Wings Automobile in consolidation mode

Acquires 60 percent stake in Addon Engineering and gears up to meet challenges beyond the two-wheeler arena. Story: Taarun Dalaya Photography: Mohamed Shafiq

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 06 Jul 2007 Views icon6951 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Wings Automobile in consolidation mode
Wings Automobile Products (WAP), one of India's leading two-wheeler ignition coil manufacturers, has recently bought 60 percent of Bangalore-based automotive horn maker Addon Engineering. According to WAP's promoter and chairman & managing director, IJ Bhalla, part of Addon's manufacturing operations would be shifted to Faridabad in Haryana to derive benefits of proximity while catering to the needs of customers like motorcycle major Hero Honda.

"We wanted some additional business revenue and when we learnt about Addon's intention to sell its equity we decided to go ahead," says the former wing commander. Addon is among India’s foremost automotive horn manufacturers. In an industry where a customer base for one product somehow creates another for a different product, Bhalla admits that his clientele for ignition coils could grow as a result of this part-acquisition.

WAP, which itself operates from Faridabad, has the capacity to make seven million ignition coils of section wound resin potted and layer wound potted types. Bhalla estimates this will go up to ten million units by March 2008. His reason for entering business is as interesting, but unique, as those of many other entrepreneurs one comes across. "I joined the Indian Air Force to drink Scotch whisky. When I became a Wing Commander and found that I could not even afford rum, I decided to quit and get into business to earn money and help others," he says.

KINETIC GIVES A BREAK

But it was not immediately that he became a businessman. For eight months, he was works manager at his friend's company Auto Ignition. It was here, Bhalla recalls, that he gained knowledge about ignition systems. On realising that he would not be offered a larger role, he left and started WAP in 1983 with a seed capital of Rs 50,000. The company's first customer was Delhi's Karol Bagh-based Bombay Scooter House which sold spares to the aftermarket.

"I used to visit Kinetic in Pune quite frequently and in 1988 they eventually became my first major OE customer,” he says. At Kinetic, Bhalla closely interacted with legendary industrialist the late HK Firodia whom he describes as "a very noble person". "He waited an extra day at a Delhi hotel to receive my samples. He was a different kind of human being," he says.

##### IMPROVING STANDARDS

Soon WAP was meeting Kinetic's total requirement of ignition coils. Today, it caters to 50, 65 and over 60 percent of the ignition coil needs of Hero Honda Motors, Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India (HMSI) and Yamaha respectively. TVS and Bajaj Auto are, however, not on the customer list. WAP meets 30 percent of the overall two-wheeler ignition coil requirements in India and this is “possibly the maximum original equipment supplies for this product” which is being made by the company, Bhalla says.

While WAP’s in-house PPM level is 1,000, it has kept a target of bringing it down to 500. In contrast, customer PPM targets from those such as HMSI is two percent keeping in mind that WAP was able to achieve 6 PPM against the former’s target of 69 PPM in 2006-07!

"In Wings, we have always tried to do things ahead of getting business," says Bhalla. As a case in point, the company has already developed prototype ignition coils for Hyundai and is working on one for Maruti Udyog’s cars even though neither is a customer yet. It is clear that WAP is not being confined to the two-wheeler segment. Bhalla has also been spearheading the development of pencil-type ignition coils that may be required some time in future by a potential customer.

“No one in India, to my knowledge, is working to develop this product other than us. Possibly Wings has begun to understand this coil. An attempt has been made to fabricate one and we have succeeded to an extent. The efforts are going on and what will be the final outcome only time will tell,” he says.

While pencil-type ignition coils are being made in developed countries in Europe and North America, they are not in 100 percent usage. Developing a pencil-type coil which does not fail is difficult because it sits on top of a spark plug and has to function in very high temperature conditions. Beru of Germany is a leading manufacturer of pencil-type ignition coils.

##### TECHNOLOGY PARTNER

Hero Honda has been importing ignition coils for its Glamour FI motorcycle and WAP developed a substitute at the company’s request which is undergoing tests at Honda’s R&D centre in Japan. WAP does not mind having a technology partner from abroad and has been in the process of looking for one. Bhalla says that some years ago he was not keen on a technical collaborator but today with the world coming closer there is no harm teaming up with a company that could at least help in its product development efforts.

He says that a very well-known US-based major is in advanced talks with WAP for supplies of four-wheeler fitment ignition coils in large quantities. Apart from this recent export-oriented development, WAP has been making efforts to enlarge its exports beyond what it sells in Indonesia and Italy. The company recorded exports worth Rs 2.46 crore in FY 2006-07, which was nearly ten percent of its turnover.

Like most auto component makers in India where growing demand is necessitating additional investments in manufacturing at different locations in the country, WAP has acquired a factory spread over 3,700 square metres in Uttarakhand’s Pantnagar.

NEW CUSTOMERS

It is now awaiting a transfer of the property to its name by the authorities there. From here the company will make and supply lamp and pulsar coils to Varroc Engineering – a vendor of Bajaj Auto – for the motorcycle maker’s assembly operations in the region. In addition, Wings had acquired 15,000 sq. mt of land in Shirwal, Pune some years ago keeping in mind that it would come in handy one day for some business activity.

Bhalla is well known among his peers in the NCR for his homegrown management and HR skills, most of which were learnt while discovering his abilities at his tenure in the Indian Air Force. The morning for the 200-and-odd employees begins with a short physical exercise ritual, followed by singing the national anthem and another specially created short song sung in Hindi. If Bhalla is present then he gives his employees a talk on latest happenings in India and abroad so that they are well-informed.

The specially composed song which primarily pertains to the customer is sung seven times everyday and reminds the employees about their duties to the company’s customers in various aspects. “I have absolute faith in the acumen of a human being however ordinary he may be. If you begin to believe in human beings the results are super excellent. "I have experimented with this thinking with my employees. I have never cheated them even once nor said a wrong thing to them”, he says.

WAP’s current facility in Faridabad is undergoing several changes in the layout of some of its manufacturing processes such as coil winding which will be done in totally dust-free and airconditioned conditions within a 600 square foot area. This will be operational from July 4.

DEDICATED APPROACH

A new high speed, fully-automatic power press line having a capacity of 700 SPM and capable of fabricating 10 million interlocked auto stacks per annum has been installed. The medium-scale company, which once belonged to the small scale category, has been steered through the years, in Bhalla’s words, as a “technical organisation” and the motivation and discipline of its workforce is playing a pivotal role in ensuring that the goals set by this ex-Indian Air Force officer will always be met.
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