Cut Out for Growth
With new materials to machine and evolving customer needs, drilling & boring tool vendors have their work cut out for them, yet are aiming for sustainable growth.
by Mitalee Kurdekar
As the old adage goes, change is the only constant. This holds especially true for the cutting tools industry. Change has come in the form of technology, materials and processes arising therefrom. While technological advances are made on the part of cutting tool manufacturers, the quick absorption of the same on the part of tool users has been a constant and heartening feature of this industry. In India too, vendors have been bringing added value for the benefit of their customers. And it is this feature that makes the industry highly competitive, while also helping its user industries remain equally competitive in their own marketplaces. In addition, the importance of drilling & boring tools within the overall cutting tools portfolio cannot be undermined, given the impact that they have on machined parts in terms of quality, productivity and efficiency; and consequently on costs too.
According to global industry expectations, one of the major drivers for the global cutting tools industry is the tremendous growth in construction activity in the Asia Pacific region. The latest indications are that, even as the construction activity in China has somewhat slowed down from earlier years, the increase in infrastructure-related activity in countries like India and Indonesia auger well for regional demand growth for such power tools in the coming years in this region. The major challenge, however, remains with regard to fluctuating market prices for key raw materials like iron, steel, stainless steel, aluminium, copper, brass, titanium and other special alloys that are being developed for use by the R&D units of tool vendors. Despite this, key players in the industry remain highly optimistic about future growth prospects for the industry.
The Indian Scheme of Things
Prashant Sardeshmukh, director, MMC Hardmetal India, suggests, “The Indian cutting tools industry, over the years, has expanded rapidly, mainly due to strong growth witnessed by the automotive industry, and heavy & light engineering sector. In recent times, phenomenal growth has been seen in infrastructure development, the railway network and the defence production sector. These are also the key demand drivers for the cutting tools industry. Aerospace, medical engineering, and die & mould are the other areas where the cutting tools market is expected to grow substantially.”
Other major players also agree that the industry shows significant dependence on the automotive sector in India. L Krishnan, MD, TaeguTec India, declares, “Automotive and auto components’ industries continue to dominate the metalworking scene for now, but defence and aerospace sectors are set to be the next set of growth engines. At a conservative estimate, the industry can be expected to grow at a CAGR of 8% over the next five years.”
Offering his take on the scenario, Ramakant Reddy, MD, LMT India, says, “The cutting tools industry in India stands at roughly Rs 4,000 crore. It is driven by the growth in sectors like medical, general machining and construction, which are high growth industries, followed by automotive, power generation, die & mould, and chemical processing.”
With the automotive industry demand becoming rather sluggish over the past two-three years, it is interesting to note the industry’s future expectations. Gautam Ahuja, MD, Dormer Pramet India, explains, “The Indian cutting tool industry is growing at a faster pace than the GDP or the IIP growth rate. We are dependent mainly on the automotive industry. In the near future, most automotive companies are coming out with hybrid cars, which needs about 20% extra tooling due to the larger number of components used in the car. However, in the long term, with the electrification of cars, the consumption of cutting tools is going to come down. But, by then, the fledgling size of our aerospace industry will become much bigger in size, since it is growing at a good pace. Secondly, with Make in India, more and more manufacturing is happening, and this will lead to increased demand for cutting tools. Also, huge investments are happening in the defence and railways’ industries, thus cutting tool consumption will increase significantly in these areas.”
Technology & New Materials
With applications in industry sectors like aerospace, and other light metal users using composite materials, the tools used for drilling & boring metalworking also require materials of special alloys. Sardeshmukh states, “All the latest innovations by Mitsubishi are in line with the demand from the industry to improve cutting efficiency and reduce machining costs. Conventionally, the metal cutting industry was governed by the machining of alloy steel, cast iron & aluminum alloys. But due to strict environmental policies, higher demands, and to increase the resilience of the product, work materials are changing. High temperature alloys, high strength materials or composite materials are in demand.”
