With a maturing market and rising demand, coolants & lubricants vendors are keen to explore new products and applications for diverse industry needs.
by mitalee kurdekar
Productivity improvements and continuous cost efficiency are not new to any manufacturing industry. However, these basic business requirements of OEMs and equipment makers are also closely monitored by players in the coolants and lubricants industry, even though they act only as an ancillary or support arm. Besides the advanced technologies employed by OEMs working on tough materials, and efficient metal working operations, their machining shops simultaneously keep exploring newer coolants and lubricants in an effort to enhance productivity and reduce processing costs.
In line with current norms to go green during operations, many machining shops opt for environment-friendly, biodegradable products and also employ recycling programmes. In fact, suppliers of coolants and lubricants are increasingly supporting these newer requirements to further enhance their relevance to existing and prospective customers.
Punit Gupta, MD, Blaser Swisslube India, highlights the changing market scenario, when he states, “We see a drastic change in the way in which coolants and cutting fluids are being treated today. The Indian industry is maturing and customers have started seeing it as a value-adding area, however, it is a long journey ahead. There is a constant upgradation in the machining technologies, materials, regulations and competitiveness in the market, acting as a driver to this journey.”
In fact, industry customers considering the use of coolants and lubricants as a value-adding area is a key development, and one that speaks volumes about the future direction of the coolants & lubricants industry, in terms of both expansion and growth. Gupta explains that while a sump in manufacturing operations was usually viewed as a mere dumping area, it is now seen differently. “The sump has very high leveraging potential to increase productivity in the overall manufacturing process, and contribute towards increased competitiveness. A lot of potential is hidden in machines and tools, and it is possible to extract it,” he supplies.
Acknowledging the fact that demand from the automotive sector still remains the most dominant for the coolants and lubricants industry, Munish Garg, MD, See Lube Technologies, feels that the explosion of this sector in India will continue to remain the prime growth driver for a variety of reasons. He suggests that, “India is becoming a hub for automobile production, and nearly all the OEMs are increasing their production capacities. This is going to impact the demand for coolants and lubricants. Apart from the automotive sector, other sectors like infrastructure and aviation are also opening up; this will have a positive impact on demand.” In fact, the Indian automotive industry itself is growing steadily at around 7-10% annually. So industry experts forecast that the coolants & lubricants industry will grow around the same rate, piggybacking on this primary demand.
With quality products, the importance of replacement demand cannot be ignored as well. Yatendra Kumar, business head, MotulTech India, supports this theory, and also provides a long-term perspective on the industry’s demand forecast. He explains, “The consumption of industrial lubricants will rise continuously in the short- as well as long-term, given the positive growth of the Indian economy.” But he also cautions that, “Once electric cars and buses arrive in India, there will be a reduction in automotive lubricants.”
Customer in Focus
“Value for money products are still a major requirement from most of our customers,” says Kumar. Although he adds that, “Few of our customers who are serving foreign and multi-national companies are looking for highly environment-friendly products like biodegradable fluids, biocide-free and/or formaldehyde-free or vegetable oil-based products. There is also a trend for fill-for-life lubricants in a few OEM applications like steering or machine tool spindle.”
Gupta feels that customers are keen to increase their competitiveness, increase productivity & discover better quality of machined parts. “Customers are also more inclined to provide a safer working environment and more human-friendly products to their employees. Global competition among the customers is speeding this further,” he believes.
As a matter of fact, OEMs and equipment builders are keen to project the uniqueness of their own equipment to their end-customers and hence, in order to improve their competitiveness, would push the vendors of coolants and lubricants to offer quality products together with strong after-sales service.
Putting it in terms of money, Garg explains, “Cost per Component (CPC) is an evergreen requirement for increasing market penetration. CPC plays a vital role in deciding the future of the business. After-sales service too is becoming a driving force in the coolant industry. Even smaller consumers expect a good service from the coolant vendor.”
Engaging Customers in Collaboration
Working in a dynamic environment to meet challenging and ever-changing business requirements calls for a high level of understanding and collaboration with one’s customers. Therefore, industry players accord top priority for such engagements. Gupta says, “We try to deliver a ‘liquid tool’ to our valued customers. It is a strategic way of co-creating solutions with our customers, which are beneficial and sustainable for a long time.” He further elaborates that, “High performance coolants are gaining importance and popularity due to continued high pressure in manufacturing environments for higher productivity, lower cost of ownership, higher quality norms etc. Our strength has been to maximise values in the process for customers. Different customers have different value requirements and it becomes all the more important for us to align ourselves towards these requirements by working closely with customers.”
According to Gupta, this collaborative working brings customers much more than just a coolant. They get a ‘liquid tool’ tailored to their specific application with high performance products complete with onsite Blaser know-how support to ensure correct use at all times under expert guidance. This comprehensive package lets customers fully exploit their machines and tooling potential.
Kumar too supports this preference for teamwork. “We need to have lots of collaboration between OEM and vendors. Whether it is the introduction of new technologies like aromatic free rust preventatives, cleaners, EDM oil for health and safety or synthetic base metal working fluids for extremely long life as well low consumption of oil, a continues knowledge sharing and persuasion with the end customer helps to introduce these emerging technologies. In my view, we need an increased level of openness with machine tools OEMs to accept the latest technologies and trends that are more human-friendly and safe for our environment,” he professes.
Garg adds the angle of pollution control norms to this list, and suggests, “Disposal of coolant residue is becoming very difficult because of stringent pollution norms. It is forcing OEM’s to collaborate for newer technologies like minimum quantity lubrication or ultra-cooled air guns.”
Of course, one cannot introduce a continuous stream of improved products in line with customer expectations without having a robust research and development (R&D) set-up to back its intent and efforts in market development. Gupta proudly proclaims that, “We constantly invest in R&D, because that is the best way to keep our new and existing products on the cutting-edge of technology. As a result of trying to provide our customers with technological benefits, our R&D has grown to one of the biggest in its field. R&D is very important to Blaser Swisslube to uphold our benchmarking lead in microbiology.”
The bio-concept in Blaser’s Blasocut product revolves around creating conditions that appeal to stable primary bacteria that eliminate all other bacteria by taking over the available nutrition, thus limiting their own growth as well. This helps the customer to avoid adding any other bactericides. Also, Blaser Swisslube has a technology centre for optimally simulating and thoroughly understanding their customers’ production situations.
Kumar emphasises the R&D contribution in MotulTech, when he states, “Normally, R&D in organisations such as ours is quite robust, since we make lots of special products. Most of the time, we offer the new technologies to our customers in line with their requirements and expectations.” MotulTech has an EDM oil called SAFCO EROLEC100, which is aromatic-free and has a high flash point, making it safe to use.
Garg also acknowledges the invaluable R&D support offered to the industry. “OEMs generally offload their expectations from coolant and lubricants to their vendors. If vendors are not capable of meeting their expectations, then business goes nowhere. So, R&D plays a deciding role in the growth of this industry.” He adds, “We are working towards providing products which will carry the least CPC with minimum requirements of disposal. For instance, we have earlier provided a solution for the replacement of vegetable oil with water soluble oil in tough applications like threading, broaching etc. We are committed to provide such value-added solutions to Indian industries.”
Overall, the coolants and lubricants industry is showcasing a strong intent to grow with its customers, who display a holistic approach to manufacturing processes and appreciate the value-addition provided by superior coolants and lubricants during operations at their workplaces. The rising demand, coupled with growing maturity on the part of both customers in the form of OEMs and vendors of coolants and lubricants, is a sign that good times will soon be in free flow for this industry.