We speak to Kamal Kalsaria, Value Stream Manager at GKN Driveline about his unique approach to “problems”, changeover downtime challenges, and inculcating a culture of asking questions in teams using the 5-Whys method.
Reducing downtime, Changeover, Drivelines
Intro: [Background music] Pashi presents the Means of Production, a podcast about what it really takes to build, maintain, and scale the processes that produce the physical products that power our world. Every episode, we ask a manufacturing expert to walk us through the nuts and bolts of how they do their job. We explore how and why they got into manufacturing, dive deep into the hardest problems they've solved on production lines, and discuss their thoughts on what's broken in manufacturing today and how those things can be fixed. This podcast is hosted by Siddhit Sanghavi, Pashi's US Manufacturing Operations Lead, and former assembly engineer at Ford Motor Company.
Siddhit: Welcome to season one, episode five. Our guest today is Kamal Kalsaria, he is a Value Stream Manager at GKN Driveline and a very good friend and former college batch mate of mine. So Kamal, welcome to the show, thank you for your time and I'm glad to have you here.
Kamal: Thank you Siddhit. Thank you for inviting me into the show and I'm glad, I'm here.
Siddhit: Well, before we start the podcast Kamal is going to read out like a disclaimer.
Kamal: So I work with GKN Driveline and I'm in transition phase right now, probably going into a major OEM Nikola. So all that I'm saying right now is of my own opinion, my own experiences over the time and it has nothing to do with the companies I work for. I'm not a spokesperson for GKN or Nikola or any other officials and this is just my own experience.
Siddhit: Perfect, so with that out of the way. Kamal firstly, let's start with what's up with your life with your work and just in general, in these crazy times?
Kamal: Yeah, and you very clearly said it's a crazy time, I I'm in a transition from my Value Stream manager position from GKN into Nikola Motor as a Customer Quality manager.
Kamal: Thank you, this is only my fourth day into the work and I'm really enjoying it, liking it. It's a very good company, with a lot of passionate people and a lot of energy into this company. So I'm liking it and learning a lot of new things every day. So today was also another hectic day learning a lot of new ropes up again, so yeah, enjoying it.
Siddhit: Awesome, hectic on day four, so that's quite a role that you have then, and supplier quality is something that is very, very crucial for a new company, right? As they're trying to streamline their quality procedures and standards, so that's a great role to be in. So Kamal, what say we just dive into the podcast now.
Siddhit: So I've known you, since we were in the university from Mumbai doing our bachelor's in production. But can you just tell me the whole path or how you got into manufacturing and how you have come to this point?
Kamal: Yeah, well, it's a funny story actually, and I don't think a lot of people know about it. My mom wanted me to be a doctor and until 12 science, I was into medical. I scored high marks in my biology also as well as math.
Siddhit: Really, oh, wow!
Kamal: Yeah, in fact, my PCB score was higher than PCM score, so I got first out of 12. I applied to a lot of medical schools and I was accepted into one of them close to Bombay. So I was happy about it, but something inside me was not satisfied and I was not sure what it is and days kept going and at that last point when we were about to go and pay fees for it, then I was like, I don't want to be a doctor, I think I want to be an engineer.
Kamal: And that's how things changed at that point. I applied to engineering specifically, either production or mechanical, I did not apply to electronics or computer or anything because those two were things that I felt is my passion. And looking back, I feel that way because my father used to own a factory, where we used to manufacture a diamond cutting and polishing machines and accessories for it. I used to go to that factory quite often with my dad and those light machines and milling machines, of course, manual machines back then in nineties. I used to see them running, operating and in fact I started operating some lathe machines, manual machines when I was about 15 years old, I think. So that's when I started to work on some of the machines, very basic products and I'll take a block, put it on the lathe and start turning it, just make it round that's it, no use of it.
