Mahindra Institute of Quality's Vijay Kalra: 'We need to celebrate and value people skills more now.'

by Shahkar Abidi 02 May 2020


The reopening of industry, as and when the India lockdown is lifted, which can now be only after May 17, provides an opportunity for India to celebrate and value people skills more than it was done before, claims manufacturing industry veteran Vijay Kalra.

May 1 was a red-letter day for Kalra, who only recently retired from his position as Chief of Manufacturing Operations, Automotive Division, Mahindra & Mahindra and has moved on to head a new operation at the same OEM. The Autocar Professional webinar marked his first representation as Head of the Mahindra Institute of Quality, wherein he shared insights and experience on what goes behind making a vehicle.

Kalra was one of the five panelists for the first webinar of May 2020 which included Nikunj Sanghi, Chairman, Automotive Skill Development Council (ASDC); Ramashankar Pandey, Managing Director, Hella India Lighting; Rohan Rathod, Managing Director, Delux Bearings; and Ashim Sharma, Partner & Group Head - Business Performance Improvement (Auto, Engineering & Logistics), Nomura Research Institute.

"After the lockdown, India has the biggest opportunity to make a difference through its companies across sectors. We have to celebrate and value people skills more than what we were doing before,” remarked Kalra.

Representing the world of automotive manufacturing, which brings together a vehicle which is the sum of scores of parts sourced from hundreds of component suppliers, Kalra who has rich experience of four decades, said industry will have to rejig the way has been operating till now. Prior to Covid-19, the manufacturing business mainly centered around the basics of delivery numbers, delivery deadlines, quality of the product and costing. But now it will  need to be recalibrated as per the demand cycles from the customers . "Today's business model is not only about making money. It is about having the right balance. We need to recalibrate our thinking as well as our behaviour,” said Kalra, while emphasising the changes taking place in the vehicle industry amidst Covid19.

Recalibration may not be easy
Kalra, seconding the concerns shared by his industry colleagues, claims that the recalibration exercise will not come easy as changes in workforce pattern arising out of regulatory requirements such as social distancing and other measures are expected to throw conventional ways of working out of the window. Industry heads are unanimous that the major roadblock to restarting production would be the shortage of workers as many of them would have returned to their native places. Furthermore, for those workers keen to return to work, the restrictions on inter-State and inter-district travelling may create roadblocks. :"SOPs will need to be changed. Before the lockdown happened in India, there was a rhythm at manufacturing plants. Now the challenge will be to regain that rhythm when restarting assembly lines, now with social distancing in place. Machines starting after so many days will behave differently,” continued Kalra.

Global institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) along with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), State administrations, apart from all major original equipment manufacturers (OEM)s have released guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)s for reopening of industrial operations. The manufacturing units will have to follow and inculcate these guidelines in their daily routines.

Anticipating some of the other technical challenges that may come up while reopening the operations Kalra mentioned that preparing for the shop/ activity cycle will become longer. Further multi-tasking by employees will increase thereby requiring major training of the workforce in this regard. Also, as the shutdown was abrupt, there may be materials stuck in ships, trucks and the railways, among others multi-modal operations in the supply chain and it would be difficult now to connect with the invoices and people involved. Then there is the issue of goods which have limited shelf life – rubber parts, sealants, among others, added Kalra.

Supplier readiness vital to press restart button
According to Kalra, vehicle manufacturers will also need to see the level of readiness of their supply chain as any key component shortage will have a chain reaction along the entire manufacturing chain. Comparing manufacturing to a relay race, Kalra stressed that all the hands in the system need to sync in order to win or it can get challenging.

Vehicle manufacturers will also  need to see their (supplier) manpower situation, readiness, critical process, amongst others as Covid19 will surely have a damning impact on supply chains, especially the Tier 2 and below . "When you change your production plan and if you happen to be working at one-third of capacity, suppliers working at Just-In-Time-driven operations will have to rejig their functionalities. Tier 2 & 3 suppliers will be impacted."

Kalra said that in the pre-Covid-19 world, there was a clear layout of shopfloor practices and responsibilities. “Now cycle times will become longer, if somebody was operating one machine earlier, they may need to manage multiple. Change in SOPs, re-layout of shopfloor if required, and major training and manufacturing dexterity will be the focus. When we left (shutdown), we had a rhythm of workflow, now the whole system will be different. We may start with less numbers maybe one-tenth of what we were doing,” explained Kalra.

According to Kalra there will also be need for OEMs to work closely with their component suppliers to see their manpower situation, readiness, critical processes, and in fact may need to revalidate everything. Measuring every first part and seeing if some parts need retrial are some of the steps that OEMs will need to take. "A big challenge is what happens to Tier 2 and 3 suppliers; it will be very difficult to gauge," said Kalra.

Opportunities ahead
Kalra is  of view that the current situation, though challenging, provides tremendous opportunity for growth of the country and automotive industry. He belives India will need to pay a "price" for it but hopes it will not be "huge".  Kalra signed off saying “This is the most difficult time of our lifetime, but also a huge opportunity.”

Read More

Nomura Research Institute's Ashim Sharma: 'Expect continual disruptions across the automotive supply chain.

ASDC's Nikunj Sanghi: “Online learning and training now vital  across manufacturing, sales, aftersales.'

Hella India Lighting's Ramashankar Pandey: 'States must compete not on investment but on employment.'

Delux Bearings' Rohan Rathod: 'Adopt lean management tools to be future-ready.'