It is not often, that a conversation about Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverage’s (HCCB) factory in Pune ends up in a discussion around the factory’s longevity. It looks shiny and so well kept, that it almost looks brand new. Nothing inside the shop floor or anything outside, appears old or out of place. What does stare in the face repeatedly though, are signage and boards that emphasise Kaizen, Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), System Line Efficiency (SLE) and several Japanese words like Seiri, Seiso and others.

It is only when someone engages in a deeper conversation with the Factory Manager Kedar Sapre, in Pune, that he unravels that this factory is the oldest among all in HCCB. It was acquired in 1996; the same year that Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly made their test debut. Probe Kedar deeper, and you get to know that concepts like Kaizen, TPM and those Japanese words, have kept this factory at the top of its game, over the last 25-30 years.

At the heart of the longevity and productivity of this factory is the inherent belief of its operators and staff that processes are meant to be improved everyday – be it man or machine. This factory is therefore a story of skill building, much in the same way that the Prime Minister of the country envisaged it, when he launched the Skill India programme in 2016. The government’s programme aims to get workers and youth, industry-relevant training to improve opportunities for their employment. Today, each of the more than 100 employees at HCCB Pune can do more than 5 different jobs, as and when needed!

Old factory, new ways

With the change in technology and consumer preferences, any factory commissioned 25-30 years ago, would have struggled to keep pace. Declining consumer preference for the glass bottle, for example, meant that this conventional line was seldom needed. But equally, the PET and the can line were required to run more often than envisaged, since the consumer preference has been shifting to one-way packs.

Kedar Sapre was taken in with the changing patterns. A manufacturing industry veteran from Maharashtra, who spent his early years observing his engineer father run machines at the HEC factory in Ranchi, he knew that change is the only constant. He was regularly huddling with his 100 strong workforce to stay ahead of the curve. At the core of his strategy was Kaizen – small but sustained improvements in work processes and re-skilling his entire workforce for them to become more productive, employable and efficient.

Nothing illustrates the change better than the story of Rahul Jamkar, a machine operator, who had joined the Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Pune plant in 1996 after working in another manufacturing set-up for a couple of years. For nearly two decades, he only had a simple role at the plant – to ensure that the filler was cleaned on time. But then, he actively started participating in the maintenance of machines for which he was not even responsible. He was beginning to learn that any problem at the factory is a collective responsibility and not just an individual’s ordeal.

“It was tough to go about the change. But we got to know something new,” the 1992 electronics graduate from the Industrial Training Institute says.

His colleague Nitin Joshi still remembers the day he had joined the plant – July 1, 1996. His job was to ensure that the returnable glass bottles (RGB) had been placed properly as they got ready to be filled with beverage.

He began to learn how to manage the reverse osmosis set-up and the art of making syrup - something that his family of four, including his mother, wife and daughter are now proud of. With the new approach, “it has become easier to work and the confidence is higher,” says the HCCB veteran.

The sense of achievement at having learnt a new skill was reigniting the passion at the workplace, while minor but continuous improvements in the technical and manufacturing processes was leading to improved SLEs. Soon, the employees christened themselves the Self-Managed Autonomous Result Oriented (SMART) team. A shining example of their commitment is the Water Treatment Plant (WTP), which for almost all factories is messy. The employees re-designed the WTP and brought about process improvements to a point, where today, not a drop of water can be found on the floor. In fact, until the time someone tells you that this portion of the factory is the WTP it is difficult to understand this.

“We wanted to change the way things were at the factory to a point where it became a best-in-class factory. That involved bringing about a change in culture and instilling a sense of ownership among the employees,” says Yogesh Bhavsar.

The factory has now won an award for ‘best factory’ in its category and it isn’t finished yet. Kedar thinks this factory can continue to win the best factory award at least until Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly’s children make their mark in the international sports arena. Kedar is clearly not being over ambitious!