Chennai: For any other person wearing TTK LIG managing director J Srinivasan's shoes, the conditions might be ideal to bide his time towards a peaceful retirement.
The company is one of the world's largest condom manufacturers (1.5 billion pieces per year), meeting a sizeable portion of the global demand. In the domestic market it is the leader.
The company has secured all the global quality certifications - as many as 12 - prescribed for the product. Competition is not able to meet its cost as well as quality parameters and for sometime the industry saw many players coming in and going out.
Though condom manufacturers have to confirm to standards on account of regulations, over the years the norms have become stiffer. "Quality parameters have gone up by 10 times. For instance, the accepted quality level earlier (AQL) was 1.5 and has come down to 0.15 AQL," says Dr K Sivakumar, vice president (technical).
A condom is sent out to sale only when it passes the electronic tests for the absence of pinholes, its tensile and the burst volume pressure strengths. Despite all this Srinivasan was not satisfied with his bottomline bulge. He was bugged by-the low machine availability time at his two plants located at Chennai and Virudhunagar. Both are quite old ones. While all its saleable condoms meet the stringent norms, there were rejects that dragged down the profits.
The cascading effect was lower productivity and increased scrap. Curiously, TTK LIG fabricates its own machines and also supplies to its UK joint venture partner SSL International.
But TTK LIG's long list of quality certifications did not address the specific manufacturing conditions in a factory, yield improvements, waste reduction, machine conditions, elimination of machine breakdowns, operator morale in a holistic manner.
According to Srinivasan international quality standards address product specifications and good manufacturing practice (GMP). These are to reassure the customers that products are manufactured in conformity to internationally accepted norms.
It was then he chanced upon an article on Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) in a newspaper. Immediately he called Suresh Krishna, chairman and managing director, Sundram Fasteners, the pioneering practitioner of TPM in India, and fixed up a 15-minute meeting with him.
Giving an outline of the TPM concept Krishna made an offer to Srinivasan: "Mr Srinivasan, seeing is believing. I can organise a plant visit to you and your officials to understand what TPM is all about and what it can do."
Impressed by the Sundram Fasteners plant and the results they got out practicing TPM, Srinivasan and his team voted for the Japanese method. Soon TTK LIG got S Yamaguchi as its TPM consultant from the Japanese Institute of Plant Maintenance (JIPM).
To prove his commitment to TPM, Srinivasan decided to clean one machine at the Chennai plant. Dirtying himself with oil and grease, he tagged in red the 124 abnormalities in that machine. After setting right the abnormalities, the machine came to its optimal level and it was showcased as the model machine.
For one whole month the machine performed without any hitch. That gave everybody the needed psychological boost to others to work towards similar results. The plant apart from the dip line also has hundreds of electronic testing gadgets and foiling/packaging machines.
"Manufacturing sheaths of world class quality with less waste is really a black art." Unlike an engineering unit where it can get its inputs as per its own specifications, TTK LIG does not have that luxury.
"Being a natural product, the characteristics of latex depend on variables like age of the rubber tree, soil on which it grows, falling of leaves, storage practices and filtering process. Many of these are outside our control," says Srinivasan.
Based on the latex quality, chemicals and antioxidants are added to make a compounding mixture. This is sent to the dip-line where glass forms/moulds dip twice into the mixture. The latex's consistency and the mould's residence time and the kind of mould (ribbed, dotted) decide the end product. After drying the latex-coated glass forms in ovens, the condoms go for leaching process - where excess latex, chemical and odour are removed. The glass moulds are stripped of condoms using water-jets.
The dried condoms are tested for pinholes on electronic testing machines - like, placing a cap on other persons' head, the operators at TTK LIG plant with a flick put each condom on the electronic sensors' shafts. The tested sheaths gets automatically rolled in a ready-to-pack form and sent to the foiling section. At the foiling machine lubricant - flavoured (banana, strawberry, chocolate) or non-flavoured - is sprinkled and is packed.
Random sample tests are done for checking the tensile strength and burst pressure. As to the quality checks in the production process, raw material quality is first tested and validated. After that the production process is continuously monitored. Even post-marketing surveillance is done to validate the shelf-life claim.
Yamaguchi, the tough taskmaster, refused to accept anything below the optimum results. "Look at what gives you the x per cent of good quality condoms and try to extend the same to attain 100 per cent perfection is Yamaguchi's constant refrain," says Srinivasan.
Slowly the transformation at the shop floor started taking place. Emphasis on visuals eased work. Some modifications were also made in the plant. The glass moulds which were held by a screw in the dip line were changed to a fit and remove type. "Earlier it took eight hours to change the entire glass moulds in the line. Now it is done in 45 minutes," says H T Rajan, president (operations).
Workers started to own the machines. Trained in maintenance, they also set right the minor repairs. The abnormalities are tagged white and only in the case of major breakdowns, the services of a fitter is called, who uses red tags. The machine down time and the waste started going down. Conversely worker productivity started climbing up. The number of suggestions from the workers in its Chennai plant alone is over 4,000.
Costs and losses were mapped and the causes were identified and rectified. Adds Rajan: "The inventory levels and holding time went down. For instance, we used to have eight weeks' stock latex. This has come down to three days. In the case of chemicals it is now 15 days, down from three months earlier. It is just in time in the case of packing materials."
According to him the lead-time to execute an order came down to 40 days from 72 days, machine productivity increased by 22 per cent and labour productivity by 18 per cent. Yield or production of saleable condoms increased by 4 per cent. Dip-line brand changes are made with single touch and tool change is done online. The company has three machines with zero breakdowns producing defect free sheaths.
"Some additional investments were made to make the above happen but they were made after looking at the payback period and terms," says Rajan. The overall equipment efficiency in TTK LIG's Chennai and Virudhunagar plants is now comparable to its new Rs 7-crore, 330-million new dip-line at Pondicherry.
The drastic improvements fetched the company the award for TPM Excellence-Second Category from JIPM, this year.
The bottom bulge
All these results naturally translated into increased profitability for TTK LIG as well as its overseas promoter, SSL International, UK.
The other beneficial consequence of TPM initiative is the rapid shrinking of the new product development time to two months from eight months earlier. "Around 20 new products were launched and resulted in increased business for us," says Dr Sivakumar. The exports of these enabled SSL International to launch several new products abroad.
What next? Srinivasan has charted the company's path clearly. In 2004 it will apply for the TPM consistency award, the next challenging rung for the company. "By 2008, after three more steps, we will win the World Class Excellence award," says Srinivasan.