How KS Rajalakshmi became Factory Champion of the Year - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

KS Rajalakshmi bagged two Women to Watch Awards in 2023. These are: Factory Champion of the Year and Mentor of the Year. Rajalakshmi heads the sales & operation planning at ITC Limited Specialty Paperboards Division at Coimbatore. A one woman army when she started her career in marketing and sales for all regions of India and export.

13 Aug 2023 | By Noel D'Cunha

KS Rajalakshmi is the only woman SnOP head among all the four units at ITC Limited Speciality Paperboards Division

KS Rajalakshmi handles sales of 1.2 lakh TPA of recycled paperboards. Also, she coordinates projects about innovative product development from the unit for a competitive marketplace where product packaging is a subject of customer delight.

Surprisingly, KS Rajalakshmi (also known as Raji), is from a non technical background. But she converted a challenge into a major advantage by asking questions and being curious. Today, she has all the inputs on her fingertips. Be it: paperboards, paper technicalities, researching market demand-supply trends.

It is this learning which boosted her confidence. That's how she focused on lean manufacturing in the paperboard industry. This was an area which was unknown in those days, especially among ITC competitors who were struggling to sustain machine runs with paperboards.

This was one of reasons, the unit notched a Rs 450-crore turnover.

As SN Venkatraman, who is CEO - Packaging & Printing Division – ITC says, "Rajalakshmi is an outstanding customer services manager. She has risen through the ranks and has always brought something extra to her responsibilities."

Bridging the gap between the paper mill and its customers
As S Venkat Rao who is the unit head at ITC PSPD Kovai says, "Rajalakshmi has undertaken many cost savings and service initiatives throughout her career. In addition, she keeps excelling."

Rajalakshmi shares with PrintWeek, that it entailed "Meticulous planning with optimisation of resources of a board machine to nine sheeting machines in order to meet annual sales plan year on year. It meant optimum inventory control of 15% of sales.

When we asked her in what way, Rajalakshmi shares, "There was inbound logistic optimisation from 8 to 9 tons per load per truck." Also there was an innovative transformation of open truck to container truck. This transformation was awarded by the Indian Statistical Institute in Bengaluru as an Outstanding Six Sigma Project.

On the ground this project translated into "On Time In Full (OTIF) service". And became part of a key deliverable to customers. Rajalakshmi says, "The OTIF project or Operation Delight became another feather in my cap" More importantly,  resulted in upping the service ante to 93% as compared to 80% earlier. Later, the automation of the OTIF tracker tool was implemented for continual improvement.

As Venkat Rao says, "Timely updates and clarity of data on time by Rajalakshmi, has helped all the stakeholders in the planning and deliverable."

Successful journey of sales with operations
Rajkumar E who is the senior manager –Quality Control PSPD says, "Rajalakshmi effort in the areas of cut-off reduction, reduction of PUC, deckle optimisation, packing cost reduction have been the highlights in recent years. Also it supported in achieving the organisation’s goal through a systematic approach."

Rajalakshmi talks about the GSM changeover project implementation. This resulted in re-pulp loss reduction by 50% as well as quality stabilisation and fewer breaks in the process.

There were other process improvements such as a project of multi point pickup reduction for faster truck turnaround time. In addition, there is automation of key in-stock to autoload orders in SAP within hours; and automation of delivery order uploading in SAP which has resulted in inventory backlog reduction.

Rajalakshmi is proud of the macro-based deckle solver tool for releasing fast orders. This means, error-free and time saving results. Also auto-uploading of the deckle solver tool to SAP. Rajalakshmi says this meant, "Deckle loss reduction from 1.4% to 1.01% amounting to savings of many lakhs.

Rajkumar adds, "She made us proud and has provided a very high benchmark level in deckle optimisation for many years. Her effort during pandemic and tough times by balancing mill and market are appreciable. Also her involvement in activities like GreenCo movement, FSC etc are highly appreciated by auditors.

The Rajalakshmi method
When PrintWeek asked Rajalakshmi what goes on in the backend of sales, for example how is the coordination with the production done? She said, "We coordinate with the production team with respect to grade changeovers, shut plan requirements, raw material for special grades, profile sequencing, critical order servicing etc."

This means on a daily basis Rajalakshmi and her team are part of a production plan, sheeter plan, WIP status. For this, the dispatch plan gets circulated internally. This ensures aligning the deliverables along with the transport management system, so that the process is seamless.

When we asked which is the system you follow for advance monthly production planning, she said, "We have developed our own tool called Operation Delight through which the monthly production planning is sequenced in the previous month end." This is aligned to regional demand planning along with mill shut changeover requirements, raw material alignment etc .

We asked her what happens when the factory faces a challenge like adverse demand and excessive demand? She says, "During adverse demand, the overall rough cut plan will be done - and profiling will be mapped to align to connectivity of orders."

Rajalakshmi says, "During excessive demand, we will work on the basis of regional demand." This means recognising the moving average production and also the seasonal demand requirements since in key regions. The demand for boards may be high for a certain period. For example, South for notebooks during November to February, Agarbatti season during festive time.

She says, "Updating recent tech-trends always helps."

For example, process automation aids in reducing the losses and ensures better productivity with fewer human interventions.

How so, we asked her. She shares, "We have a central team of excellence (IcOE) for Industry 4.0, RPA implementation for controlling losses, leveraging investments etc."

"Our ICoE mantra is - Smart Factories - Smart People - Smart Future," she signs off.

Factory Champion of the Year: KS Rajalakshmi

KS Rajalakshmi’s forte is sales and operations planning

Factory Champion means streamlining operations through automation and lean management. The six-member women jury were "very impressed with how Rajalakshmi is a vital link between all the departments – from raw material planning, production, and despatch to sales and service.

The citation says: "So many good ideas". Like advance monthly production planning plus preventive maintenance. Implemented automation in SAP, such as the deckle-solver tool upload for trim release to production and delivery order release to the godown team for truck planning.

For this, KS Rajalakshmi is the Factory Champion of the Year.


Mentor of the Year: KS Rajalakshmi

The jury awarded the Mentor of the Year award to KS Rajalakshmi. The citation said: The Award also belongs to Rajalaskmi’s team-mate: MS Dhanalakshmi. Dhanalakshmi is the order-handling manager from Neary (a village close to the ITC factory).

The back story is as follows.

Dhanalakshmi was an employee service provider in the Board Machine Production Team as a MIS Manager.

As the SNOP in-charge, Dhanalakshmi, along with mentorship from Rajalaskmi, coordinates with the production Team for daily production planning. Today, she is the best manager in ITC - PSPD.

It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

As KS Rajalaskmi told PrintWeek: She is the first graduate in her family who had the zeal to learn and grow…

No wonder KS Rakalaskmi is Mentor of the Year