Thinking Ahead With Digital – Altizon and Sandhar Technologies Limited Podcast

Altizon recently hosted a podcast with Sandhar to deep dive into driving payback in Industry 4.0, especially in these uncertain times, and how Sandhar has benefitted from going digital and sustained the success.

With a unique motto of ‘Growth. Motivation. Better Life’, Sandhar is committed to empower the lives of employees to live better, increase their efficiency and promote manufacturing of innovative products and solutions. The Sandhar team focuses on customer centric components, mainly catering to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). With 38 manufacturing plants around the world and over 5,800 employees, theirs has been an incredible success story spanning three decades. Over the years, Sandhar has experienced a steady growth in terms of product portfolio, manufacturing plants and clients.

Here are snippets from the conversation between Co-Founder & CEO Vinay Nathan (Altizon) and COO Automotives Niraj Hans (Sandhar). Enjoy!

Vinay: Hi, I’m Vinay Nathan, Co-Founder and CEO of Altizon. Altizon is a products platform and solutions company focused on industrial IoT and has been working across the world in helping in the industrial world accelerate their digital transformation journey. The Born Digital podcast series that we are listening to today has been conceived by us to shed more light on the digital transformation journeys that we have had a chance to be part of. We invite guests who are CXOs from the industrial world to share their insights with us to help other companies do more with their digital strategies. Today, our guest is from the Sandhar Group, which is an automotive component major with 38 manufacturing plants right around the world and over 5,800 employees across their plant manufacturing facilities in India, Spain and Mexico. They also have significant collaborations across Asia in Korea, Japan and China. Theirs has been an incredible success story spanning three decades, where they have achieved phenomenal growth in a very competitive automotive ecosystem. We have Mr. Niraj Hans representing them today. Niraj is the CEO of Sandhar Automotives. He also serves as a director on Sandhar Hanshin and Daeshin Auto. In his career spanning 30 years, Niraj has held multiple leadership positions in engineering and management across various conglomerates. These include Honda, Iveco, Daewoo and GE before his stint in Sandhar. He’s also a very active participant in various digital industrial IoT initiatives, the Confederation of Indian industry and a huge proponent of industry 4.0 and digitization. So it’s with great pleasure that I invite Niraj onto our podcast today.

Niraj: Thank you, Vinay!

Vinay: One of the things that has been remarkable for us as a team to look at is the passion with which the Sandhar Group looks at productivity in particular. It has stood out from the very initial days that we started interacting with your group. There’s obviously a culture that has been built up overtime, which puts productivity front and center. Could you share a little bit about how that got built and what are the KPIs that you tend to look at? How did this whole thing come about?

Niraj: Thank you for this opportunity to interact with you and your audience as well. As you rightly mentioned, Sandhar is a company into the automotive parts space since almost 30 years, spearheaded by Mr. Jayant Davar, a first generation entrepreneur who started it in 1985. Since then, we are almost in every automobile segment of this country and outside as well. Right from the start, as we started our business almost 30 years back, we were associated with very good and very big players of OEMs in India, such as Hero, Tata Motors, TVS, Royal Enfield, Suzuki, Honda, to name a few.

Right from that day of inception, we were used to produce other things in lakhs and then subsequently in billions. When you get into these kinds of volumes, you definitely need to keep all your sources together and keep on thinking what’s next continuously.

Earlier, whenever OEMs wanted to increase their capacity, they used to add one line, add more plants, and that’s what we were doing as well. Lately, people have started looking at how you’re making it, how effectively you’re making it. That is what prompted us to think in this direction. We thought of starting it from our mother plant, which was a 30 years old plant and we started from our model line, our pilot project. Subsequently we thought of deploying across all our lines and plants as well. With that thought process, we started discussing within our team and created one CFT team, from manufacturing, quality, PE and other departments.

We thought that let us start from scratch and gather all the information available in the market from CII, ACMAS and of course, Google. We began compiling all the information together and then we had joint sessions to understand the viewpoint of the team. My intention of starting CFT was that people should start from scratch rather than calling someone in for a plug-and-play solution.

We started interacting with your team and other competitors as well, frankly. And because we wanted to learn in the process. We found that kind of passion in your team as well and that you also needed a view into the automotive industry. We were also looking for somebody who could work hand in hand.

So we started with the concept of co-creation with you and co-learning. And of course, coming to KPIs, as I told you, we make in millions. So for us each and every parameter related to productivity matters, whether it is a parts per hour, parts per man hour, parts per model, among others.

We have different kinds of KPIs because we handle different customers and different products. From two-wheelers, and three to four-wheelers within one customer, and many other products. We sounded off your team about this and they were happy to work along with us. This is how we started.

Vinay: Fabulous! I recollect those days and it’s been a great ride from that point on. In Sandhar’s case it has been a couple of years since you went digital and a lot of continuous improvement has been made ever since to get the compound interest, yield, right! We know that it is very difficult to sustain benchmarks, and consistent improvement takes special focus and attention.  How did you manage to achieve that?

Niraj: You rightly mentioned that whenever you start some good practice or best practice, be it in industry, office or anywhere, it’s easy to start but very difficult to sustain. We were very cautious about it because prior to that we had started some other concepts, as an organization in VSME or Zed cluster or AACC training centers also in our companies and had found it difficult to sustain. Such initiatives are people-based and when you train a set of people and they leave the company, you have to train another set and so on.

This time around, we decided to involve a larger set of people. We involved our GET engineers in this concept of smart manufacturing. They are agile and wanted to learn. We wanted to learn along with them.

At the same time, we involve our permanent people also, so it was a good mix of new and old people. They posed many questions to us and to your team as well, which was a good approach. Along the way, many people have left but that isn’t slowing us down because new people are joining the team.

