Interview: Biju Balendran, Managing Director, MG Motor India | Autocar Professional


Interview: Biju Balendran, Managing Director, MG Motor India | Autocar Professional

Speaking with Autocar Professional at MG Motors’ Halol manufacturing facility, Biju Balendran, Managing Director of MG Motor India explained the importance of new technologies such as ‘digital twin’, the role played by software in the modern car, and the increasingly prominent role played by hot stamping in vehicle manufacturing. 

What are the challenges that you faced, considering that this was not originally a greenfield plant and things would have had to be reorganised to improve plant efficiency?

Productivity is key, and we have adopted many smart manufacturing principles, including Industry 4.0 and 5.0. Digital twin [technology] is one of the biggest strengths that we have adopted in the paint shop.

When it comes to quality, our philosophy is ‘first time right.’ We have a young workforce and we also want to increase diversity from 36% to over 40% by the end of this year.  There is no job in this plant that is defined only for ladies or only for men. Processes have been streamlined and we have checkpoints at various places to enable us to keep quality first as our criteria. At any point, if we find anything is wrong, it is not that we rectify or correct that particular situation but we go back and check the batches and make sure that a proper cut-off is done and customers are protected.

How much importance is placed on automation, or does it boil down to the workforce? 

Auto manufacturing is certainly quality sensitive. We have sensors and cameras at all places, so  when it comes to quality sensitive operations, for example in the body shop, there are certain welding and hemming operations which cannot be consistent with the human hand and  those are robotic.

What’s the sort of training which is required, because it boils down to the people, who play the most critical role..?

We have sent people to China, our parent company, to ensure that we have good trainers. We have tried to copy many of the training facilities that they have, and also we do online training from the experts in China. So these things help us to build up the training needs of our work staff.

Externally, from the government side, we need good testing facilities, and regulatory training is coming up. So we are also in many of the committees to help them, guide them how to get on these new technologies.

Cars are getting complicated, especially on the software side, which can throw up its own challenges as we move towards electrification. How are you handling this?

Software is definitely a challenge. However, we have commonised the iSmart systems and software, so any problem we identify in one car, we try to map it to the other this helps us to iterate and bring down the problem that the customer may face.

Today, we have our test boards in our lab where we simulate the problems and see whether that problem is coming up or not, we even take our car to zones where the Wi- Fi is very low, drive on that road and see what problems can pop up, what MIL can come, so we have various locations in and around Halol where we drive to make sure that all the potential nuances come up and we can protect it.

Take us through the process for the press shop. How is the role of the press shop evolving now? Is it scalable?

We have two press lines with a five-press machine on both sides. What we do, a normal concept, is that the cover parts, the outer parts, we normally press in-house — what we call the class A. Class A, all the GI parts, outer parts we do it in-house, and inner parts we try to do in-house and also outsource it to suppliers.

Capacity wise, this press shop does not work on jobs per hour, it works in batches. Usually, the die change time is thirteen minutes. And then you have the first few trial stampings happening and then the pressing starts off. We check the first and the 100th and 50th samples at regular intervals. Of course, some common inspection will be there.

Dimensionally, we check every 100th or 50th at regular intervals…And that goes on for 30 to 45 minutes or maybe one hour. That’s the standard of batch production and that’s the strength of the press shop, that we don’t have to work on a particular variant or particular specifications.

Now, coming down to the steel, the most important thing for us is the formability. You know, you form the press and the design is so important that it should not crack. So when you look at steel, you look at strength, the weight to be minimum and formability to be there. These are some of the key parameters that decide the design of dyes, press and the output.

Is it fair to say that as a material, steel gives you that level of flexibility and draw?

Yes, it does. It is not just the outer parts that we talk about. Today, the question of strength comes, and the strength-to-weight ratio comes [into discussion]. We have to bring down the weight of the car. The new technology that is coming in is hot stamping. Hector had two hot stamping parts, the Astor had four, and the Comet has 17. We are encouraging suppliers to put up this plant near our facility so that we’ll have less inventory, and we’re going to have more hot stamping in our future cars.

It’s a new innings for MG India with the new partnership or the joint venture with JSW… 

The investments are coming through. Expansion plans are being rolled out and new portfolios are being frozen, and I think our road map for the next mid-term or five years is almost frozen. We know what we are going to do, where we are going to end up, and where we are heading towards, which area we want to focus on, etc. Everything is getting narrowed down, and a clear direction has come, with the money coming in, and the support coming in. We are all excited for the next level of this new journey.

This interview was first published in Autocar Professional’s June 15, 2024 issue.

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