CHENNAI, India - With the U.S. $72 million expansion of the Chennai engine plant completed in record time of just 14 months, production is being ramped up to 340,000 engines annually, firmly positioning the facility as a regional hub for low-displacement engines. @Ford recently met with Balasundaram Radhakrishnan (Bala), vice president, Powertrain Operations at Ford India, to learn more about the plant -- from its start four years ago to reaching the milestone of manufacturing its 400,000th engine.
Q. Over the last four years, the India engine plant has gone from manufacturing only two variants of engines feeding the domestic market, to producing 17 variants of both petrol and diesel engines for both the domestic and export markets. How do you look back on the journey so far?
A. It is this progress and growth which makes the journey very exciting. It is a great feeling to see the confidence that the company and our customers, both domestic and overseas, have in us, which I believe is the driver for such rapid steps that the Chennai engine plant has been able to take. The fully motivated team in Chennai, ready to take on any challenge, has been the catalyst for keeping this journey going in a geometric progression mode.
Q. The plant has also become a regional Ford hub for small engines. How was this achieved?
A. Flexibility has been the theme with which this entire plant has been setup, be it the crank line or assembly line or the testing facilities. An aggressive staged launch, with great support from our regional /global manufacturing engineering teams was what worked well for us to such a degree that we are now building 17 variants for both domestic and export markets within a short span of 2.5 years.
The fully motivated team here on-ground has been able to support these multiple launches effectively, to help us realise the vision of having Chennai as the base for small displacement engines.
Q. Achieving so many milestones in such a short time needs the active co-operation of your workforce. How do you rally your people when the occasion demands? How do you keep them motivated?
A. The active support from the global and regional manufacturing team, the willingness to look at innovative approaches, high levels of empowerment to the teams to make improvements and most importantly the great team who want to take the Chennai engine plant to No. 1 levels, has helped us achieve the heights that we have been able to achieve.
Q. In addition to volumes, the plant has also reached significant achievements in Quality, Green, Safe and Smart (QGSS). What were the challenges involved in realising these milestones?
A. Yes, we have always considered significant achievements in Quality, Green, Safe and Smart (QGSS) important alongside volumes. We have been recognised for the quality of our petrol engines being top of the class in the Ford world. We use the cold testing philosophy to avoid fuel usage during testing and hence are able to reduce carbon emissions. Our manufacturing process consumes the least amount of water per engine. We have high levels of complexity, but have smart error proofing systems to avoid erroneous builds.
I believe these could only be achieved with the entire workforce motivated to adopt the best practices of lean and green manufacturing, and embracing quality as a prime goal. Encouraging them to come up with new innovations and solutions also helped.
Q. In addition to leading the India Powertrain Operations, you have also been entrusted with implementing safety best practices across Ford India as the Safety Lead. How do you plan to bring about a culture of safety?
A. The new Global Ford Production system talks of standardised operating systems in Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost, People, Maintenance and Environment. In the new FPS system, these lean practices and systems are integrated into our day-to-day activities and FPS becomes a way of life and not a separate set of activities. Continuous reinforcement and driving our philosophy that Safety is everyone’s responsibility and also that Safety is a core value for Ford is what is working well at Ford India. Encouraging reporting of near-misses, safety awareness and promotional activities happen regularly. Empowering our people to stop any activity which is unsafe is demonstrating to our team that Safety is a top priority for us.
Q. What does Go Further mean to you personally?
A. While there are many ways one can look at how to interpret 'Go Further, I believe that 'Go Further' is 'walking that extra mile in everything we do' and 'doing more with less' to give more value and to delight our customers.