Race to the top

Race to the top

Automotive and component makers are repeatedly turning to r&D to bring in excellence with each model.

by Jayashree k M

The auto expo 2018 was nothing short of a display of excellent engineering. Little more than 50 auto companies showcased more than 100 novel products in the first two days of the Expo. From the humble two pedal cycle to a mammoth 49-tonne truck, manufacturers went all out to grab as much attention as they could as the automotive industry stares at new challenges such as the Bharat Stage VI transition and electrification.
Considering the number of new or tweaked models on showcase, more than 50 of those showcased by two-wheeler, car and commercial vehicle makers, were a mix of futuristic electric vehicle concepts and production ready models. This is the highest-ever participation of electric vehicles in the biennial auto event as the mandate from the government is to move to cleaner emission technology for the future. Mahindra and Tata Motors showcased 12 such products between themselves. Honda Cars, Renault, Toyota, Maruti Suzuki, Mercedes Benz India, BMW Group and Hyundai Motor India showed several products. However with the exception of a handful none of the other products are even available outside of the country.

Our friend electric
Most of the engineering excellence that ones sees in the automotive industry is mainly channelled towards electric vehicles in the present day. Hitherto, most companies preferred to look at better engines, fuel-efficiency and lightweighting. Recently, Mahindra & Mahindra announced that it would make an additional investment at its Chakan plant in Maharashtra. As part of its expansion plans, the company will invest over Rs 500 crore in its electric vehicle (EV) project under the new EV policy of the government of Maharashtra. The investment for EV and EV components is in addition to its ongoing expansion plan in Chakan which includes an initial investment of Rs 6,500 crore. This additional investment of Rs 500 crore will be utilised towards product development and capacity enhancement for electric vehicles and related components.

Speaking of how the components industry is working towards R&D and quality, Suresh KV, country head, ZF India, says, “The reputation of a component manufacturer depends on the quality of its products. It is important to train employees on shop floor/assembly line on the quality procedures and standards. All employees on the assembly line must follow the standard operating procedures. Random inspections and quality checks are necessary to understand the consistency. The component maker also needs to align well with its own R&D department and also those of the OEMs.”

Sanjiv Paul, senior VP, India Yamaha Motor, adds to this, saying, “Continuous improvement is challenged by striving to achieve global leadership by benchmarking our quality indices to global standards. This is done by analysing the global best practices and challenging creation of new benchmarks amongst Yamaha factories. Another method we normally employ is called the Hyoujun Soubi activity. This activity focuses on creating standardised working method to create a strong shop floor which resists changes and can improve continuously.”

Another company that is focussing on manufacturing automotive electronics for electric vehicles in the future is Varroc Group. Their major R&D work is going to be in this direction. Tarang Jain, MD, Varroc Group, says, “New safety and emission norms are going to enhance electronics. The company has expedited its R&D work. As a strategy, we try to put our big manufacturing and engineering footprints in the low-cost countries. In India,
we have the second-largest R&D centre for our lighting business.”

Norms matter
India has about 120 vehicles on every 1,000 people right now, which is expected to rise to almost 300 in next 10 years, thus aggravating the congestion further. The population of automobiles in India is expected to surge to 404 million by 2028 from 162.31 million now. For this, India needs to improve CO2 emissions by adopting electric vehicles or other alternative fuels. But, according to a survey, an increasing number of vehicles in an unevenly distributed manner will create a choking condition in several parts of the country. There is a huge unevenness in the vehicles penetration which is turning out on the roads, while a large part of the country have thin vehicle presence. The industry needs to focus towards bridging this gulf to escape from the impending fracas.