Vinay: That’s great. So how do you look at the objectives you had in place for the digital story you were trying to put in place?

Niraj: Digital for us wasn’t a replica of a register or an Excel sheet, which is the case for many organizations. For us, digital was more about data and associated trends, rather than only numbers.

When you see the entire organization, you have a manufacturing process as well as your support processes. As far as support processes are concerned, all our 38, 40 plants are already interlinked through our ERP system.


Our PLM or Program Life Cycle Management is also connected all across all plants. Our human resources, processes are also connected through the HCM portal. For us being digitally connected was not new but we wanted to extend that to our manufacturing side as well.

And that’s why we began this journey with you. So our organization is conscious of the digitization of all processes in a comprehensive manner.

Vinay: When you embarked on this digital story, you spoke earlier about the KPIs and producing in millions and having to have a way in which you had an impact at that scale. So what did you think was a sign of success, when you were going through the operational process?

Niraj: I began by focusing on the data and its trends. Industry 4.0 is a very vast subject and we didn’t want to be lost. So we took one step at a time. We bifurcated the whole gamut of this smart manufacturing into three areas – connecting all the machines, metal track-and-trace and connecting the entire chain of operations from in-gate to out-gate. We started by getting all the machines connected and with that, we began to get information on each machine, each operator, running (or not running) time. I saw that green indicated that the machine in question is running, red means it isn’t and yellow means plant shutdown. I analyzed the data and realized that maintenance time was leading to delays and interruptions. We began thinking of ways to rectify this and people immediately came up with the idea that rather than cleaning the entire machine, we begin with changeable bins. That’s what we did. We would change one rack immediately, change the other rack and the machines would start. That’s how we began to save 20 to 25 minutes of stoppage. Initially, it was more of a manual analysis. But yes, the idea was that once our people would start thinking, tomorrow we will be able to delve into deeper analytics naturally.

Vinay: Absolutely. I think that’s a great analogy. Obviously, times around us have rapidly changed due to COVID and the entire manufacturing industry is beginning to re-look at LEAN. One can only have limited people on the shop floor now, factory management has had to change and there are containment zones to deal with. Do you think having embarked on this district journey has helped you handle these times better a certain extent?

Niraj: Yes, to a certain extent because we are not fully digitized. As far as my plant is concerned, we have digitization in terms of machine connectivity only. This helped me plan how to run the machines. I wouldn’t say we had remote control because we are into physical, manufacturing, mechanical parts manufacturing and not into augmented manufacturing yet.

Vinay: So, if I am correct, you are referring to balancing the manpower better on different shifts as a result of better dashboarding. So we looked at a certain set of things from a productivity standpoint, how digital has played into impact from those KPIs, ensuring that uptime is maximized. Holistically speaking, this is something that captures everything from productivity, quality, maintenance, energy, traceability, all angles. So how do you look at it holistically and what are the areas that you think going digital has helped with beyond productivity?

Niraj: In our mind, we had productivity, quality, machine maintenance and health. We spoke about productivity earlier. And when the machine maintenance is taken care of, quality is usually the organic output.

According to me, we should produce quality in the first place rather than relying on inspection. So you need man, material and machine. Digitization entails re-skilling of manpower. You are able to get data from machines on time, on specific parameters such as current, vibration and temperature. And in terms of quality and productivity, our machine breakdowns have reduced and so have unnecessary vibrations and issues. As I told you, this plant I am talking about manufactures locks for the automotive industry and keys are manufactured from milling to blanking to key biting. We are talking large intricate machines with high capacity of volumes but lately, we weren’t able to get the required level of productivity due to various reasons. After this implementation, we are able to get the desired quantities and qualities as well.

Vinay: How would you look at advising the companies that are embarking on this journey, in terms of timelines and payback period?

Niraj: Smart Manufacturing or Industry 4.0 is a concept that people need to get accustomed with on their own, because this is not a customer demand. No customer is going to come to you to get a product made as the result of Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing initiatives. They demand quantity, quality, effectiveness and economy. Now for every penny, you have to fight for it because of the competition in the market whether it is B2B or B2C. We need to look into the root cause of losses that we incur. It’s important to get to the bottom of that pyramid to understand what’s causing lack of efficiency. People ask me about ROI in various forums, whenever I talk about this industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing. I don’t think it’s about ROI. It’s about survival. If companies really want to survive, they should look into it rather than waiting for a better period. There’s no better period than now for digital transformation. I think the best way is to identify problems in the industry, in the factory and try to find a digital solution for that instead of going for a pre-existing solution in the market. Start small with digitization techniques and you would automatically be drawn into the digital transformation journey.

Vinay: This was really a good conversation on so many fronts. As we head toward the concluding parts, I wanted to know what is it that you are planning from a future standpoint around digital transformation and your journey around it?

Niraj: We have connected all the machines. Connectivity of our assembly line was still in the process when COVID struck and we couldn’t meet our target of March, April. We are now in the process of accomplishing this and also in the process of creating awareness among all our plants. I want this concept to be pulled by my plants rather than me pushing it on them. As that’s when this initiative will be successful for us. With awareness, skilling is important as well for which we will be looking at your team as well as our internal team.

Vinay: One of the most phenomenal things that I learned as we were working with Sandhar is that my teams would actually reach out to your team for product feedback. And in fact, the first level of feedback, of pretty much any feature we have put out there, has been put out in beta for your team to look at and then come back. It’s a testament to the trust and the insights that your team brings to the table so really appreciate that. And that’s your culture, which is phenomenal.

Niraj: This exercise was a motivation for my team also. When our people look at the data, they take great pride in the data suggested by them. They own this product, they own this solution.


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