The need to develop and sustain modernisation in farming has bolstered the growth of tractor manufacturers in India. International Tractors Ltd (ITL), the third largest tractor manufacturer in the country, has been a key player in farm equipment manufacturing sector, and with the monsoons coming up in the next two months, envisages a steady rise in demand. We had a chance to visit ITL's Hoshiarpur unit in Punjab, which is said to be the largest integrated tractor manufacturing plant in the world, and witness the company's production process in detail.
Commencing operations in 1996, ITL currently manufactures a host of products, including tractors, engines and farm equipment. Its 'Sonalika' brand of tractors range from 20 hp to 120 hp and the company has significant presence in around 80 countries for its high-end offerings. ATR met M B S Tuli, Director-Operations, ITL, to discuss the production process and key requirements for a sustained run in the domestic market.
MANUFACTURING EXPERTISE & CAPACITY EXPANSION
According to the company, more than 50 % of the components it uses are produced inside its own manufacturing facility, including engines, transmission, chassis and sheet metal body parts, while a few parts and sub-systems are outsourced to external component manufacturers. Tuli said that this is in line with ITL's 'Make in India' initiative, which not only helps in ensuring homogeneity in product design and development, but also cuts down assembly time significantly.
The existing production facility at Hoshiarpur had an annual capacity of one lakh units and to address growing demand, the company recently expanded its manufacturing base with the addition of a state-of-the-art multimodal assembly line, with an annual scalable capacity of two lakh units. The new fully-integrated line will be dedicated to the domestic market, while the older unit will cater to exports. Complying with OHSAS (Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series) standards, the new plant is housed within the existing production area and has been developed with an investment of ' 500 crore.
The older unit has the potential to produce one tractor in three minutes, while the new facility further reduces this time to two minutes for each tractor. The plant is ISO 9001:2008 certified for matching the quality management system standard and IS0 14001:2004 for its environmental management systems. ITL's new plant also has the potential to accommodate new models with different engine capacities and chassis specifications. Currently, the domestic market demand remains mostly for tractors with under 60 hp of power output, while the above 60 hp units are primarily meant for exports.
SAFETY & QUALITY CONTROL
The integrated plant architecture follows 'pokayokes' and human error prevention, coupled with a 'zero-error' production policy. This is in line with ITLs 'First time right - Every time right' theory, which aims to minimise production anomalies at source. Also, with the help of advanced testing automation software, the workforce can detect and trace post-production errors and identify the exact stage where the fault originates from, which helps with avoiding a reoccurrence of the same error.
Transfer of castings from the manufacturing bay takes place through under-pit conveyors, which reduce the risk of in-transit incidents. Sub-assemblies are located close to the main assembly lines for a smoother material flow and reduced downtime. This also ensures that aggregates are handled safely and smoothly, without pilferage or major human errors.
The plant has washing equipment for automated cleaning machines from Merck Millipore and on line hydraulic testing facility is also available. There are seven slat conveyors, six power and free conveyors, and 39 machines for assembling within the new plant. Having the critical assembly and sub-assembly operations within close vicinity of each other is essential to maintain the timeline of producing a tractor within two minutes at the new plant.
ITL has an integrated engine manufacturing unit, where engines are assembled in pressurised, air-cooled and dust-free environment using precision tools and equipment. The assembly is equipped with state-of-the-art twenty-four engine test beds, while the transmission assembly line assembles right from the clutch assembly to the brake units, including transmission case and gear machining.
Multi-speed transmissions and four-wheel-drive axles are also manufactured in-house. In order to machine the housings to desired accuracy, a heavy machine shop has been established with the latest equipment and there are 165 special purpose machines, along with more than 50 CNC-machining centres. All the machines and high-end equipment installed within the company premises are procured from reputed manufacturers like Mazak of Japan, for high accuracy, and consistent production quality.
Sonalika's R&D department is manned by 300 engineers who are responsible for delivering complete agricultural solutions to the company's customers, through innovative products. The R&D department caters to the needs of international customers as well, and ITL's 'Solis' range of tractors has been engineered for global markets, where lands holdings are generally larger than those in India, and environmental requirements are often more stringent.
A lot of the research being undertaken at ITL caters to emerging market across the globe, and based on their requirements, the company undertakes conceptualisation and design of its new tractors. The designing is done on 3D software for optimised output, and once a product design is completed, development of tractors starts accordingly.
As mentioned earlier, Sonalika manufactures tractors from 20-120 hp for domestic as well as international markets, using technologies like CRDi and turbocharging, which help customers use the machines efficiently and enhance farm productivity. The recent trend has been towards closed cabin tractors, which can be operational during heavy monsoons as well, and most of ITL's tractors can be ordered with a transparent closed structure, made of tough polymer composition.
AUTOMATION & USE OF ROBOTICS
ITL claims that its new manufacturing unit is the world's largest plant with a robotic paint facility, leading to reduced human effort and higher quality paintjobs. It includes a fully automated line for environment-friendly painting and coating requirements, as well as more consistent paint quality. It has a CED dip tank capacity of 70,000 litres and is equipped with six robots to handle the workload. The mechanism ensures uniform paint film thickness and better corrosion resistance.
It is an eco-friendly coating process, which is produces low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and is entirely Lead-free. This section also ensures higher degree of paint utilisation of up to 95 % or above, and thereby helps ITL achieve uniform paint, reduced wastage and zero failures. The in-house gear manufacturing takes place on gear hobbing and gear shaving machines, and subsequent heat treatment occurs in a seal quench furnace (SQF). An induction hardening and pit type furnace ensures that gears used in all tractors withstand the toughest loads during rugged usage by customers, without any failures.
There are 112 machines in the gearbox section, including 22 gear hobbing and 19 gear shaving machines, which manufacture around 400 types of components. There is a metallurgical test lab with equipment from Lecco of USA, and the quality analysis process for spur, bevel and helical gears starts with testing of raw material on a spectrometer and in all subsequent stages of production.
Sheet metal and plastic parts are manufactured in a modern press shop – there are a total of 26 machines, which include 19 presses (up to 400 tons), two Laser machines from Prima Italy and three injection moulding machines. All sheet metal units like the bonnet, fender, dashboard, and other components are manufactured in the press shop. The ITL facility also has a laser cutting machine for accurate profile cutting of sheet metal components.
To complement the above, a die development centre with 35 machines has been established, to develop in-house dies for press tools, injection moulds, sheet metal dies, etc. These include seven CNC machines, an EDM unit and a wire cutting machine to develop in house dies in the shortest possible time.
Once a tractor moves from the assembly line, it goes through various field tests before being moved to the final dispatch section. These tests include roller testing, hydraulic tests, PDI inspection, quality tests and vibration tests, to ensure that the tractors deliver optimum performance to customers and remain trouble-free for the longest time possible.
TEXT & PHOTO: Anwesh Koley