Interview with Ganesh Mani, Director of Production, Hyundai India, on the manufacturing process of the new i20
The launch of the new i20 is right around the corner. The previous generation was an extremely important car for Hyundai and also one of the most successful premium hatchbacks out there. It drove large volumes for the South Korean brand in India and even today, the current generation i20 ranks amongst the highest selling cars in the country. The new i20 promises to take a massive leap forward in terms of design, features and the number of engine-gearbox combinations it offers. So ahead of its launch, Ganesh Mani, director of production at Hyundai India takes us behind the scenes, helping us understand the i20’s production process and the challenges that came along.
Sirish Chandran: What kind of preparation went into the production of the new i20?
Ganesh Mani: This is the fourth generation i20. It comes out of the Industry 4.0 ready plant. Our preparations come from two different aspects. One is the way the product gets designed which is the normal cycle of every 4 to 5 years and the other is preparing our plant. We took advantage of the lockdown and got the Industry 4.0 and the 4.0 plant ready. Both the things put together, for the last one and half years, it has taken meticulous planning to put it together and now we’re ready for launch.
Sirish Chandran: Can you elaborate on Industry 4.0?
GM: Hyundai has always been investing in various new techniques and new technology. As new features get added, new challenges arise in manufacturing. One such example is the connected car feature. We were the first ones to introduce this with the Hyundai Venue. We started off with 35 different features and now it has gone up to over 50 features. The new i20 is also going to have 50 plus connected car features. The kind of variability this brings is very different. Second thing is the way we expand our portfolio without restricting ourselves to only petrol engines or only diesel engines. We are now supplying three different engines in this model — 1-litre turbo-petrol which is a power packed engine, the well-tested 1.2-litre petrol engine and the 1.5-litre diesel engine. We also have the options of DCT, iMT, IVT and the manual transmission. So there has to be a system which can take care of it without making mistakes. Starting with the fresh shop which is a very critical area, when you have such a lovely Sensuous Sportiness design and also when 66 per cent of the car is high-strength steel, the die design itself should be in such a way that it takes care of the strength aspect of it as well as the design aspect without creating any defects. That’s what industry 4.0 is. We’ve gone for something called the hot spot test analysis which shows all the possible defects that can commonly occur. We also use thermal imaging and digital scanning which can help us find out all the things which can possibly go wrong well in advance. We are using 450 robots in the production line to make this car.
During March and April when the lockdown started, we wanted to make good use of the time. We connected all these robots to a common server. 40 different parameters that come from these robots, flow back into the system and intelligently start identifying what exactly can go wrong if there are some changes. We operate six days a week, so we have only a 12-hour window on Sunday to update and make changes in the system. We prepared ourselves to make these things happen. Jumping on to the assembly, we have around 780 different dynamic components which get measured and everyday about a million points related to the car are stored in the system and it is meticulously analysed as to what can go wrong. Lastly, when we have so many features coming into the picture, manual testing becomes very difficult. So we have the Hyundai Automatic Diagnostic System which sees that all the functions are working. For example, it checks whether the sunroof works fine or not and features like the voice command and connected car features can be tested within 60 seconds of the car being produced. By incorporating these technologies, we are very proud to say that the car coming out of the production line is defect free right from the stage of inception to when the car is fully ready. That’s what I meant when I said industry 4.0 ready plant.
SC: Is the new i20 going to be the most complex car on the line in terms of the variants? You’ve got 10 different variants and then you have the different colours. Is this going to be the most complex and how have you adapted to the complexity?
GM: In order to get this car up and running, it is definitely complex. In the SUV segment we are already the leaders. To become the leaders in the premium hatchback segment, we need to offer the best product to the customers. So, we are geared up to face these challenges and also we need to be able to augment the volume. We are ready with all the possible variants, with many engine options and we’re ready to manufacture 30 to 40 per cent more at any given point of time.
SC: Have all the engines been localised, including the turbo-petrol engine?
