Adi­ent to lever­age low cost, lightweight­ing trends in seats pro­duc­tion: Mu­rali Ra­jagopalan

Adi­ent In­dia, the largest global au­to­mo­tive seat­ing sup­plier, and a front run­ner in build­ing the ‘seats for to­mor­row’ is of­fer­ing full seat­ing so­lu­tions, for the pas­sen­ger and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles. In In­dia, Adi­ent has 9 as­sem­bly plants, and over 11 cus­tom

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Q: What do you mean by the phrase ‘car seats for to­mor­row’. What does it mean both in the global as well as the In­dia con­text?

Ra­jagopalan: There is a very good con­sen­sus among the stake­hold­ers on how the cars of the fu­ture should be. The only point of de­bate there is when? in case of au­tonomous cars etc. There is a very clear trend. The cars of the fu­ture are def­i­nitely go­ing to be elec­tri­fied, au­tonomous to var­i­ous de­grees, and will be used by many peo­ple and not just by a sin­gle owner. When it comes to fu­ture gaz­ing, no com­pany can have a clear an­swer. We as a com­pany are work­ing very closely with our cus­tomers who in turn are also try­ing to gaze the fu­ture. It is a joint ef­fort to an­a­lyse the trends when it comes to build­ing the ‘car seats for to­mor­row’ ahead of the com­pe­ti­tion.

In In­dia we are lag­ging as the mar­ket is yet to mature. Light-weight­ing is the im­me­di­ate need in the In­dian mar­ket as it has been tack­led across the rest of the world. Take for in­stance, the Hyundai Mo­tors Chen­nai plant, at the vis­i­tor’s lounge, one can find em­ployee posters ac­knowl­edg­ing their con­tri­bu­tion in reducing weight by a mar­gin of 15 grams. It is be­cause light-weight­ing di­rectly im­pacts fuel ef­fi­ciency.

It is a definite trend in In­dia, and Adi­ent, be­ing part of the heav­i­est com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ing, we are up for the chal­lenge. Se­condly, we see cus­tomi­sa­tion as an­other trend devel­op­ing in the coun­try. In­dia as a mar­ket is less ho­moge­nous than Europe and other coun­tries. Lastly, on the type of ve­hi­cles, we see peo­ple mov­ing from smaller ve­hi­cles to big­ger SUV-type ve­hi­cles. All the 3 trends nat­u­rally have a bear­ing on the mar­ket for seats.

Q: Are there any flag­ship or pop­u­lar prod­ucts that have been clas­si­fied at Adi­ent as key mar­ket driv­ers for In­dia?

Ra­jagopalan: We are a com­pany which has prod­ucts that are seen by ev­ery­body. Ev­ery car seat to­day looks dif­fer­ent. How­ever, there is no sig­na­ture ap­pear­ance of seat from across man­u­fac­tur­ers to dif­fer one from the other. Go a level be­low, and the struc­ture of the seat and mech­a­nism is our USP. Our seats are the light­est in the coun­try cou­pled with world class mech­a­nism sourced from our part­ners. Apart from that we also boast of ma­te­rial ad­van­tages over com­pe­ti­tion.

Q: What are the var­i­ous seat mech­a­nisms de­ployed by Adi­ent?

Ra­jagopalan: All these mech­a­nisms are driven by con­sumer needs. Con­sumers want flex­i­bil­ity in­side the car like the abil­ity to fold, bend, half bend, full bend etc. Con­sumers to­day are look­ing for mul­ti­ple func­tion­al­i­ties in the seat and hence mech­a­nisms. Our mech­a­nisms mainly do 3 things: fa­cil­i­tate a forward and a back­ward move­ment, vertical move­ment and a lat­eral move­ment. Apart from lin­ear and an­gu­lar move­ments, there is an abil­ity to lock for safety in case of a crash. Over and above, there is a need for ease of op­er­a­tion which adds to the vari­ants. Glob­ally, we are reck­oned as providers of the best foam tech­nol­ogy. We are known for our green foams. Foams that do not evap­o­rate and emit gas dur­ing the mak­ing process. We es­pe­cially take care to ta­per the hard­ness of the foam such that the sides are harder than the cen­tral

por­tion of the seat. Our foams are vi­bra­tion- re­sis­tant. So we have a very strong ca­pa­bil­ity in this re­gard.

Q: What are the re­cent ad­di­tions to the pro­to­type and test­ing ca­pa­bil­ity?

Ra­jagopalan: There are some generic tech­nolo­gies which have been in ex­is­tence for some time now. They are re­lated to plas­tics, and fabric. For ex­am­ple, one needs to have the ca­pa­bil­ity of build­ing a very short run fabric. Fabric mills to­day can’t think of any­thing lesser than 10,000 me­tres. In case of pro­to­types, if a cus­tomer wants just 1 seat to be built, a 10,000 me­tre fabric is of no use. To­day tech­nol­ogy is avail­able for such small lots of pro­to­types. There are tech­nolo­gies avail­able that in­volve a neg­li­gi­ble ex­tent of hand-made art. Such artwork is our forte in the coun­try. Go­ing forward, we aim to use tech­nolo­gies like 3D print­ing, mak­ing foams in a lab­o­ra­tory etc.

Q: Have you part­nered with Das­sault Sys­temes which is a lead­ing player in 3D print­ing and tech­nol­ogy?

Ra­jagopalan: Yes, glob­ally we have such part­ner­ships.

Q: Are in­te­ri­ors evolv­ing to do mul­ti­pur­pose func­tion­al­i­ties? How does it im­pact seat com­po­nents?

Ra­jagopalan: The safety parts which are out­side the seat will come into the seats. The ve­hi­cle con­trols will also come into the seats. So in­te­grat­ing safety fea­tures and elec­tron­ics into the seats are two ma­jor trends we ex­pect to change the game.