Kamal: So work on some scrap material, I think all that plays a lot of big role in my decision-making at that point when I pivoted to become an engineer from being a doctor and I'm very happy that my family, my parents specifically, they supported my decision. My mom wanted me to be a doctor, but that was just her wish and she did not pressurize me, or she did not like forced me to do anything as such. So, yeah, I think that was the point when I decided I want to become an engineer and I joined DJ Sanghvi [College of Engineering] eventually, and that's where my engineering journey started.
Siddhit: That's a very funny story and also like, I could not have imagined you doing anything other than a core engineering field, and here you are talking about being Dr. Kalsaria, so that's very funny. And I completely get it, I grew up around factories as well and that was also part of my, I guess, innate bias or it's in the blood as, what you call it. I guess for our audiences, I'll just specify that PCM is physics, chemistry, math, and PCB is, physics, chemistry, biology. And in India, the college system looked at the first score, if you were going into the nonmedical sciences and the second score, if you were going into the medical field, so that is how we were judged by the education system. So great answer, very entertaining, Kamal thank you for sharing something like that. Second question, so what is, or was the hardest problem you faced in this field? It could be any job that you had or any experience, or it could be a series of problems or tough days or anything, right? That you really remember in this field of manufacturing and how did you solve it? So you can just walk us through that time.
Kamal: Yeah, I was thinking deep into this question and when we think about the hardest problem, what is a problem, right? It's a situation which, it's not a desirable situation basically and fortunately, or unfortunately, I don't know, my mind is hardwired to not look at a problem as a problem, but to look at it as an event. As a timeframe where we are going through some hardships, it's just the way I look at it, it's not a problem. Saying that there are a lot of big events that have happened in my life in past 10, 15 years, just looking back, starting from one thing I explained getting into engineering, it was not a problem, it was an event when things changed, so that was one. Coming to the United States, I never imagined in my life that I will be coming to United States, but here I am, 12, 13 years later sitting here. That was also a very important point where I pivoted six months later, I was on a flight to the United States. So journey from being an intern in GKN, to being an operations manager, leading a department of 60 plus people managing $20, $30 million of budget within a span of nine years, that's an achievement, but it came with its own events. Current transition from GKN to Nikola, even more bigger company, that's something that I feel it's an event. The reason I keep saying these are events and big events, because every time I went through these, there were a lot of turmoil that I faced emotionally and physically just reflecting for the audience in mind, just reflecting on my journey from an intern to operations manager.
First of all, cultural change, like working in a company where I never thought I will be working with so many different people from different cultures, so cultural shock, that was a problem to me. The one way I kind of resolved it is trying to focus on the details, why things are happening, how people are reacting, so those are the details that I look for when I was acclimatizing myself into that cultural change. And eventually like it took me six months or something, but I learned the new way of working in the United States and wired myself differently and that helped me solve that problem. Then comes the problem of implementing or executing, so there was a time in my journey where I was on my timeline to lose my Visa status because I was not accepting the position that was offered to me. That was a problem because I wanted to work for a position where I was not only sitting and documenting stuff, I wanted something where I can use my brain and I was not getting into that position. So I kept trying hard, going out of my way to support those areas, and implementing the changes that would positively impact that area, which eventually people saw and I was doing a position, which I liked, but at the same time, I lost my visa status, due to timeline. So I was supposed to go back home, so I left for India in 2013.
Kamal: Not knowing that I would come back, so I left. That was a problem, it was a big problem because it's a big change, I lost everything that I grew up in the United States as five years into the company and all, but I was like embrace the change, embrace the problem, face it and we'll learn out of it. So I went to India and luckily, I got even better positioned in the same company in India, where I started making bigger changes and I was more visible. Again, the one thing that I did solving that problem of change was accepting the change and living the change. When you live the change, you start to focus on the details and when you start focusing on the details, you forget all that negativity. You start to focus on the positive side of the problem, how are you going to solve it? When you get into that kind of a mindset, and you start to develop that, people around you will start supporting in your vision, in your pursuit to solve the problem and there you go, you start to have so many solutions come through your way. In that case, when I was going to India, I never complained about it, I was like, okay, yes, I have to go to India, I'll go to India and I'll figure out something. And they go next two, three days, I got phone call from the VP and the Directors in APO region and they started to give me the opportunity and they're like, would you like to do this or that, and I have two positions available to me in the same company.
