India proud,” he says. It is not as if the workforce in Waluj and Akurdi is negative in its outlook or lower down the pecking order. Like most organisations, the problem lies in the ‘middle’ which is typically obsessed with the experience tag and finds it difficult to break free of this baggage.

The Chakan plant which produces 4,000 bikes everyday has 30 officers in production. There are only five divisional heads which is unheard of in Bajaj Auto’s older plants. Shrivastava reiterates that things can change there too because, by the end of the day, people are inherently good across the facilities. It is also not as if Chakan alone gets the advantage of assembling youthful bikes because the Kristal is part of Akurdi too. All this could lead to a change in the overall energy levels, he says.

##### The big news is that Bajaj Auto will soon see a change in the official uniform. By April, everyone is going to be in a T-shirt and khakis (trousers). “We have a young workforce which makes the most exciting bikes. Most of them own a Pulsar. A vibrant, open organisation needs the right dress. Why confine yourself to a shirt and trousers when a T-shirt makes more sense?” Shrivastava says good-naturedly.

There was an idea to go in for jeans and a T-shirt and have the dress change only for Chakan and the new facility at Uttaranchal. This was altered to trousers and then extended to all the Bajaj Auto facilities. In many ways, Uttaranchal will also have the advantage of having a young workforce. Chakan, which is technologically-driven, will continue to focus on high-end motorcycles, though in relatively small numbers. “Uttaranchal is the other end of the spectrum and is a highly efficient mass production plant. It will do few models but in large numbers. The basics will remain the same though,” he says.

LEAN SUPPLY CHAIN

For the record, Chakan has 80 vendors to meet the entire set of requirements while Uttaranchal will have 16 catering to 75 percent of the needs. The latter will present a lean supply chain and is intended to be an extended factory. The values remain the same in both plants as regards people etc.

According to Shrivastava, Waluj and Akurdi have their own legacies built over the years. It is only natural that there is a greater sense of inertia as compared to two young plants with workers raring to go. Line engineers at Chakan go to different parts of India and spend time in Bajaj Auto workshops to get a better understanding and feedback from customers and mechanics.

What is even more interesting is that there are no rigid rules when it comes to travelling and everyone is allowed to fly. For one thing, it is not so frighteningly expensive. What is more important is that person concerned feels valued and respected. The travel agency sends the tickets to him directly and there is a great sense of pride and belonging in the process.

In Indonesia, Shrivastava adds, line engineers have gone from Chakan to cater to engine/vehicle assembly and are part of the new plant setup exercise. They stay there for three months, get the production done, give feedback, train people and so on. The reverse was applied in the case of Uttaranchal where line engineers were brought to Chakan to soak in the spirit and culture. “They interacted with people here to get to know them better. After production starts there, we could send 3-4 guys from here to conduct the morning meets and spread the good word,” he says.

The Chakan plant is also open to the idea of recruiting more women. The stumbling block is timings because of the prevalent rules by the government on the 10 pm deadlines. "Our second shift ends at 2 am and dropping a whole lot of them could be a problem. However, I am keen that more of them become part of the production line if in good time,” Shrivastava says.
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