On the fly
The aerospace manufacturing industry in India are required to be adept at making rapid technology changes
by Jayashree Mendes
Last month, TAL Manufacturing Solutions Ltd dispatched the 5,000th Advanced Composite Floor Beam (ACFB) to plane maker Boeing for its 787-9 and 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft. The ACFB was produced in collaboration with Boeing by TAL at its dedicated world-class facility in MIHAN SEZ in Nagpur. Currently, TAL is the only non-US facility to supply ACFBs to Boeing for its 787-9 Dreamliner, and it will also supply this component to the soon-to-be-built 787-10 Dreamliner. The ACFBs are shipped to Boeing partners in Italy, Japan and the US.
TAL Manufacturing Solutions is not the only one to have done so. Over the last decade, several large Indian companies have jumped into the fray of aerospace. Besides the involvement in this high-profile sector, what compels Indian companies is the complexities of the business and adds to the attraction. Of course, most of them are well-known corporate with deep pockets. Otherwise, one stands a slim chance of making headway into this sector.
The big game
Over the next decade, the Indian aerospace and defence industry is expected to consume electronics worth $70-72 billion, as the country rapidly modernises its military by embracing new technologies (read more about defence manufacturing in the following pages).
About $58 billion of the electronics opportunity comes from large systems that have electronic components built in as a solution, according to a report from consultancy firm Roland Berger, in partnership with the National Association of Software & Services Companies (Nasscom) and India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA). India is the seventh largest aerospace & defence market globally for electronics.
Most Indian companies prefer to work on product design, reconfiguration and customisation with creativity, while assuring quality and value addition. Kaustubh Shukla, chief operating officer, industrial products group, Godrej & Boyce, says, “The aerospace sector is probably the most challenging one. It is highly capital-intensive and regimented. We have to use qualified materials, processes, people and equipment, adhere to extremely demanding and rigid process parameters, meet very demanding delivery schedules and yet be extremely agile, and competitive for the pressures to do better, faster and cheaper are forever.”
The aviation industry is constantly evolving and is in need of technologically advanced partners that are ardent investors in change. Arijit Ghosh, president, India, Honeywell Aerospace, says, “The aviation industry currently faces a number of challenges, from increasing competition to rising fuel prices. Such challenges need to be tackled head-on with the help of secondary and tertiary suppliers that understand the industry and have experience implementing competitive, modern practices.”
Honeywell uses the most advanced analog and digital technologies available, and its design specialists are experienced in creating cutting-edge products. The designers are equipped with industry-leading tools for the development of advanced wireless components and systems. The company tests and models products in-house, extending the capabilities of the models created to enhance first-pass performance.
On an even plane
While there are Indian companies that have built up expertise and capabilities through regular investments, it is still considered a soft power in aerospace manufacturing. It is rare to find a single Indian company that develops strong end-to-end aerospace software solutions. And that is exactly the reason why the country has to depend on foreign companies.
Most disagree with this. Shukla of Godrej & Boyce says that we are in a build-to-print environment, where we have to produce parts with strict compliances to the drawings requirements besides the other adherences referred above. So there would appear to be no scope for reconfiguration, customisation and creativity. “On the contrary, while establishing the manufacturing process for a new part, there is great scope and opportunity; in fact an obligation to think out-of-the-box, engineer from zero base and visualize and establish a manufacturing line that will produce faster, better and cheaper,” he adds.
Once established, the process has to be followed in a regimented way. So the design, reconfiguration, customisation effort is guided with creativity to ensure that Godrej & Boyce adds value in a competitive manner while ensuring quality.
Last month, another large global player, American defence major Lockheed Martin offered to move its lone production line of the latest version of fighter aircraft F 16-Block 70 to India from Texas to meet Indian and global requirement. Lockheed Martin, which has sold 4,588 F16s in the world, faces competition from its American rival Boeing (F/A-18E), Dassault Aviation of France (Rafale), Swedish plane Gripen by Saab and the Eurofighter.
Home-grown Godrej Aerospace has been investing in acquiring equipment, machinery, new technologies, and to the company this seems like a never ending exercise. Other dimension is the need to be better, faster and cheaper which also requires the company to build capacities, and acquire/develop technologies & capabilities.
The ripe Indian market
While most Indian companies are armed to the teeth with enough ammunition, what they seem to be ill-equipped with is the ability to quickly adopt new technologies at the plants. But like an industry source said, “One can only think of making investments if there is realisation of contracts. The investments are not small. The Make in India campaign of the PM Modi should help the Indian aerospace industry.”
Sudhir Sharma, head defence light & tracked vehicles, Ashok Leyland, says, “There is a challenge in changing things constantly. It is costly, time-consuming and intense. But if you don’t change, you will be obliterated.
Some critical factors needed to make the Make in India campaign a success are land, labour and capital. The government and the Ministry of Human Resources and Education must focus on developing learning opportunities around aeronautics to ensure the campaign is successful in the long term. On the other hand, companies need to offer training programmes that will further enhance the capabilities of domestic employees and suppliers. Importantly, it would vastly help if the Indian government could create an arrangement for technology transfer with more advanced nations. They should create an environment for the domestic players to cross-pollinate knowledge and technologies with other countries.
Pranav Parashar (Retd), general manager, naval projects, Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems India, says, “India needs to cultivate a kind of smart manufacturing that keep up with the most advanced technologies. Most often we take recourse in machine tools or sheet metal and that alone is not enough. Global aviation companies need to be able to rely on us for our manufacturing prowess and understand that the kind of stringent screening they do can also deliver results.”
Ghosh of Honeywell Aerospace says that the aerospace products from his company are designed to meet challenges, be it meeting commercial industry standards or performing in unique high-performance environments. “Honeywell engineers focus on elements like pilot safety and comfort, smooth and accurate flight control and systems reliability. Because of this, our products can withstand electromagnetic interference and voltage fluctuations while performing in extreme temperature ranges and enduring heavy vibration and shock,” he added.
There is also an estimate that India will need about 90,000 aerospace and defence factory workers in the coming decade. Possibly a lot many could emulate the model followed by Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, the aerospace and defence flagship of the Tata Group.