By T Murrali:
Phoenix Lamps Division (PLD), formerly Phoenix Lamps Limited, part of Halonix Limited, is India’s largest manufacturer of automotive halogen bulbs. Now part of the Suprajit Group, the company has state-of-the-art manufacturing plants to cater to the growing needs of the Aftermarket and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) in India and abroad. PLD’s mandate to itself is to produce high vibration resistant with tighter geometry tolerances, long lasting and low power consuming completely new generation of automotive halogen bulbs at competitive cost.
The Suprajit Group comprises Suprajit Engineering Limited, Suprajit Automotive Limited, Suprajit Europe Limited, Wescon Controls and Phoenix Lamps Division. The group is a global leader in the automotive cable and halogen bulb industry. PLD makes all types of halogen bulbs covering all voltages (12V/ 24V), wattages and colours. Halogen bulbs are denoted as H-series and categorised on the basis of the construction and profile of the filament. H4, HS1 and H6M (M5) are the most widely used bulbs. H4 and HS1 bulbs have dual filaments. H4 bulbs are generally used in four-wheelers and commercial vehicles, while HS1 bulbs are for two-wheelers. The technologically advanced H1 and H7 are combination bulbs with single filaments. They are used in high-end cars. They give brighter light and better visibility. H3 is used as fog lamp. This single filament bulb with bright yellow light increases visibility in fog. H8, H9 and H11 are single filament bulbs with special base for seal beam application that prevents corrosion of the terminals and water ingress into the headlamp.
They are generally used as combination lamps and also as fog lamps. H13 with a double filament technology offers more light with less glare for the oncoming drivers.
The 9000 series bulbs (9004, 9005, 9006, and 9007) are widely used in the American market. They have corrosion-resistant bases and silicon rubber seal to prevent water ingress.
The 9004 and 9007 are dual filament bulbs; the 9005 has single filament and is used in high beam application. The 9006 is also a single filament bulb used in combination for low beam application. PLD has three plants based in Noida NCR. PLD is challenging itself to reduce wattage in the current portfolio and to make new generation products like H16, H17, H18 and H19 at competitive cost.
Out Of The Woods
Only recently the company has come out of the woods. For long, in the hands of a private equity firm, Phoenix Lamps Ltd was up for sale. In the meantime it lagged behind in technology and quality as its manufacturing set-up became obsolete. The focus was more on finances until the Suprajit Group acquired it in June 2015. This was the fourth acquisition of the Suprajit Group, India’s largest automotive cable manufacturer. It had acquired Shah Concabs Private Limited, CTP Gills Cables Limited, UK, and the automotive cable division of Pricol.
For the turnaround of the new acquisition, the Chairman and Managing Director of the group, Ajith Kumar Rai, invested in plant and machinery, manufacturing infrastructure, and people development, and spruced up the factory buildings, shop floor and equipment. He identified the problem areas and began work on improving quality at all levels. Rai was firm that no defective product should go to the customer. The new investments revived the spirits and motivation of employees.
Mohan N S, CEO, Suprajit Group, took the lead in initiating training programmes with the support of external consultants. Efforts were made to understand various requirements of the customers. Slowly things started improving. The company launched a programme called ‘Q-Challenge.’ People at PLD began to realise that the new management was different and ready to face every challenge. The company consistently pursued change and progressed to the present level in a short span of three years.
When asked, if the company had lost any customer before it was taken over, Akhilesh Goel, Chief Operating Officer, PLD, said, “Yes, we did, an important European account. People from that company later came to our factory to see the changes and were impressed. Now there is a positive engagement with them. This is a significant feather in our cap.” In the domestic market, confidence in Phoenix products was eroding, though there had been no major casualty.
Focus from a PE and strategic investor can make a lot of difference. PE focuses on financials and on short-to-medium-term objectives. Strategic investors are in for a long haul and basic hygiene engineering business is given more importance to ensure financial well-being of the organisation.
Post-acquisition, Suprajit made investments to update plant and machinery which boosted the employee morale. Goel said people have been associated with the organisation for long and are proud of that and therefore attrition has not been an issue.
The skill-sets were sufficient to manage the show but not enough to take it to the next level. “We were able to get some experts with lot of experience in halogen bulbs technology to train our employees. We invited global experts in glass melting and process improvements having rich experience to train our workforce. These experts visit regularly to impart hands-on training. This has helped employees to upgrade their knowledge and skill,” he said.