So that was a good way to face it, I would say and then suddenly I got a call that, hey, your Visa got approved, now you got to come back, so that was not a problem, that's a positive side. But came back then started to work in an area where we were focusing on change over improvements. So at GKN, it's a high-volume, manufacturer of drive shaft components, so I was in an area where we manufacture, like in one cell about, say 2000 pieces a day and there were nine cells like that. So figuratively like 15, 18,000 pieces a day of production in that department and roughly about 15, 20 active references that we were producing. So constant change overs, so changeover was a big problem, I was doing a task to reduce changeover times on each cell and that was six months of my life, where I just lived changing over cells. Again, my philosophy or my fundamental of solving the problem remains the same, you live the problem, you focus on the details. Once you focus on the details, you start to learn so many things, and you start to gain knowledge about that problem and with that knowledge, you start to experiment now, and once you start experimenting over and over again, you get positive results, you get the negative result, but you never fail. The negative result is not in line with your expectation, but it enables you to learn something new, so keep experimenting, keep learning and build your team around you and that will help you solve the problem, that's usually my approach to solving most of the problems. So in this change over problem, I started to work on it, the major concern was like, there was no documentation, there was no strategy, there was no teamwork sort of and there was a lack of planning, changing over.
So this was what was visible, at the same time the thing that was not visible was behind the curtain about the constant demand changes, the low inventory that we were carrying, and those conflicting signals, those were the underlying conditions, or I would say root causes potentially, that that was a problem. To solve that change over issue, I spent almost six months of my life into that, mostly around organizing, communicating, and stabilizing the operation, that is what was really needed to get us more stable. Once we get into that stability, then we can make more change overs and make more improvements, which gives us more time to systematically make improvements because systematic improvements is what will sustain. So those are a few things that I did in that process and I'm proud to say that after six months of hard work, we improved on the changeovers drastically, I think the gain was about 45% from what we were doing before. So really good improvements there, so that was one big part in my journey, from there on, I went on to some different events in the last position I held as operations manager, when I got into that position we were doing okay.
Siddhit: Kamal, I just want to interrupt you. Are you going to give me a second problem that you were facing?
Siddhit: Okay, before you do that, I want to take apart a lot of what you said, because there were so many wonderful gems. It was fantastic, I was very amazed, probably one of the best answers so far in the whole series, I mean, it's just five episodes, but still. So before we go further and I want to hear the second one for the audience, I want to break down a few things. Firstly, I want us to know that whether it is manufacturing or something else, viewing problems as events is a beautiful way to see things, because life is always going to be full of problems anyway. So you might as well think of it as an event and this is more method of philosophy it doesn't mean somebody has to follow it. But just reminding what Kamal said, in the first answer that he was viewing the problem as an event, and then diving into the details wherein it became more clear, whereas if he saw it as a problem, it would remain associated with a mental block, which would prevent him from seeing the details. So I want to emphasize that very greatly, I think it's a great lesson to learn. Second is some more technical stuff that I'd like to clarify for those not in the auto industry or related industries, a drive shaft is a component that takes power from an engine and delivers it to a part that's not connected to the engine. So that is what a drive shaft is and a cell is just like not an assembly line, but a smaller piece of machines that are connected and related to each other and in this case, they are building this drive shaft. And a changeover or is what is meant when you have one setting for a machine that makes one variant or one type of product, and then you need to do something to change that setting, to make something else or something in another batch. And often times this changeover takes so much time that it eats away your productive minutes. So these are some of the things that are just some technical terms I wanted to clarify, and I will put them in the show notes as links that you can read on. There are some great topics like single minute exchange of die or SMED that were pioneered by some great engineers precisely for these kind of problems. But enough of that, we'll go back to Kamal's second problem, which I really want to hear.
