We take a visit of the Mahindra Farm Equipment’s Zaheerabad plant covering all major production operations
As India gears up to comply with CEV BS IV norms in the construction equipment and tractor segments starting October 2020, Mahindra Farm Equipment is bracing up to move a level ahead with Industry 4.0 and further consolidate its market leadership position. Auto Tech Review recently visited the company’s Zaheerabad facility – the world’s biggest tractor manufacturing facility – that rolls out a tractor in a takt time of just 2.3 min flat. Here’s a ground report.
Production at Mahindra Farm Equipment’s Zaheerabad plant has been increasing at a fairly rapid pace ever since it rolled-out its first tractor in 2012. While it took five years for the manufacturer to reach the one million production milestone, it took just two more years to double production to two million units – a feat it achieved in 2019.
The plant is divided into four sections for major aggregates, including engine, transmission, hydraulic assembly and tractor assembly. The plant is designed to roll out 200 tractors in as many as 330 variants in just 463 min, which takes the overall takt time to 2.3 min. The facility exports more than 57 % of its total production across 50 countries, with major markets being the United States and southeast Asian countries.
Out of the 600 vendors that supply raw material to Mahindra Farm Equipment at Zaheerabad, 23 are stationed locally to manage just-in-time inventory. The company is also sourcing aggregates from international vendors for its cabin-equipped tractors. Mahindra Farm Equipment has introduced digital screens for managing production at various stages and removing paperwork to significantly increase productivity.
The company has been banking on the Drona platform to increase digitisation in manufacturing and introduced its data analytics journey in 2019. This has enabled the introduction of Industry 4.0 through equipment management, associate management, quality management as well as production management to collect and analyse data to eliminate any possible losses, production defects, manage product specifications, manpower resource optimisation, among others. This enables assessment of various levels of operations across the plant through one screen as well as remote machinery diagnostics to eliminate the possibility of production halts on account of any machinery breakdown, said Kishore Naik, Plant Head, Mahindra’s Zaheerabad facility.
Mahindra’s Zaheerabad facility adheres to a ‘green channel process’, wherein six parameters are followed on the supplier’s performance. This includes rejections of the last six months, and in-process strengthening, among others. If the supplier is able to clear the requirements, there are no checks on raw material at the plant level and the same is taken directly online (DOL) into production. The company is currently experiencing as high as 98 % DOL parts, as the quality assurance team works proactively with suppliers to ensure minimum checks are conducted, said Naik. Tractor production at the Zaheerabad facility, regardless of domestic or export market needs, follows a sequential production plan or a single piece flow.
The engine assembly line has an installed capacity of 640 engines per day, and rolls out products in the range of 30 to 100 hp. Various parts of the engine, including cylinder heads, shaft fitments, front cover fitments, EGR fitments, and water pumps, among others, are introduced every 2.3 min across 22 assembly points and are matched with bar codes – which are introduced at the engine assembly line – to ensure the right child parts are introduced at right intervals. In case of any product mismatch, the entire assembly line will be affected; thus, deskilling is introduced as the system efficiency is important, noted Naik. The conveyor automatically channelises the new engines towards 11 test beds that subsequently test the engine’s functionality and performance across its aggregates. Once the engine block is ready, it is transferred to the ready-for-dock (RFD) area.
For the transmission line, the Zaheerabad facility has two separate conveyors. There is a significant difference in the number of aggregates that are deployed in tractors below 50 hp and the ones above that. Two separate conveyors are designed to keep up to the adhered 2.3 min takt timeline. The 22 station transmission line for 50 hp engines & above has also been introduced with the rail guided vehicle (RGV) concept for upskilling trainers as well as increase skill level among experienced people. Such a strategy has enabled the company to bring down the takt time to the current levels from the earlier 5 min.
The 38 station U-shaped transmission line for up to 50 hp engines also has been equipped with five test beds at the end, where every transmission undergoes functional testing. Subsequently, the transmission is transferred via the conveyor belt hanging from the top to another line, where it is deployed with various aggregates like front axle, back axle, among others. Every transmission is also tagged with bar codes to ensure the right engine is mated to the requisite transmission.
The engines and transmissions being manufactured at the plant often have similar looking parts and the production schedule is tight; thus, the bar codes tagged on both the equipment are scanned before mating to avoid any kind of performance mismatch at a later stage. It is at this place that the actual tractor bar code gets generated, which the vehicle retains for the rest of its life, said Naik. The facility at this stage gets introduced with two automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to manage heavy equipment that find application in the export range of tractors and reduce the possibility of manpower fatigue. Various other peripherals such as fender packs, steering column, firewall, etc are introduced to develop a chassis after which it is subsequently transferred to the paint shop.
The company has deployed a power & free conveyor for chassis paint for power saving and takt flexibility, which enables the paint ecosystem to work in sync with the conveyor as well as operate individually. The C-shape conveyor works in a closed loop module, wherein the chassis is first of all hanged and subjected to various pre-treatment stages, including washing, hot cleaning, cold cleaning, de-greasing and channelised through an oven at a 105 °C to 110 °C temperature to ensure the chassis absorbs the paint well and does not come-off in patches. The primer is applied in the next stage to make the chassis ready for the paint job. The two robots with electrostatic bell guns that manage the paint job are designed to choose from three colours – red and grey for India and black for the USA – in less than six seconds, as per production schedules. The excess paint is collected through water, which is subsequently channelised towards ETP (effluent treatment plant) for water re-usage. The freshly painted chassis is then transferred to the tractor assembly line.
Once the painted chassis reaches the final assembly, the shopfloor workforce introduces various crucial peripherals such as sheet metal parts, radiator, steering, seat, fuel tank, rear as well as front tyre assembly, headlights, wiring harnesses, alternator and its assembly within just 144 s allocated for each station. The newly-rolled out tractor is subjected to wheel alignment, hydraulic test, roller test that ensure the vehicle is performing well on all fronts.
The company has recently rolled out its new XP plus range of tractors that is equipped with new extra-long stroke (ELS) DI engine to deliver better torque as well as optimum gear speeds. The range has been equipped with 5 % higher back up torque as well as advanced automatic draft and depth control (ADDC) hydraulics to ensure enhanced performance across various agricultural applications.
Mahindra Farm Equipment is now heavily focussing on adoption of Industry 4.0 at its Zaheerabad facility. The objective is to digitise the complete manufacturing chain, which includes the supply chain optimisation besides introducing auto-scheduling of raw material requirement at the plant level, thereby increasing the overall efficiency. The company acquired 11.25 % stake in Swiss-based company Gamaya in June 2019 that will enable it to develop and deploy next-generation farming capabilities, including precision agriculture as well as digital farming technologies. The acquisition move will provide the company access to hyperspectral imagery analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning that will be used to capture and interpret useful information on the state of crops for farmers, said Naik.
Overall, Mahindra Farm Equipment has 14 tractor manufacturing and assembly operations units worldwide. The Zaheerabad plant has an installed capacity to roll out 1.8 lakh tractors, when operating at full potential annually, and caters to 65 % of the company’s tractor exports.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay