With unit cost per price of machined component in focus, CNC machines have grown in importance, especially given the degree of speed, precision and quality they bring.
By Mitalee Kurdekar
Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines are the most useful amalgamation of well-developed mechanical engineering and a sophisticated software programme to produce results on metal working jobs that would have otherwise taken a great deal of time, sometimes even compromising on the precision and quality of the work piece. Consistency of results in terms of time, precision and quality are the hallmark of CNC machining. Hence, in modern times, where there is so much focus on large-scale manufacturing, productivity, quality and reliability, there is an increased dependence on CNC machining. Technological advances of recent times, such as in tool design, tool control and monitoring control systems, have only aided to make CNC machining not only a useful, but increasingly popular, methodology for metal working. Availability of the right type of lubricants have further helped in making CNC machines durable, whether it is the metalworking fluid for better machine tool performance or the internal lubricant for smooth running of the machine.
Grind Master is trying to strengthen its manufacturing base, as well as its vendor base, to avoid loss of orders to overseas players.
The Indian Scenario
Traditionally, the Indian market for machine tools and sophisticated machines was largely import dependent, particularly for advanced technology products. While there are many manufacturing units operating in the Indian market for various types of metalworking jobs, there are few which are specialised in particular type of jobs like grinding, turning, milling, etc. Hence, for more complex activities with multiple axis, one used to depend on imports. The scene is now changing rapidly with a renewed focus on the manufacturing sector in general, and particularly in technology-hungry industries like automotive and aerospace, which are driving the demand for CNC machining requirements.
TK Ramesh, Director and CEO, Micromatic Machine Tools, explains, “Factors like a thriving automotive and aerospace industry, along with the residual effect of the Indian economy performing well, are elements that are steering the growth of the industry, sharply upwards. For companies that make the right moves, the future of manufacturing in India looks promising. We can expect a 15-20% growth in the manufacturing sector.”
Providing his views about opportunities in the local market, Andreas Zieger, director, EMAG India, suggests, “We know that the manufacturing sector still has good potential to develop. Understanding of quality, recognition of service as a support factor, long-term planning for good investments or even political conditions around the business, are challenges. However, I see an improvement and a global trend towards India, and that will fuel the demand.”
Pointing to the changes within the Indian manufacturing sector, Mohini Kelkar, Director, Sales & Marketing, Grind Master Machines, says, “Modern manufacturing demands more flexible and faster manufacturing technologies using smart machines, robotics & automation. Majority of industries are upgrading their manufacturing set-up from a traditional set-up consisting of manual processes or semi-automatic processes to either smart CNC machines or robotic automation.”
She further states, “India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and, with this growth, enormous exporting opportunities have emerged over the past few years. We just have to grab that opportunity and take a step to spread our wings. There are a number of opportunities in the aerospace, defence, energy, machinery, healthcare, agriculture, and engineering services industry.
EMAG offers machines in sophisticated technologies like laser welding, induction hardening, shrink fitting or electrochemical machining.
Apart from this, contract manufacturing is also a great opportunity for import substitution.”
Leaning towards CNC
Given its obvious advantages and many benefits on offer, CNC machining has advocates all across the stakeholder community. While manufacturers and vendors promote the concept with new designs and methodologies, the Government pushes for technology upgrades and adaptation, and customers find it economically viable over the longer run.
Elaborating on the customer perspective, Suresh KV, country head, ZF India, admits, “CNC machines are a boon to the manufacturing industry. These machines offer a lot of production and financial advantage. By minimising the interference of a machinist, the CNC machines also help in minimising overhead costs. Being a technology driven company, at ZF, we are utilising our CNC machines for better performance to ensure consistency in quality, enhance productivity and create a safe working environment.” He adds, “We are also working to improve efficiency of the machine, year on year, by carrying out improvements in cutting parameters and by reducing losses.”
Farrokh Cooper, Chairman & MD, Cooper Corporation, echoes similar sentiments, when he proclaims, “We have more than 300 modern high-speed CNC machines of international & domestic make. These are well-equipped in such a way that they provide high-speed machining, ensure that material is removed by using effective cutting parameters & cutting tools to deliver the best productivity, generate quality products and maintain quality consistency.”
Manufacturers of machine tools are also acknowledging this shift towards CNC on the part of Indian customers, a result of the obvious changes in business requirements. Rajesh Ghashi, MD, Chiron India Machine Tools, believes that, “The demand will also be towards technological advancements in the manufacturing sector in line with Industry 4.0, automation etc. The coming years are going to be challenging in terms of meeting customer demands and requirements. There is surely going to be a large demand for CNC machines.”
He also points out that, “Most customers in the industry are demanding manufacturing solutions. They do not just look for a machine tool, but a company that can provide a complete turnkey solution for the parts that they wish to manufacture, and one that can further commit to quality, cycle time etc., being achieved. As far as Chiron is concerned, the group has always been known for its turnkey solutions in the world market.”
On the other hand, Kelkar says, “The Indian Government is offering attractive incentives for developing, maintaining and operating manufacturing infrastructure facilities and schemes for export business. In order to be at par with the global benchmarks, we need to work with the best machines, advanced tooling and processes that are robust. All these are basically needed to produce consistent results over a long period of time.”
EMAG works closely with customers, with a view to find that extra value to stay competitive.
Technological Advancements Unveiled
CNC machine manufacturers have spared no efforts in bringing new advanced technologies to the Indian market, either by promoting collaborations or steering joint ventures with technology providers. More importantly, many global players have reached Indian shores to bring in their latest, technologically-advanced products for the benefit of the Indian customer.
Zieger claims that, “EMAG is a technology leader in the machine tool business, with machines in turning, milling, grinding, hobbing, but also in more sophisticated technologies like laser welding, induction hardening, shrink fitting or electrochemical machining. We see a need for more automated manufacturing systems to avoid human errors and increase the efficiency in mass production. With these strengths, our strategy is to work in a partnership with our customers, with a view to find that extra value to stay competitive.”
Ramesh supports this theory. He says, “Building intelligence in all our machines is the innovation that we have been working on for almost a decade, even before terms like IIoT and Industry 4.0 were coined. These efforts continue more robustly, allowing companies to automate key business processes by collecting, analysing and using real-time manufacturing data. Some of our technologically advanced machines with the latest innovations include our CNC centreless grinding machines from MGT. These machines are suitable for higher productivity and accuracy, and the process is ideal for large batch production.”
Similarly, Ghashi says, “In line with Industry 4.0, we offer our customers smart solutions for digitally-enhanced machining with intelligent machine control, digital networking, and machine communications. Chiron is already there with products like DATA line – the innovative platform for integrated manufacturing and process diagnostic, SMART line – simulating processes quickly and realistically, and REMOTE line – from integrated machining processes to teleservices and remote diagnostics.”
it’s All about the Money
CNC machining justifies its need on the basis of the financial and economic benefits that every stakeholder sees, going forward. Suresh explains, “Qualitative outputs and machining of complex profiles are few of the benefits, which we are getting out of CNC. CNC machines also allow us to maintain accuracy in our components. To justify the value proposition of the machines, we are conducting critical operations in house, which are not possible to do on conventional machines. As factories are moving towards becoming smart and connected, CNC machines will be an integral part of automated production lines.”
Cooper agrees with this economic purpose, when he says, “Instead of looking at the price of CNC machines, we evaluate our machines with the lowest cost per piece for machining and process optimisation. We are automated with excellent pick & place integrations with world-class state-of-the-art robots and gantries.”
Zieger claims, “The inverted pick-up turning machine was one of our milestones, which made the turning machines more compact, integrated the automation in each machine and runs the chipping process in the right direction. We realized that, in a single operation, you reach fast physical limits, and thus we integrated more and more technologies in our portfolio, which now allows us to optimise the whole manufacturing process for our customers. With our heat shrink machines, we can produce parts with lesser weight and a very flexible set-up.”
Micromatic Machine Tools is making efforts to come up with innovative technologies that allow companies to automate key business processes.
Zieger feels that, “The demand for cheap solutions instead of quality is a strong mind-set, and driven by the international demand for cheap products. However, we now see more sophisticated parts coming to India and that opens up the discussion and widens the view. We show our customer that we are ready to develop something together, and try to overcome the pure machine negotiation from the first exchange onwards.”
The availability of quality, qualified technicians is a big challenge. “We train our engineers extensively, and with continuous upgradation of their skills with new technologies, which means that they are qualified to satisfy our customer demands in terms of efficient and quality service,” Ghashi says.
Kelkar sees the scaling up of operations in India as a major issue. She explains, “The machine tools industry in India has a limited ecosystem, which plays an important role when it comes to scaling up. Due to this, some of the orders are likely to go to Taiwanese and Chinese companies. Grind Master is trying to strengthen its manufacturing base, as well as its vendor base, to overcome this.”
While, on the whole, all stakeholders seem positively inclined towards the Government’s initiatives such as Make in India, technology adoption, skills development and enhancing exports, Zieger cautions by saying, “Positive competition on international levels should be the measurement, not nationalism or separatism.”
Kelkar is of the opinion that many of these initiatives are at a conceptual stage and a lot more needs to be done to push them forth. She opines, “Manufacturing in India needs to leapfrog newer technologies in order to ‘Make in India’. Technologies are moving very fast. Paradigms are shifting very fast.”
And that transition is happening, slowly, but surely. Overall, the challenge is for all stakeholders to remain in sync to make CNC machining a strong catalyst for excellence in Indian manufacturing.