Kamal: Yeah, So the second problem or the event, I would like to say that I faced was over the span of almost a year timeframe. It started with me accepting a position as operations manager into the department. So now I have these 50 plus people that I'm responsible for their safety, quality of product they manufacture and their development as in line with also in addition to the financial responsibilities and all those departmental KPIs that I must manage. So one thing, as soon as I got into that position, I figured is communication is the key and it has to be fast, the good news don't spread as fast as the bad news does.
Siddhit: Very true.
Kamal: And that is something I never figured why it happens because whenever we send out a good production plan, the production plan doesn't go as we intended to execute. But anything else that we don't want to happen will spread out very instantaneously and it goes in very good manner, right? I think there is some science there that we need to figure out.
Siddhit: It goes viral.
Kamal: I know, but anyway, so communication is the key it's something that I really learned immediately and figured out. So more communication, more awareness as a leader and as an operations manager, those were my two prime responsibilities that I focused on to ensure that we are all aligned. When we have these two good communication and good awareness, the people that you are leading automatically, starts to align with the vision. So it took me about two months to get into that mindset, of course I was also asking a lot of questions to my coach and mentor then, why is this happening and how do I come up with good solution to this? And then we come up with this good communication, so I was over communicating to my team of what we are going to do, why are we doing it, when are we doing it? And as we communicate more, there are also questions, so I start to ask questions and those questions are not personal questions, or not targeting anybody. But this is my favorite, any time anything happens, I like to ask question why? If you ask anybody who reported to me or who worked for me, they will know anytime I see him, I'll ask him the question, why? And I'll keep asking the question why? They will answer me and I'll asked them why? It's just ingrained into me, the five why's are the total way of problem solving. That's ingrained, I cannot help it now, but to ask the question, why?
Siddhit: No, it's perfect, guys I link that too, it's a very interesting read, how to boil down to the base problem after digging through all of these, other why's before it. So that's what Kamal is referring to here.
Kamal: Yeah, so now anytime I asked them, I walk on the floor. Just as a side note, I'm so much into manufacturing, I spend about 30, 40% of my time on the floor, just walking around, talking to people, looking at machines, I just enjoy those shiny parts come out of the machine. I don't know why I enjoy that.
Kamal: So that's one of my favorite communication, awareness, and part of communication in my way is to ask the question, why? When we start to ask those questions and keep communicating to the team, they start to learn about the details. There are two ways now they will learn, one because you ask questions and two, because you ask questions, right? The first is when you ask questions, now they are reacting to it, so they will start to find an answer for you when you ask the question. But over the time, when people start to know you, they are now proactively finding answer for you. So before you go and ask the question, why? They have an answer for you why, so now you have a team who's engaged and who is proactive and that is really how I solved the problem. In those two years, the first year as an operations manager, about six months it took some time for my team to know me because I will plainly ask a question, okay, this happened, okay, so why? And they might start to have their own emotions into it and they are not in the same mindset, we are not on the same frequency. But once they get onto that frequency, that whoever is asking why? Is not asking a question to question your commitment or capability, but to understand the situation, then the reaction, and then the participation you get from the team is very different. And that is what I kind of unlocked from the team that I was having. And once we could unlock that potential in the year of 2020, we made a tremendous improvement in terms of our performance, our production output, our quality, KPIs. Just, in terms of OEE we improved our OEE by 12% in one year, a 12% OEE gain in one year.
Siddhit: It's ridiculous.
Kamal: Yeah, just to translate for them, so for open time, it's about a month and a half, almost a month and a half of open time that we have gained in that year. So that was tremendous improvement and we were almost like top in our region for that improvement. So that is something I'm really proud of, again I would like to make sure that this is not my achievement, this is the achievement that my team has done. This is the hard work and the capability of the team, I was probably there as a catalyst or a middleman or reporter, however you want to describe, but I was a communicator, I would show them where we want to go. I usually don't go into details of how we want to go, unless needed but it's usually the team that is driving all those improvements and going and getting it done, so I'm really proud of the team.
