Jul 19, 2010

Lesson learnt at Kakinada

Few years into my electronic weighing career, I had learnt little about making load cells and weigh scales. Late 70s dad started off the business as EFGE Load Cells (EFGE > FG > Foil Gauge > Strain Gauge) at our first home in Bangalore at a rented house in Banashankari II stage. Business grew and moved to bigger place in Jayanagar II block and then to Peenya Industrial Estate mid 80s. Then came the downward slide ....crash! Our business was back in Banashankari II stage but a different place this time. Now I was in charge of managing the business; production, sales & service, research & development and commercial aspects. Dad took care of marketing & sales and R&D.

Product/price inquiries still kept coming to the first address. One of the inquiries was for a hermetically sealed 100kg load cell from GFCL, Kakinada. GFCL had sent a drawing of the load cell. This load cell was not a part of our product range, it was not available in Indian market. We decided to develop it. The challenge lay in sealing it hermetically ...neither did we have the facility nor it was available anywhere in Bangalore. We sent our quotation and to our surprise we got the purchase order in matter of days.

The load cell was similar to HBM Z6. We made 10 elements of which 2 or 3 did not survive heat-treatment. Finally we made 5 load cells and calibrated the output- 100kg ~ 20mV ~ 2mV/V, 350 ohms impedance. We needed a bellow to seal the load cell. The only solution in sight was a fabric bellow and we got some samples made and tried them. The load cell was functionally OK but aesthetically it was ugly, and scary too.

We got on call from GFCL, they wanted the load cells badly. We decided to deliver the load cells personally. Praveen and I reserved berths in Coramandel Express. The train left sometime evening and we were enjoying journey ...seeing new landscapes. One of the co-passengers spoke business nonstop; it seems he was running a garment manufacturing unit and created employment opportunities for several 100s of people. Impressive. He would look at anything and everything in the business perspective. A teenage boy selling ready-made paan came by and was thoroughly interviewed. Not just interview ...his trade secrets were thoroughly dissected. The paan leaf stayed fresh for 3 days. Of any remaining stock, the leaves were replaced with fresh leaves and sold again. I cannot remember the number of times the supari inside got recycled. Better not to think about it. The hawker was cool enough and endured the interview. He would be seeing these people for few hours and chances of seeing them again was slim. The bridge across river Godavari was really long. The train ran considerably slow on the bridge. The river was full and flowing with good speed. We could see 3 or 4 more bridges spanning the massive river. I think we reached Kakinada late afternoon. We checked into Hotel Tourist, the street was a busy one but one feature did make it unique; two wheeler parking was in the middle which acted like a road divider also! A portable road divider, it's there when it's actually needed. Surely this would be local people's idea.

Next morning we went to GFCL. We saw heaps and heaps of sand around the factory. That's when we learnt that sand is the basic raw material for Urea. We went to the stores, we got directed to instrumentation department where we met the chief. As expected, he was not very happy with the load cells' appearance but he had our load cells replace the damaged original load cells in the UK made automatic packing machine. The engineer had trouble calibrating the system. That's when we looked into the specifications; electrical specifications just did not match. Impedance requirement was some 120 ohms, excitation voltage was 12V and full scale output was something else. That's when it flashed that we never bothered to go through the PO properly. Praveen and I were embarrassed. Since the Chief was senior to us in age he knew a solution could be found. Finally, the load cells were accepted, invoice was presented to the purchase department and we left the factory back to the hotel.

We reserved our tickets for our return journey, settled hotel bills and we were all set to travel back home. Our carelessness bothered me; how could we not read the PO before taking up the work. Frankly speaking I did not enjoy the return journey.

Back at office dad did some calculations and drew a Wheatstone bridge with shunt resistors in place which would help match customer's specifications. We purchased specified MFRs and dispatched them to GFCL. Finally the problem was solved and the load cells were functioning ...may not be exactly as required but near enough to keep the packing machine running. We received the payment without delay.

This was a big lesson for me and Komal Process Controls. Ever since, we changed the way we worked, not that we did not make mistakes but we tried never to repeat mistakes. Thanks to the Chief for dealing with us patiently and placing trust in us.

Coming back to the load cell, we named it KPC T6 just like HBM Z6. We discovered there was a great demand for T6. Over the years, with minor changes on the element and fabric bellow being replaced with aluminium bellow, the load cell looked good and worked even better. We did not have to worry about prospects getting scared. As an Industrial Engineer, I played my role in streamlining production activities; right from procuring material to production planning & control to inventory control. I also learnt that customer satisfaction was extremely important and the most easy way sustain the business. Deepak joined the team. Dad introduced Kaizen. I tried Honda philosophy- Stay close to your customers, Understand their needs, Exceed their expectations. We could implement it to an extent. We took up bigger projects, executed them smoothly, and most cases kept up to the delivery schedule. As a result we got more business from word of mouth. I thoroughly enjoyed working in weighing field. I learnt so much- 1991 to 2004 was an adventure packed working holiday.

...for some strange reasons I had to come out of our business. Now I work in a completely different field which has it's own set of demands. I do enjoy my present job but I miss load cells & electronic weighing. Hope to get back to them in a big way...


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