View from India: When digitisation and diversity go hand in hand
Image credit: Wabtec Corporation
Diversity in the workforce could mean that fresh ideas are being brought into an organisation, but incorporating gender diversity into the manufacturing unit will also open up the shop floor for women.
If we view the organisation as a pyramid, generally gender diversity tends to be represented in the middle layer. The top layer could have fewer female representatives than the middle one and, coming to the bottom layer, it’s very rare to find female employees there also. So when Wabtec Corporation offered a tour of its vertically integrated multimodal factory, it was surprising to find women working in the manufacturing unit. Dressed in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, they seemed comfortable carrying out the various production tasks.
To think of it, the shop floor is a labour-intensive male-dominated segment of any manufacturing unit. However, companies are beginning to employ women. Their inclusion brings diversity into the workforce. Women assemble, sort and package products for distribution, and their inclusion on the shop floor has urged companies to raise the bar for physical safety. Enhanced safety protocols could give the company a better public image in terms of work culture.
Coming to infrastructure, companies are using automation tools and robotics on the shop floor. It means that these workers need not carry heavy, cumbersome equipment. Shop floor work also opens up employment for women in the surrounding areas in what could be a refreshing departure as most women tend to be part of the agricultural workforce. Some of them could become the breadwinners, welding and working on machines on the shop floor. Others can scale up the ladder and may occupy the seat of shop floor supervisors. Endowed with attributes such as empowerment and self-confidence, they can demonstrate managerial competency.
Clearly, bringing women into manufacturing has given Wabtec an interesting dimension. “Hosur being a manufacturing hub, getting a good gender mix in the workforce is always a challenge. Safety and security remains a concern. The idea of Pink Line was our attempt to bring a good gender diversity in the manufacturing space. When we went hiring, we spoke to parents and convinced them of the organisation’s focus on safety and security and that the employees well-being remains at the core of all that we do,” said Preethi Nandakumar, HR head – India, Wabtec Transit.
Currently, women constitute around 10-15 per cent of employees in the manufacturing unit. Hopefully this percentage will increase further. “I’ve worked in three companies, but I’ve never seen such an exclusive dedicated line for girls, I’m very happy for that,” said Kaviya, voice of Pink Force.
Once a small number of women joined in and began to learn, it was relatively easy to increase the size of this group. Of course, such hiring requires a different approach. The company had to reach out to families, when it came to hiring. Understandably, parents were hesitant to send their daughters to work in the manufacturing department. Gradually, the confidence was built as issues relating to safety and security were discussed with them. That’s how the new concept of Pink Line was introduced.
“The pilot run for Pink line was started in the Customer Services-Kitting Line in February 2022. Since then, the Pink journey continued across the plant," said Nandakumar. "The next Pink Lines were implemented in Brakes and Safety, Energy and Comfort, Electronics and, finally, Relays, taking the total tally of Pink Lines to five currently. We have also established a routine that every quarter, one leader will interact with the Pink Team to build the communication channel.” The future plan is to improve the skill set of the women employees on the shop floor to excel in testing and trouble shooting. Skill enhancement and multi-skilling will remain the focus areas.
Other than the Pink Line, the Hosur Transit plant has undergone a major update since early 2021 with the expansion of its factory and office space by 10,000 square metres. It includes the coupler brakes and systems plant, the engineering team office, R&D labs, and upgraded HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and pantograph shop floor. “The R&D professionals are from different streams of engineering. The Bangalore office employs 1,400 engineers while the one in Hosur has 80 engineers. We rely on technologies such as RM&D or remote monitoring and diagnostics,” explained Sunil Yesudas, director of Engineering, Transit INDIA. RM&D assimilates the status developed in a running locomotive. This is transmitted to the base station server on a real-time basis on a wireless network and maintenance issues can then be addressed.
Technologies such as 3D modelling and computational fluid dynamics are leveraged to make components that are validated as per customer specifications. Digitisation on the products side extends to product lifecycle management. In practical terms, digital tools are being deployed right from the conceptualisation of the product to the end of lifecycle to give the product traceability. In future, terminals will be put up at the shop floor to give visibility to the components. Overall, the effort could be a move towards lowering manual operations. “Technology should add value to the ecosystem. In future, we can look forward to components that are lightweight and more reliable,” added Yesudas.
The design aesthetics of forthcoming locomotives may well align with cost optimisation. The design ecosystem could incorporate many more 3D models and simulation and automation tools than before. R&D could be oriented towards the next-generation brake systems as bullet trains and mono rails become part of the railway portfolio.
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