Siddhit: I think this answer was as good as the other one. So let's unpack this one because it had a lot of stuff too, so there was actually a management part, and then there was another part as well. So the management part here was some change management in the way people are approaching the problem. And I think Kamal, what you did is to inculcate a culture of not stopping until you have drill down in an investigative manner, rather than saying, who caused the problem and you caused, or they caused it's not about that. It's about why did this problem occur, why did that occur, why did occur? And so on and so forth, until we realized that this is what it was, it was nothing else and that cuts out a lot of bitterness, once you start thinking that way. And kudos to you for inculcating, that culture that's good leadership right there and second is just some of the terms again. So OEE is for those who don't use this, Overall Equipment Effectiveness and this is like usually like 80 to 85 for a really, really good company, like really good company. So it's never a hundred percent or anything like that and it's composed of quality, performance, and availability. So you can imagine that he had to improve all three areas to bring it up and one month of free time, what he means is that he has unlocked like one month worth of productive time that now can be used to make money for the company, so that's essentially what this means. So that's a great achievement, so congratulations Kamal, I'm sure you are more than a reporter or a middleman, you were leading by example, and it's a great example and very inspiring one.
Kamal: Thank you.
Siddhit: So yeah, if you have more problems that you faced, we're happy to hear it. Let's look at the third question and the way you've described problems, maybe this is not a question you even like, but, but I'll still ask because it's part of the format. Which is that if you had a magic wand to change something about your work or your industry, or the way people work, or the way things are done, what would it be? And this would be within reason, some people have said, I want to increase the number of hours in the day and people should listen. Yes, that's what every manufacturing engineer or leader wants, so what would it be for you that would make an impact and why?
Kamal: It is still a valid and a very good question. There are still so many things that I see on a day to day basis, again, if we just put it in line with the communication and awareness part of it. Like I mentioned, how can we ensure communication is seamlessly flowing from a top-down or a down top approach by that, what I mean to say, like, we have tools, emails, and newsletters, and text messages and all. Yes, we do also hold a daily standup meetings at different layers in manufacturing for passing on information between shifts and within shifts and within the layers top-down, down top. So but still there is so much information loss that happens in those handshakes, how can we come up with the process or a device, I don't know what it would be, but there should be something that translates and transmit that information as it is and it's visible to all the layers in the same fashion. That is something which is very important, like for example, there are machines going down in the shop floor, I would not know until an hour or two later and sometimes if that's a critical machine, well, I must have said in my communications that this is critical, this is critical over and over again. Still somehow, I would have missed that one person who is on that machine on that hour, that machine went down and he did not notify for like 30 minutes or an hour. And there you go, your whole purpose of that communication broke, so that is something that I would say really needs to be addressed. The other few things, technical challenges in manufacturing, I'm not saying anything that would demean people's behavior or capabilities, but if we can provide a technology to help people who are not so much technologically adept. For example, like in manufacturing, we have industry 4.0 going on, but it's all softwares and buttons and it's all, hi-fi things that a lot of people get intimidated with.
Kamal: Those are the things like, how can we make it so simple for people who are technologically challenged, can also still adapt to it and use it or utilize it very effectively. That is something that I have faced in the past, within my group, that there are some challenges. If I would have had a magic wand, I would make things so simple and straightforward for people who are using it, can make it work very easy. There's a seamless integration between them and also if things don't go right, they have something they can immediately rely on and get back on track very quickly.
Siddhit: Yeah, I think you touched upon a very unique answer, this is not always the answer I hear. It's the other side of IIOT, right? It's things are moving too fast for us to properly, actually designed for the work environment or designed for people. And this point I can't help, but mention something about Pashi, which is that when you are designing a process for an assembly line, the process logic usually takes a lot of editing work with PLCs. You have to plug in your laptop with a data cable, or whatnot, and actually edit each machine. Where as in Pashi, there is a drag and drop editor in which you just drag and drop elements and very intuitively add something like operation one, operation, two, operation three, and just connect them with lines. Add devices like, barcode reader or part present sensor, and then put the variables for those devices, like part sensor equals two or barcode reader matching so-and-so serial number. And that's how you build a whole assembly line, which, kind of addresses, both of your magic wand issue, is that loss less translation, right?
