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Cutting through turbulence

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Cutting tools

BY MITALEE KURDEKAR – INDIAN CUTTING TOOLS MANUFACTURERS HELP CUSTOMERS TO OVERCOME DIFFICULT ECONOMIC CONDITIONS BY OFFERING IMPROVED PRODUCT LINES

NECESSITY REALLY IS THE MOTHER OF ALL invention. The clichéd saying couldn’t be more apt than for the cutting tools industry in India. Although the industry continuously strives to remain focussed on serving customer needs and demands, the perpetually growing competition in the manufacturing sector – both from local and global players – has led to an increased end-user expectation towards cost and technological competitiveness.
“India is one of the toughest markets to operate in.The customers want tools at very low prices, but they should do most of the job and meet their requirement in terms of tool life and productivity,” says Gautam Ahuja, MD, Dormer Tools India. The economy is in slowdown mode since the last couple of years, and has become very tough now, he adds, but also proclaims
that we should expect high growth in the next couple of years, with Government projects such as ‘Make in India’ starting to take off.
Brajesh Kumar, MD, Walter Tools India, is optimistic while suggesting that these are challenging, but interesting times for the industry and for the manufacturing sector as a whole. He feels that this “calls for manufacturers to device processes and technology that not only address the markets’ requirement of price with profitability but also technological innovations
that provide a competitive edge to meet the end user’s demand.”
With more than a 100 years’ worth of development in the manufacturing sector, the cutting tool still continues to be a critical aspect in aiding high-productivity, high-precision machining operations. Challenged by newer machining materials like Titanium and Composites for processing and fabrications, cutting tools have seen a significant evolution over the years.
They now have specialised components ranging from hardest-ever surface coating to smallest-ever configuration with varying degrees in between.
Simultaneously, the ever growing penchant for best-in-class cost for processes, components and finished products and services brought to the fore many emerging machining technologies, such as micro- scale machining, minimum-lubrication machining,
and machining of abrasive materials, etc., all requiring new cutting tools with a performance that was not
possible with conventional tooling.
These cutting tools have been developed to work with specially made unique materials and/or varying geometry. They work with improvised loading during machining and exhibit distinct thermo-mechanical characteristics. There are also new developments for tool-wear measurement and control, using new sensor technologies and tool life predictions using neural
network approaches, etc. These are imperative to assist with and improve overall production and manufacturing systems.

ADVANCING WITH THE TIMES
Most industry players in India feel that today customers are looking for the best possible solution for their tooling requirements. The tools need to be productive, consistent and reliable. While the industry develops tools keeping in mind the requirements of their customers, the customers are, in turn, looking out for unique features to assist them.
“Customers are working on cost-per-component and are looking for tools which help them to achieve the same,” says Jay Shah, MD, Tungaloy India. His company is developing technologically innovative tools and tools focussing on higher productivity, which has benefitted them by way of increased market share in all segments. They recently launched TungSix drills, which are the world’s first indexable drill with six cutting edges.
Explaining the evolution in the industry more succinctly, Kumar suggests, “The automotive industry has seen rapid evolution in the materials being used, such as a shift towards the use of aluminium, replacing cast iron, fuelling the demand for PCD (Poly Crystalline Diamond) tools. Aerospace has seen the introduction of many advance material grades of Titanium, Inconel,
newer Composites and Aluminium alloys, requiring the development of different carbide grades, coatings and geometries, which can meet the stringent quality requirements at an ever increasing productivity rate.”
He proudly adds that Walter has been instrumental in the development of many new machining processes and strategies for railway, energy, aerospace, and automotive industries, enabling customers to achieve higher productivity and lower manufacturing cost, which is a must for them in order to be completive in the global market.
Ahuja echoes the sentiment, saying, “The cutting tool industry has evolved multi-fold over the years. Starting from the un-coated carbide days, various types of coatings have evolved over the years leading to greater productivity and enhanced
tool life, with every passing year. With more and more of multiaxis machines and turn-mill centres, there are a lot of
forces acting on the cutting tool, from different directions. Secondly, to increase productivity, the challenge is
to increase the cutting speeds. Thus, special coatings have evolved which have high hot hardness, and can withstand
high temperatures.”
He adds that since this is a technology driven field, most companies invest high amounts in Research and Development (R&D). However, different types of multi-layer CVD coatings and advanced PVD coatings have helped Dormer reduce tool costs significantly for customers.
Prashant Sardeshmukh, director, MMC Hardmetal India, is equally convinced about the role of R&D and New Product Introduction (NPI). According to him, “In today’s world, rapidly changing market demands require special efforts to implement new technologies at competitive prices, in the stipulated time frame and in user friendly ways. This is one of the biggest challenges that the cutting tools industry is facing recently.”
MMC is spending a major portion of their revenue on R&D through which they have already launched a series of new products. They have developed technologies such as ‘TOUGH -ΣTechnology’, ‘ZERO-μ Surface’, application-oriented tungsten carbide
grades and specialised tool materials like cermet with a hardened surface layer obtained by a special sintering process or CBN with ‘Particle Activated Sintering’.

BUCKING UP WITH COSTS AND PRICE
Cutting tools manufacturers in India are customer focussed, hence acknowledge the customer need of cost-per-component. Shah points out that, at Tungaloy, they have developed many tools like their indexable drills with six cutting edges. “We also launched do mini bore, which is the boring solution for smaller diameters with six cutting edges for better productivity
and cost economics. We have the DoFeed series, which is a high feed milling solution and has features to reduce load in the high feed application. For side and face cutters, we have launched TungSlot, an innovative slotting cutter with six cutting edges on the inserts.” All these tools ensure that customers work on the best cost-per-component.
Sardeshmukh agrees that there is no better option than to adopt advanced technology by innovation to increase productivity and bring down or maintain cost-per-component. Kumar has a slightly different and interesting concept to offer. He suggests
that at Walter they work with their customers on cost-of-ownership. He goes on to explain the same: “In a normal machining
environment, the machine hourly rate, cost of labour and other overhead charges are fixed and form the majority of the manufacturing cost, while cutting tool price contributes only a single digit percentage of the total cost. Walter provides customers support in selecting the correct tools from their vast standard offerings or customising tailor-made special tools, which may boost productivity up to 100%, and lower the cost-per-component at least up to 20-30%, even if the initial outlay on tools is higher.”

PACING AHEAD
Commenting on the Indian Government’s support to the industry, Kumar sounds quite positive when speaking of the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ campaign. He emphasises the Government’s role in administering incentives for the machine tool industry (Rs 900 crore fund is already allocated). Positive developments in the spheres of infrastructure, policies
and steps being taken to simplify doing business in India, he feels, will give an overall boost to the Indian
manufacturing industry.
Shah opined, “For Indian cutting tools manufacturers, there needs to be some incentive from the Government
under the ‘Make in India’ campaign, if they export the same globally.” Ahuja and Sardeshmukh reflected this view.
Despite significant challenges, most players in the industry sound highly optimistic about their growth plans and the future. The unprecedented pace of technological change, they feel, gives them enormous opportunities for achieving growth through rapid conversion to newer technologies. Identifying customer needs – often before they (customers) realise it themselves
– and thereafter quickly creating the right solution to drive the business’s growth, seems to be the way forward and the mantra most players are adopting to stay ahead of the game. Kumar sums this up well when he says, “For leaders of innovative technology, it is most important to leverage the voice of the market and respond to their dynamic requirements.”

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