As bike after bike rolls out every five minutes from the assembly line at the Royal Enfield factory in Thiruvotriyur, biker boy Prince Frederickcatches the action
Getting to Thiruvotriyur from Broadway in peak hour traffic takes over two hours. Had I known this, I would have started earlier for this assignment, which involves spending a day at the Royal Enfield factory. When I finally reach my destination and give the auto driver a hundred rupee note (as agreed earlier), he accepts it disdainfully. Apparently, even he wasn’t prepared for such a long journey.
With most of the day already spent, I can’t help wondering if there is much of it left for an experience story. Meeting me in the lounge is the amiable marketing man Deepak Rajkumar, who puts me at ease, “You are a bit late for the first shift, but far too early for the second, which starts at 3.45 p.m. and goes on till midnight. You will not miss any action.”
He is right. As one bike is rolled off the Royal Enfield assembly line every 5 minutes and 25 seconds, I can watch the process of bikes being assembled over and over again. The factory’s size is another helpful factor. Walking from one point to another doesn’t take much time. As motorcycle manufacturing units go, this must rank as the country’s smallest.
The space, however, has been used prudently. Set across three and a half acres, this motorcycle factory has all the usual suspects — storage areas, an engine assembly section, a paint shop, a chrome shop, a multi-bike assembly section and a test track. Even the entire administration department has been accommodated at the factory.
The multi-bike assembly section is the most exciting place to be. While other engineering sections are about components, this is about a bike taking shape in front of your eyes. All the sections have targets, but the sense of urgency is more palpable here. Kapil Dev, the man in charge of today’s first shift, is in a situation that parallels the ones his cricketing namesake used to find himself in. Kapil is peering at a giant screen which shows the ‘asking rate’. Eighty motorcycles have to be assembled during a shift, and at 2.42 p.m. his team has managed only 64. The screen informs that they are six short of what should have been achieved by now. In the remaining 63 minutes, Kapil and his team have to put together 16 more bikes. Shaking his head, Kapil says it is a tall order.
There are several reasons why such targets are not met. Engines held back for correction is often the number one reason. At Royal Enfield, engines are subjected to a gruelling 30-parameter test. “I have to meet the production supervisor who will have the details,” says Kapil.
The almost total reliance on automated systems in automobile factories can be intimidating. Allowing enough space for skilled, manual work, Royal Enfield strikes a contrast. Watching one of their heroes, artist E. Jayakumar, provides me an unusual experience. Running a paint brush over the petrol tank, he ‘imprints’ gold pin-stripes, one of the signature elements of Royal Enfield bikes. Jayakumar, who does pin-striping on toolboxes and mudguards too, has a team-mate in his brother E. Kishore. Working alternate shifts, the duo has monopolised pin-striping work for the last 13 years!
Kuppuswamy, senior engineer, explains: “We tried screen printing and stickers, but nothing matched the beauty of their strokes.”
During my visit, a number of military Bullets are ready for dispatch. Since its inception, Royal Enfield has shared a special relationship with the Indian Armed Forces, which relies heavily on this motorcycle major for bikes.
Made to specifications given by the military, these Bullets are tested by a team hired by it. Part of one such team, Palani does the rounds of the test track on a succession of military Bullets. With rear luggage racks and painted in a captivating olive-green, these Bullets signify a great deal of style for many civilian Bullet fans. They also signify the trust and respect Royal Enfield has gained over the years.