‘You’re the chosen one’, said their mail and I was suitably thrilled, happy, and began looking forward to this trip to the Tata Nano factory in Sanand, near Ahmedabad. Well, the journalist in me was, let me admit here, excited… for reasons that are obvious to anyone. I wanted to see for myself the relationship between a car manufacturing unit and the environment and how it has been interacting with the local people. If they lived up to their reputation then it is Gujarat that is the real chosen one, the people of Sanand who are the real chosen ones… and I guess all of us in one way or the other as one good thing anywhere affects each of us in some mysterious way.
I’m sure my readers do not want me to describe the absolutely hilarious flight experience from Delhi to Ahmedabad and back (by the way, which flight isn’t funny these days with long-legged flyers moving restlessly between the closely packed seats and flabby air hostesses wearing tight dresses and unwilling to smile unless you throw a double smile at them), nor would they want me to write about how excitingly new Novotel is… so let me jog straight to the moment we were asked to take our seats in vehicles to give us a tour of the massive Tata Nano plant.
Factories where cars are created (and I know this is the right word as a lot of love goes into each car that rolls out) are massive and this one in Sanand is on a plot that is 725 acres with a vendor park of 325 acres adjacent to it. An interesting bit of trivia for all is that a Nano rolls out every 58 seconds and between July 2009 and May 2015 almost 2.75 lakh Nano cars have been produced. Let me add here that this is what one State because of its myopic business sense must be missing… a lesson for every other State in India to take prudent political decisions that can have such an impact on the economy.
The Wikipedia too, by the way, states: “Post-acquisition, the locals claim one of the biggest gains to come out of the Nano project is that the environment in our village has improved drastically. The Gujarat government has placed significant efforts into preventing pollution and improving environmental quality in Sanand. It has given notice to factories, small as well as large that emit high levels of pollution in the area to either leave or treat the pollutants.” I think it is vital to mention this fact right at the start as this plant, we learnt later during this visit, is credited with zero-discharge of pollutants.
‘So what happens to all the industrial effluence?’ asked someone from my group.
Our guide said, ‘All effluents from all shops are treated according to the regulations laid down by the pollution control board. The ETP within the premises gives us output that is reused for horticulture.’ ETP, he told us, is the Effluent Treatment Plant. It isn’t just the environment that this plant cares for… they do have a people-concern obvious everywhere. There were massive signboards that encouraged workers, managers, and even guests to follow all safety regulations all the time. So helmets, closed toe shoes, and clothing that isn’t loose and flowing is mandatory. Even photography is strictly prohibited… and these pictures that you see are because of the special permission we had. And anyway, we had access to get down, walk around, click, and interact only in the last part where the final assembly is done.
Devender, one of the engineer bloggers in our group, pointed to the charts and work boards and said, ‘Look, these are some of the latest policies that are followed in some of the best plants globally.’ Well, a visitor may understood only a part of what he told me but terms like process charts, work cards, andon charts, TQM, quality circle, and kaizen are enough to tell anyone that here inside is a place that cares for human life and human development. I’m adding development because one sees workers smile and so proactive only in places where they get opportunities to develop their talent and also learn and update newer skills in a continuous manner.
As I have mentioned earlier, we drove by the initial stages in car creation and these included the press shop, weld shop and the paint shop. This is because most of the functions here are automated and top of the line robotics is involved at every stage. We could see massive robotic arms inside a closed area doing their rhythmic technical gyrations and I muttered, ‘Wow! This indeed is the most perfect ballet that I have ever watched!’
‘Ballet?’ asked a co-passenger.
‘Yes, a ballet,’ I replied, ‘let’s call it the Komatsu ballet at 14 strokes per minute!’ We laughed.
The next few minutes brought us face to face with the tech drama of 11 major skin panels being pressed into creation, quite literally! By the way, almost 70% of the welding is automated and Fanuc is the robot that deserves to be applauded.
The paint shop is one section that we obviously did not enter but our guide said, ‘The car body gets its colour coat hanging on overhead conveyors and goes from pre-treatment to electrode deposition to the sealant application.’ Such conveyors can be serviced when they go to California Industrial Rubber Co. Well, if this sounds too full of tech jargon, you really will smile when I tell you that the colours that the Nano gets could be damson purple, dazzle blue, pearl white, royal gold, sangria red, and meteor silver. The seventh colour option is Persian rose and you can get this only if you ask for it specifically.
This was the stage when I wondered aloud, ‘Why do colours always get a fancy adjective to go with?’ I got a lot of smiles but no one really attempted to answer this and so my guess is that this must be the work of some genius sitting in the corporate communication cell for sure. So Tata isn’t just giving great quality but also have a marketing acumen that is unbeatable.
Yes, we did go through the Power Train/Engine shop that has a dust-free AC environment and can produce an engine in less than a minute! The TCF or the Trim Chassis Fitment section is where the final assembly of the car is done… and it gets all that we see, for instance, seats, steering wheel, window glass, wheels, and buffers and more. It is only after this that the car is checked for wheel alignment, has to go through a roller brake test and the shower test… but it isn’t yet ready for the final certification that is in line with WCQ or World Class Quality. The car still needs to go through a torture track test and a water run test. ‘This is quite a handful of tests,’ I muttered and remembered all the tests that I have appeared for in my lifetime.
Our guide smiled and said, ‘I guess you can call yourself certified.’ Well, there is a great sense of humour in the people we met during this visit and no, no one was grim and serious-looking. Efficacy isn’t always the domain of the dull and disciplined… it is present in an equal measure in the brightly disciplined lot that we came across here.
And before I forget, it wasn’t just the bloggers, writers, tweeple, and journos here… there were the families of the winners of a contest and these were those who had won a Tata Nano each.
Who are the chosen ones?
The ones who won the Tata Nano?
The writers and the bloggers coming face-to-face with a great tech learning?
These cars that have creative involvement in their lives?
The workers who love their association with Tata?
The people of Sanand who have benefitted from this plant?
The environment that isn’t sullied at all?
The people of India who finally get Nano love?
No, I am not going to answer this at all… but we all know the right answer. Or is it answers?
Do visit the Tata Nano Facebook page for more details.
- Twitter – @tatanano_tweets
- Vine – Tata Nano
- Instagram – tatanano_insta
This short clip takes you right inside the Tata Nano plant in Sanand, Ahmedabad and gives you some intimate moments in the ‘creation’ of this wonderful piece of drive-worthy technology!
12 July 2015