Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Day 10: Tractor Manufacturing in India

India has the worlds largest tractor market selling 600,000 units annually, compared to the USA with 200,000 annual tractor sales.  It makes sense that today was spent at International Tractors Limited (ITL), India’s 3rd biggest company, selling 85,000 tractors a year. Sonalika International tractor lines are exported to 90 countries with 15,000 units a year globally.  They just recently announced their launch into the U.S. market in partnership with Yanmar, a Japanese tractor builder, to share distribution centers and dealerships in the U.S.A. for these small tractors under the label “Solis”.  They currently have 25 dealerships established in the southeastern states like Georgia and Florida.

Starting in 1969, and focusing on “back to basics” and a tag line of “simple, solid, Solis”, their tractors are all small and low horse power ranging from 24-90 hp, to accommodate the smaller acreages and lower inputs.  Along with tractors, they have a line up of implements including self-propelled combines, disc plows, rotatory plows, mobile corn dryers, and cultivators. The Sr. Manger, Sajal Bagga and Chief Manager, Sundeep Kumar were our presenters for the day. 

ITL one of India’s fastest growing companies, being a billion US dollar company, with 5,000 employees and rolling out 500 tractors per day.  70% of the building process is done in house, including plastic injection molding and die sets for the 400 T – 1200 T press. All engines and transmissions are made in house.  No excessive “gadgets” are on these tractors, keeps them from expensive service needs and keeps the cost down.   Prices for these tractors ranged from $12,500 to $24,000.

A Solis garden tractor awaiting export to the United States in April this year.

We were given a tour of one of the main production campuses, which was just a small portion of the 53 acres making up ITL.  We followed the assembly of a tractor from beginning to end.  The first stop was the gear division and the motor assembly where parts are tested thoroughly before moving on.  In here 250 different types of components are made with 120,000 getting produced a month. Next, we went to the press shop, watching a 1200T press operate was a highlight along with feeling the floor moved when it pushed with all its force.  These machines were huge! 

From there, we entered the assembly building, we watched them bring up transmissions from the other building from under ground, and haul engines with cranes from above to attached to the base of the tractor.  Painting is also done in this building, 2 liters of paint is all that is used for each tractor.  We also saw the detailed inspection process of testing, and checklists to ensure each tractor is specific for the country its destined for.

Rear axles and gears coming off the line.
Watching it through the assembly line and just like that, started up for the first time.
The tractors are simple and functional with no power shifting or levers.
They have power steering but manual controls for everything else.
Each tractor is put on a treadmill and run at full speed, throttle open for
45 minutes to heat the engine and test for any defects before it is approved for export.
The PTO is run and the hydraulics are put to the test as well to test RPMs
This was definitely one of the cleanest factory’s we have been in over here, also using more safety precautions than we have been seeing, safety signs were all over and have yellow painted drive and walk way areas.  But, there was no dress code, no hard hats, no safety goggles or earplugs, however they said accidents are only .02% a year.  Average starting wage for the employees is 10,000 rupies per month ($150 per month).  Bonuses are available and have the option to move up in the company.  This is one of the best jobs around the region, and most employees live in the local village. 

One thing we noticed is that no women were on the production line.  They will hire them but don’t have any applicants because women don’t do “technical” jobs.  Also, their wardrobe would be a danger to them. Women are employed by Sonalika, but mostly do office work or are in the Research and Development division.
After lunch we had the opportunity to test drive 4 of their tractors:  a 24 HP, 40HP, 50HP and a 90HP with each having a different implement behind it - a mulcher, disc, rotatory plow and a disc plow. We were able to see how well they handled the implement, how much power they had, how easy they were to operate, and make any general observations.  From there, they took us back to the main office and the ITL staff had questions for us.  They wanted to know what we liked and didn’t like about their tractors, and what we would recommend to make them more attractive for the U.S. markets.  We like the simplicity of use, ease of shifting and the size for the target market.  We didn’t like the turning radius and the roll bar was in the wrong place for some of us. They know for our area a cold start battery is needed, a plug heater needs to be added, a cab is necessary, GPS compatible is helpful and a few other things.

The SDARL women sure left an impression when they all drove
the various tractors.  Indian women don't often drive cars, let alone tractors.  
Bo Slovek taking a turn on the 40HP 2WD with a disc

Jason Warrington on the 40HP tractor.
Lacey Caffee trying out the 90HP tractor and plow
John Kleinjan on the 50HP 4WD tractor with a 3-bottom plow 
Rebecca Christmann was happy to try the tiniest tractor at 24 HP but with 4WD

It was a very interesting day to see the technology and marketing they are using to build a tractor that fits their small field sizes, and lower input farming practices.  Our hosts were wonderful and we greatly enjoyed our time at Sonalika.

Blog post written by Jason Warrington and Lacey Caffee


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