He adds, “To cope up with these changes, MMC Japan is investing a handsome amount of revenue in R&D to launch new grades, geometries or coating technologies. We recently launched the CoolStar end mill series with irregular helix, improved gash geometry and multiple internal coolant holes for effective chip evacuation. This product is also powered by an innovative coating technology called Smart Miracle to enhance both the smoothness and the sharpness of the cutting edge for a longer tool life.” In this regard, Sardeshmukh sounds positive regarding future prospects. “With Mitsubishi’s core strengths in developing varieties of cutting tool materials and coatings, there are plenty of opportunities,” he says.
Jay Shah, MD, Tungaloy India, states, “Due to some new segments like aerospace and medical, many new materials are being machined. We see many new requirements in super alloys and aluminium machining, which need new grade and geometries. Tungaloy has launched new grade 8000 series for super alloys machining, which is doing very well. Also, we came up with some very unique solutions for drilling and boring – we have a 6-cutting edge indexable drill range called TungSix. For small diameter boring, we have a unique solution called Do Mini Turn, which offers customers more number of cutting edges and, at the same time, helps in improving tool life.”
With the introduction of new technologies like 3D printing, additive manufacturing is quickly gaining a foothold in the cutting tools manufacturing space. The 3D printing process requires building the product by thin layer upon layer, thus enabling tool manufacturers to develop complex geometries that are necessary in tool design and production. This saves a huge amount of time & cost, and avoids wastages that are otherwise customary in traditional manufacturing.
Reddy explains, “In line with Industry 4.0, we have digitalised some of our tools, which we call Intelligent Tools. These tools help our customers to reduce the tool adjustment time, which means maximum machine availability, reduced production costs, and increased quality.”
At the Customer’s Service
The industry demonstrates a fine example of high degree of collaboration and relationship management on the part of vendors and their customers. This is clearly evident when customers speak highly of the support that they receive. As S Ravichandran, executive VP & plant head, Delphi – TVS Diesel Systems, says, “We are one of the users consuming metal cutting tools on a large scale, especially when compared with the other operating expenses at our plant. Hence, we have regular interactions with our supply partners and the tools manufacturing industry through their application representatives to gain knowledge on technological advancements.”
He is appreciative of the vendor support received, and adds, “Cutting tool vendors are very passionate about carrying out tool life improvement, as well as tool cost optimisation to achieve our target conversion cost of our product whenever we approach them. Our vendors are supporting us in realising our target on time. Also, they extend technical support on the development of tools, and supply prototype tools for trials and validation.”
Eaton believes in keeping abreast with the latest developments and innovations in the cutting tools industry, and invests in improving efficiency and precision, reducing waste and making processes environmentally sustainable. Sudhir Sakri, assistant GM, manufacturing engineering, hydraulics business, India, Eaton, agrees, “At Eaton, we partner with our tooling vendors to drive excellence. Our vendors are experts of their respective technologies, and they not only provide information on new tools, but also suggest alternate methods to meet our requirements. For example, in one of our aluminum boring operations, we were facing an issue around chip removal. We wanted to reduce the cycle time as well. Our vendor provided suggestions on the fixture design and agreed to offer a customised boring bar, which had a better L/D ratio that resulted in a superior surface finish. This also reduced cycle time by eliminating the roughing process.”
Presenting a vendor viewpoint on such fruitful collaborations, Anil Kumar, director & COO, Ceratizit India Round Tool Solutions, explains, “Ceratizit is always bringing new technologies and new solutions for drilling. Ceratizit is working with their customers to provide complete solutions. We work on a partnership concept in order to increase productivity and reduce cost per component. The R&D team is always working to provide creative and innovative solutions for the sales team.”
Ahuja supports this view, saying, “We collaborate with our customers to understand their needs and create products to suit their challenging needs. Detailed analysis of the application is done, followed by a feasibility study, and prototypes are then made. All the above activities are coordinated by our R&D team.”
Looking ahead, it is clear that the Indian cutting tools industry eagerly looks to address the evolving needs of developing economies in the Asia Pacific and African regions. The attractiveness that India offers lies in the combination of advanced technologies and affordable pricing. The Government’s push through the Make in India programme only supports this aspiration further. With demand coming from different industries and a technologically-competent R&D base, drilling & boring tool vendors are truly cut out for growth.