Technology plays a very important role in ensuring that emissions norms are curtailed. Since regulations have put pressure on the industry, combined braking system and anti-lock braking system in two wheelers involve a huge workload. BS-VI work involves additional work for its rollout. In this respect, Hero MotoCorp recently introduced the i3s technology in the 125cc Maestro Edge and Duet scooters and is working on a host of new technologies. Dr Marcus Braunsperger, CTO, Hero MotoCorp, said that a hybrid motorcycle was definitely not on his platter at the moment as it will double the vehicle cost. But adventure bikes are now the latest trend and will continue for some years. “We are fully geared up in terms of development on all platforms and all engines for meeting the norms. There is always a trade-off. BS-VI has such a huge implication that only the latest engine technology available will be upgraded to BS-VI. It involves not only engines but what is around the engines – like fuel injection systems with the industry moving away from carburetted engines. In addition, there will be catalytic converters, besides requirements to package parts and units. In the end, it is not just engine adjustment but taking the entire bike and adapting it to technology requirements.”

Ravindra Pise, VP (Chakan & Akurdi plants), Bajaj Auto, says, “With New Product Development System (NPDS) and process feedback of DFA/DFM along with R&D, we are able to design new products faster with latest technology & easily adoptable. Last year, we launched 14 new products/variants within six months. We were the first company to launch the BS-IV bikes in India.”

Bajaj Auto ensures that its products with high quality are made by well trained and engaged line engineers. “They have all been trained based on CUDBAS (Curriculum Development Based on Ability Structure) and then they become process experts. They continuously improve/innovate the process, thus making entire chain highly productive, quality conscious & cost effective.”
BMW Group, on the other hand, has massive plans for 2018. It expects its product offensive to go a notch up with all three brands. Vikram Pawah, president, BMW Group, says, “The future strategy for India includes new directions, methodologies and prioritisation to become the most desirable premium automotive brand. We will be the leaders in this direction, spearheading the growth of luxury vehicle segment, working smartly and innovatively, finding new roads to explore.”

How changes can be made
Come April 2020 and India’s automobile market will change in more ways than one, as the industry leapfrogs to the strictest emission norms, Bharat Stage VI from the current Bharat Stage IV. As changes in engine technology are planned to ensure pollutants emitted by the vehicles are reduced and comply with the stricter limits, so would machines and processes to manufacture them. V Sridhar, group VP and director, corporate office production, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, says, “Though it would be a great challenge and involves huge investment, we see it as a great opportunity to unify our production constitution utilising latest technologies and making our processes similar for all factories. The activity involves making the best process, aligning with goals, planning changeovers, changing machines, jigs, fixtures, measuring equipment, training, process setting and confirmation and quality guarantees.”

The Japanese carmaker Nissan announced that its best-selling electric vehicle Leaf has received a five-star safety rating, the highest possible, from the Japan New Car Assessment Programme. In earning the top grade, the zero-emission Leaf with ProPilot autonomous technology scored 94.8 points out of a possible 100 for occupant safety in a collision. As per the company, safety features that contributed to the new Nissan Leaf’s five-star rating, include its highly rigid body structure, six SRS airbags, seats with enforced headrests and back frames, and seat belts with pre-tensioners and load-limiting capabilities for the front and rear outboard seating positions. It also features e-Pedal, which lets drivers accelerate and brake by operating only the accelerator pedal.

Similarly, Volvo Cars has debuted a 3-cylinder engine in its XC40 compact SUV. The new powertrain is the first three-cylinder engine in the company’s 91-old-year history. The all-new 1.5 litre, three-cylinder, direct-injection petrol engine was developed in-house using the same modular design as Volvo’s four-cylinder Drive-E engines. The three-cylinder powertrain comes with a manual six-speed transmission. An optional automatic eight-speed transmission will follow next year.
Countries throughout the world are seeing increasing trends for the popularisation of electrified vehicles and autonomous driving vehicles, and India is no exception. For instance, in terms of trends for electrification, the Indian government last year announced the ban of gasoline and diesel vehicles domestic sale by 2030. With the aim to push for electric powered vehicles and address the situation of accident prone fatalities in India, there an increasing need for safe driving support technologies.