Q: Did you find any con­cept at the In­ter­na­tional Mo­tor Show (IAA) in Frank­furt that could be com­mer­cialised in In­dia?

Ra­jagopalan: We have a joint ven­ture with the Chi­nese firm Adi­ent Yan­feng Seat­ing Mech­a­nism Co.Ltd., where we are a mi­nor­ity share­holder. As we are the largest com­pany in seats, they are reck­oned as the largest interior firm. As a part of the JV, we have set out to de­velop world class in­te­ri­ors for the fu­ture.

Q: Any joint ven­ture on the lines that you wish to lever­age for the In­dian mar­ket?

Ra­jagopalan: We have many joint ven­tures in China with a 45% mar­ket share. Chi­nese are be­com­ing more am­bi­tious now as they are look­ing to ven­ture in mar­kets out­side China. Our big­gest part­ner­ship lever­age, I think, will def­i­nitely come from China it­self. Not nec­es­sar­ily in the tech­nol­ogy per­spec­tive, but in terms of re­la­tion­ship and abil­ity to ex­pand. You will see that we

will also have more tech­nol­o­gy­driven joint ven­tures with Boe­ing.

Q: How do you look at the re­cent JD Power study on seat qual­ity and sat­is­f­ca­tion?

Ra­jagopalan: We did pretty well there. We have a process called crafts­man­ship in­dex be­cause beauty is sub­jec­tive and ev­ery­body has a dif­fer­ent per­cep­tion. So we have a very stan­dard­ised process to eval­u­ate a seat. Ours is a pack­age which is run on a seat, which in turn gives a score closer to cus­tomer per­cep­tion. That in turn en­ables us to gauge bet­ter the re­quire­ments of our cus­tomers.

Q: What is Au­to­mo­bile 4.0 and how does it im­pact man­u­fac­tur­ing at Adi­ent?

Ra­jagopalan: The age of prod­uct im­prove­ments is ob­so­lete to­day. We have to think of some­thing com­pletely out of the box and dif­fer­ent. At the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant, pro­duc­tiv­ity is be­ing im­proved with a com­pletely new set of tools and tech­nol­ogy. It is on the lines of In­for­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy­pow­ered man­u­fac­tur­ing. We are ex­per­i­ment­ing at 4 plants in North America with our part­ner to lever­age such tech­nol­ogy to improve our over­all pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Q: How do you dif­fer­en­ti­ate your seats from pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle, per­for­mance ve­hi­cle and com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle in terms of man­u­fac­tur­ing?

Ra­jagopalan: Un­for­tu­nately in In­dia, the com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle seat­ing is given the least pri­or­ity. Now things are chang­ing. As per the Gov­ern­ment, by 2019, all com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles need to fea­ture a com­fort­able cabin in­clud­ing air con­di­tion­ing. Still, the con­tent is very small. While we are work­ing closely with our part­ners there it is yet to hit the scale of evo­lu­tion in pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles. That apart, the de­mand of seats in terms of func­tion­al­ity is very high in case of util­ity ve­hi­cles. Ev­ery­thing there de­pends on struc­tural mech­a­nism over just foam. In de­sign­ing mech­a­nisms, for in­stance a re­quire­ment to take out the third row and fit it back in a span of 3 min­utes needs func­tion­al­ity. Pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles in con­trast are gov­erned by safety reg­u­la­tions.

Q: How does your con­tri­bu­tion dif­fer from pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle seg­ment to com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle seg­ment?

Ra­jagopalan: Pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles con­sti­tute 80% of the vol­ume to­day. We see a much higher growth in com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles due to higher con­tent, and in­fras­truc­tural growth. We sense that In­dian play­ers are striv­ing to be good if not bet­ter than the global orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Q: Out of the 230-odd man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties across the globe, which is your flag­ship plant?

Ra­jagopalan: We con­duct an an­nual com­pe­ti­tion to pick up the best plant. Many of our best plants are still in Ja­pan.

Q: What are the over­all seat vol­umes?

Ra­jagopalan: We are mak­ing about half a mil­lion seats a year.

Q: What are your in­vent­ment plans to en­hance ca­pac­ity?

Ra­jagopalan: We are in­vest­ing in Sanand, Gu­jrat and in Pune.

Q: Apart from Tata Mo­tors who are all your other key clients?

Ra­jagopalan: Toy­ota, Honda, Re­nault, Daim­ler, Ashok Leyland, Maruti Suzuki, and Hyundai among others.

Q: How do you plan to lever­age your China as­so­ci­a­tion given that many Chi­nese OEMs are bid­ding for State Trans­port Un­der­tak­ing ten­ders in In­dia?

Ra­jagopalan: All the Chi­nese OEMs are our cus­tomers in China since we have a 45% mar­ket share there. They don’t want to re­learn and redo the investment. So we are here in In­dia for 20 years and are an ob­vi­ous choice for the Chi­nese OEMs look­ing at In­dia.

Q: To sum it up all, what are your key growth ar­eas and chal­leng­ing ar­eas?

Ra­jagopalan: We are go­ing to grow in com­po­nents like mech­a­nisms, metal and fab­rics etc. We are also se­ri­ously ex­plor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the af­ter­mar­ket busi­ness. Ad­di­tion­ally, we are look­ing at a new cus­tomer base where we see a huge po­ten­tial. Be­ing an in­de­pen­dent seat man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany over the last 1 year, one can ex­pect us to be very ag­gres­sive in the mar­ket to at­tain growth go­ing forward. We look at light-weight­ing and low-cost In­dian in­no­va­tions to lever­age the two big trends.

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