Resting on TQM

The division, which commenced operations in 1962 in collaboration with the UK-based Clayton Dewandre Holdings Limited (now part of WABCO Automotive group), is the pioneer in manufacturing air and air-assisted braking actuation system products for commercial (medium and heavy) and off highway vehicles.

Its product range includes, compressors for air generation, air dryers and reservoirs for processing and storage of air, valves for control and regulation of the system, electronic control system for air brakes (anti-lock braking system-ABS and anti spin regulation-ASR) and vacuum brake products for light commercial vehicles.

Those were the days when the Indian commercial vehicle industry was stagnant — and Sundaram Clayton's fortunes depended entirely on the air braking systems it supplied to commercial vehicle manufacturers. Both sales and profits had seen sharp a decline. Recalls managing director Venu Srinivasan, "The company started its total quality management (TQM) processes under very difficult and strained circumstances in the late '80s." Prior to introducing TQM, Sundaram Clayton had a traditional manufacturing layout and hierarchical organisational structure leading to inefficiencies and waste.

The man to machine ratio was 3:1 — each machine required three workers, one to load and unload the component, another to switch-on the machine and the third to inspect the part quality.

Similarly, the plant layout was process-oriented that resulted in accumulation of inventories. Peer-to-peer communication was poor. And, as is usual, middle level managers along with the workers resisted change.

A series of steps beginning with the diagnosis of the problems and challenges before the company led to a resolution in favour of the strategic direction to be adopted. This was followed by sustained communication and intensive staff 'education' on the change methodology in three phases: 'introduction' phase (1987 to 1990), 'promotion' phase (1990 to 1994) and the methodology deployment phase (1994 to 1998).