GM: Yes that’s right. In a single line we can make the 1-litre turbo-GDI and the diesel engines together. At the blink of an eye we can change over from one process to the other. So we have rebuilt all this using 840 different stand-alone machines which are connected to a statistical process control, common hub and server which can automatically take care of any sort of change. So that flexibility is always there.
SC: Gearboxes are imported right?
GM: We do manufacture our gearboxes here in India. However some of the components like the control boxes for the iMT are imported but otherwise, the transmissions, the gears are tempered and annealed and entirely made in India as a part of Atma Nirbhar Bharat.
SC: Even the 7-speed DCT?
GM: It all depends on various factors. DCTs are currently sold in small numbers but we can always manufacture it here in the same line at any point of time if we need to.
SC: This line that the i20 is built on, is this a dedicated line for the i20 or is it shared with other products? What other products can be made on this line?
GM: As you know, Hyundai is a global conglomerate and we go by something called the global body line concept which means that in a single line we can produce at least five to six different models and the changeover happens seamlessly. So to answer your question, with the on-going models, the new i20 will also be manufactured in a seamless manner.
SC: The upgradation of the line, to take into account the i20, when did that get completed and when did your pilot production start?
GM: The important thing is that due to the pandemic, there was a point in time where six stages of various trials could be done in just four different stages with the help of our own people. It all started last year itself. I mean it was always a cycle of 18 to 20 months and that changed with how the things have been unfolding and we were able to successfully do all the insulation, all the trials and the final product without any changes with regards to the launch date which is the first week of November.
SC: When did the pilot production of the i20 start on the line?
GM: Pilot production started during the month of March and there are three more stages of production after pilot production.
SC: How did the pandemic and the lockdown affect the production lines?
GM: When the lockdown started from March, we wanted to use that time and there was a certain number of equipment to be installed. Our R&D team from Korea, about tens of thousands of them, thousand people from Hyderabad and 2400 people who work at the plant connected virtually, using something called ‘digital pre-assembly’ as a concept and also something called the ‘next reality’ as a technology, which is also a part of the Industry 4.0, so as Robin Sharma tells that we have to map something mentally and then physically execute it. So we were able to do it mentally, then digitally and then finally execute it physically. When we opened up in May, within four days, we put up all those machines in the pipeline and started running at about 90 per cent capacity of the level before the lockdown.
SC: About the paint shop, has that also been upgraded for the i20?
GM: As a part of our process, with the help of digital pre-assembly, we were able to commonise most of the components with the other models. We have the seventh generation high Pro-EV paint being used for the i20. We found that the people have a lot of interest in the dual coloured cars like the Venue, Creta or even the Aura. Demand for these dual tone options have increased dramatically. Even the i20 will have the dual-tone options. So we have a very innovative process where we can paint both the colours together in a single go.
SC: You mentioned that the i20 went through four stages of production starting with the first stage in March. Did you foresee the lockdown? Were there any challenges that you faced specific to the i20 when the lockdown ensued?
GM: There was a lot of movement of people between Korea and Germany and so on and we didn’t foresee this pandemic situation. We could reduce up to 70 per cent of that dependency by using our own people and our own Indian vendors to implement all those processes here. That’s one of the biggest challenges we faced with respect to restrictions on movement. Of course, while moving even from one state to another, we had to follow the quarantine rules. Even with all these challenges, we were able to manage it all successfully, connect with people online and carry out various other tasks.
SC: In terms of suppliers, local or international, are you facing any challenges in terms of sourcing components?
GM: We have 169 vendor partners and close to 60 per cent of them are located in and around the plant here in Chennai. The challenge that others are facing now is what we did back in September itself, to augment the production and ramp up our capacity. Due to that reason, our production lines were stabilised in August itself and even our vendors were able to keep up with us. As far as the overseas vendors are concerned, since we have multiple sources of acquiring components, we could adjust to these conditions well. Thankfully they were all able to supply us at the right time and we are hopeful that we can meet the demand with respect to the new Hyundai i20.