The new management took care of the technical and behavioural aspects. “We initiated a programme called ‘Chairman’s Club’ for which we identified high-potential employees across the organisation. They are a part of it and are always ready to go to the next level,” Goel said.
The company sees lot of opportunities in India and has invested in the latest technology equipments at PLD, he said. On the initiatives taken at the shop floor, Goel said, it began with identifying customer complaints and taking them to the process. The focus was to improve on RGLP (Robustness, Geometry, Longer life and Low power) that was weaved around product and process. RGLP programme was conceived for product performance enhancement. The process is variable and therefore, it was to be tackled differently to ensure consistent delivery. The approach was on designing the product while also correcting the process as they complement each other. For the RGLP process, the journey is still on.
Today the company is getting busier by the day as “supplies to even new programmes have commenced; many orders are in the pipeline, at various stages of approval from OEMs, to supply H7 in a few months,” Goel said.
“We never had an issue with the H-category bulbs; only we have to increase the product range and performance. However, whatever the customer wants is being supplied. The line that makes H7 to H16 is capable of producing anything required,” he said.
New Programmes, Customers
Of late the company sees lot of new programmes, even for the new models. “With renowned OEMs we are targeting the new models/ platforms where we were not present earlier. Bulbs have been tested and supplies could start any moment. Especially H7 is the area where we also look at value. We have also been audited and approved by all the major OEMs for H7 and H8. Earlier we supplied H4, now it is H7 and H16. We have already started supplying H16 for passenger cars and commercial vehicles; it is coming from the same line but it is single filament, specifically for fog lamp application,” Goel said.
After the acquisition, the Suprajit management had three priorities for PLD. The first one was to correct the manufacturing operations. The second was meeting with the customers. It took about a year to explain to them of the transformation and get positive vibes on the new initiatives. Now the team is looking at new opportunities, its third priority. PLD’s priority is to expand its geographical reach. It has a detailed strategy to enter the unexplored markets. He said the company has been preparing to enter these targeted geographies and working aggressively to get the products certified by the respective agencies. “We are exporting bulbs to two of our subsidiaries, Trifa and Luxlite. They repack or kit them before supplying to the customers. Trifa and Luxlite, now direct subsidiaries of Suprajit, supplies to their respective customers. For the US we will be exporting directly from Phoenix; we have established Suprajit Inc., in Detroit,” he said.
About the manufacturing capacity to supply to all these markets,” Goel said, “We have to wait and watch. Connecting to the big players would maximise capacity utilisation. We are very clear on what we need to do; where and what we need to add. The move towards LED bulbs by a few companies is also something we have to keep an eye on. We don’t visualise any constraints on capacity; we will manage depending on what business we get.”
This correspondent had an opportunity to visit the manufacturing operations of PLD. The process begins by cutting the imported long glass tubes to required sizes, glazing them, and then setting off the manufacturing process by combining the sub-assembly filament with the glass and sealing it. All impurities are removed from the glass by filling and exhausting different gases so that the bulb is absolutely clean and clear. The technology is in the casing that helps to ensure perfect geometry. During the manufacturing process different parts such as glass, filament, moly-mirror, moly-wire, adaptor, cap and flange get assembled. The cap comes assembled from the supplier with inbuilt terminal and bakelite as an insulator.
The company has around 40 vendors; most of them are of international standard. About 50 percent of materials, including glass tubes and moly, are imported.
A new project, Q-Challenge, was introduced in July 2015 to deal with customer complaints. The major complaints that Suprajit had to face after the take-over were regarding the products failing vibration test, flange tilt and some not lasting long. The objective of Q-Challenge was to identify and list out the top three defects on every manufacturing line and eliminate them. This team was led by the top managers with each one having a specific responsibility. As of mid-2018 the company completed 151 projects. The current projects include reduction in PPM levels and improvement of productivity
In 2017, since customers demanded a robust product with longer life, the company initiated the Project RGLP. “In the robust category we took projects to make our bulbs withstand heavy vibrations. For flange tilt improvement we made processes to produce bulb with tighter tolerances complying to SAE standards and also ECE R37. We made our bulbs to have longer life with lower power consumption than the standard ones. To minimise the load on the vehicle battery we are working on reducing power consumption of bulbs,” he said.
PLD has an annual celebration to recognise the teams’ efforts. In order to appreciate and encourage the teams, top projects are bestowed with awards and recognition. During the last two years the company has been seeing significant fall in customer complaints as all the problems listed earlier have been solved.