So when an assembly line is built that way, the integrator, and the company, purchasing the equipment are on the same page, because the design editor in Pashi has a Google doc style collaboration, right? You can see them working on the same drawing board as you, and even every change that is made is captured with its timestamp. So a complete log of whatever you changed is always there and the interface is so design that production engineers, manufacturing engineers, basically people who have nothing to do with PLC programming, they're not controls engineers can easily solve our design the whole line. So we're trying to help solve some of the problems that you very validly mentioned right now. But very good answer there Kamal. I think all of your answers were very insightful, very full of gems, which will make for a great article, where people want to read what you're saying. Thank you so much for all these answers, now I want to ask you a fun surprise question, which I didn't warn you off before, which is if the year was 2051 and your grandchild were to go there, or you went forward in time to see it, how would the factory of 2051 be? Just describe it for us.
Kamal: A factory in 2051, I think I foresee a factory in 2051 to be fully automated, I don't see more than the owner, the integrator, and a couple of key people running an entire factory because everything will be automated. Like with robots assembly, robotic loading, unloading, measuring devices automated, delivery systems are automated. So basically even outside the factory, like there's so much autonomous mobility going on, you'll have things delivered to your dock, it'll be picked up, moved to the line as the order is populated by supply chain automation, move to the machine. If there's any failure into the machine, it's all calculated and only if necessary, somebody will be involved, like a machine owner who will come, make few changes because he will exactly know what he needs to change and it might as well be ordered from Amazon who knows, right? Amazon will deliver that part to you right away, so you just go there and fix that part and come out of the machine and it will start running. So yeah, I think I see a human less manufacturing by 2051 and there will be a lot of people who are just owning companies and not running them, I would say.
Siddhit: That is very close to what I think a 2051 factory would look like and there's actually a joke that was cracked by the manager of a very famous jewelry manufacturing company. And I don't remember what it is and what he said was that he had so much operator churn and he had so many issues with their talent. He was so much in trouble that he said that there should be a factory in the future in which the whole factory has only one person and one dog and somebody asked him, well, yeah, that's the ideal state of just one guy running the whole factory. But what do you need the dog for? And he said, the man that tries to touch any of the machines, the dog should bark at him. It should be so automated that even the man should not have to do anything to the machines. So yeah, that is how the joke went and I found it very funny and find it very similar to what you said.
Kamal: But with all this technology that we're developing and things that are happening now. We take half of the people that we used to take before, like maybe if you just go back in time, 10 years ago, you needed twice the workforce that you need now.
Siddhit: Hundred percent, I see that too.
Kamal: So going forward, I think that it's an exponential curve, like it's not a linear graph, right? So as we go forward, there will be a lot more challenges to solve and it'll take more effort and time to get there. But the amount of people that you'll need going forward is sort of decreasing, so we have to find a lot more different product lines to keep these people who go out of work to get back into work and become an entrepreneur now, right?
Kamal: So we have to find more product lines, but yeah, streamlining, and vertical integration and internal integration is what is happening very fast.
Siddhit: Yeah, especially with, you mentioned Nikola and their competitor Tesla, they have started manufacturing a lot of their supply components themselves. So we are seeing the trend of them making more and more of the components that they might have otherwise outsourced maybe 10 years ago. So absolutely true that, that trend is increasing. Well, thank you Kamal, I really enjoyed the conversation, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your experiences and your wisdom and your style of working. I think there was a lot to learn from that and take away, so it was a great episode, thank you, and have a great night.
Kamal: Thank you Siddhit. Thank you very much for inviting me on the podcast and I really enjoyed the discussion and there's a lot more to learn from this for me, also.
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