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Moving in top gear

perhaps India is one of the leading countries in automotive engineering. It is also the reason overseas companies look at us for skills and development

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Auto Expo 2020, Automotive engineering, Automobile manufacturer Tarang Jain, Varroc, E-mobility space, Connected vehicles, Lightweighting, Integrated Starter Generator, Static bending headlights, Moulding process, Greaves Cotton, Dr Ravi Damodaran, Deepak Jain, Lumax Industries, FAME-II scheme, Make in India

The Auto Expo 2020 stands out as one of the finest and latest examples of automotive engineering. Carmakers at the Expo showcased new technologies and innovations in the mobility ecosystem, unveiling a mix of traditional vehicles, electric vehicles and concepts. The engineering concepts displayed at the Expo far outdid any of the engineering excellence showcased before in India.

Engineering in India is akin to R&D and Quality. This also involves electronics, safety, and software of the vehicle – be it two-wheelers or four-wheelers. In recent times, it has been mainly confined to BS-VI and electric vehicles.

India is the fifth-largest automobile manufacturer in the world, and though the current market situation is dull, OEMs believe the conditions will get better and more favourable for business. Meanwhile, continuing with engineering and bringing out new models is the mainstay of their business and that is expected to continue. It is also the reason that most automotive companies spend a large part of their revenue in R&D and setting up design centres.

India is the fifth-largest automobile manufacturer in the world, and though the current market situation is dull, OEMs believe the conditions will get better and more favourable for business. Meanwhile, continuing with engineering and bringing out new models is the mainstay of their business and that is expected to continue. It is also the reason that most automotive companies spend a large part of their revenue in R&D and setting up design centres.

A new movement
Automotive electronics plays a major role in engineering. Today, there is a strong focus on growing with the fast-growing e-mobility space, connected vehicles and lightweighting. Tarang Jain, founder and MD, Varroc, says, “Our engineering capabilities provide us an edge over competitors. Our telematics solutions for connected mobility, which combine our proprietary hardware with software and data analytics solutions from CarIQ is also helping us. We acquired the Pune-based telematics company last year. These solutions make a vehicle smarter by providing vital information related to vehicle's health, location and safety, thus making them useful for vehicle owners, OEMs, fleet owners, and finance & insurance companies. We have also integrated its telematics solutions with instrument clusters to provide on-the-go information to end users such as vehicle health parameters and turn-by-turn navigation.”

To address the growing needs of fuel efficiency and safety, the company has launched Integrated Starter Generator (ISG), and adaptive and static bending headlights. The car headlight fitted with cameras, RADAR and LiDAR scanners aids the driver with pedestrian-detection technology, thus making the roads safer for everyone. It has also launched a car headlamp housing developed using waste coffee chaff. These parts are 20% lighter compared to conventional parts made of talc and plastic and use 25% less energy during moulding process, thus preserving the environment and reducing their carbon footprint.

Similarly, Greaves Cotton’s chief technology officer Dr Ravi Damodaran is always curious about engineering products and components. He says, “One of the reasons we acquired Ampere Vehicles is to penetrate key metros across the country as part of the last mile connectivity. With our engineering skills, we have also launched a single cylinder diesel engine that will power 3-wheelers. The new BS-VI engine is powered with advanced fuel injection technology and after-treatment systems that ensure highly consistent pollutant reduction. This single cylinder diesel engine is built for affordable 3-wheeler application providing better torque, enhanced load carrying capabilities and significantly reduced emissions.”

From an exports perspective, the component industry ships almost a quarter of its production. Of the $57 billion turnover in 2018-19, the industry exported $15.1 billion. Collaboration is the key for the auto components industry in India. Deepak Jain, CMD, Lumax Industries, says, “Since the time when Suzuki and Honda came to India, they helped forge relationships between Japanese and Indian component manufacturers. Whether it's a JV or a technical alliance, collaboration is the bedrock of the Indian auto component industry and it will continue to get even stronger as the technical complexities in the vehicles increase and the Indian market grows. Collaboration allows Indian companies to access technologies, while the foreign companies can access the Indian market though their Indian partners. It is, therefore, a win-win situation for both.”

Moving With The Times
Till date, the component industry has responded well to the needs of the vehicle industry. When one talks about mass adoption of EVs, the only scheme that is available today is the FAME-II scheme and as of now, it looks that the adoption of e-buses is going to happen very rapidly. The uptick, however, in personal mobility segment is expected to take some more time. India is known for its frugal engineering and the huge success that we have in the automotive space, is all because of our engineering skills. Our engineering skills so far have stood us in good stead. However, the automotive industry around the world and in India is undergoing a sort of upheaval. Connected, Autonomous, Shared and Electric mobility are redefining the automotive landscape. Further, shop-floors are increasingly getting digitised. To remain competitive, we need a supportive ecosystem that will enable creation of skills in the domain of new-age materials, artificial intelligence, robotics, additive manufacturing and machine learning.

Jain says, “An important aspect is to focus on is skilling of people — skilling, upskilling and reskilling.
We need to analyse the skills portfolio of our people very critically and make sure that they are ready for the next phase of growth cycle. And again, the next growth cycle will be very different as the current downturn is being largely driven by technology. We will need to ensure that our people are prepared to meet the tech-driven consumer expectations.”

While there are hundreds of thousands of engineers graduating from institutes, the industry is skeptical about their employability and capability to deliver on the expectations. Investment has to be made to develop strong engineering talent for frugal technology development while staying abreast of the global innovations in technology. Encourage Make in India for world-class products and manufacturing technology by making it easier for multinationals to set up their manufacturing base in India.

India has also been focusing on the implementation of safety norms for vehicles. Mandatory ABS in
2-wheelers of 125cc and above, airbags in cars and other measures were introduced in the last couple of years.

However, what is prevalent In Europe is that there is an end of lifecycle requirement. It is not present in India yet but, should be here soon. The aspects of it have already started to come to India. Re-cyclability and bio-degradability are some of the things that need to be considered. If re-usability also comes in, it would be great, as we do not have to dump. From that perspective, when automakers design, they ask the OEMs in terms of their expectations of lifecycle too. Based on that, new and relevant materials are suggested that can be recycled and reused.

Another major trend that is coming up in the industry is the lightweighting. So how the industry is moving towards in reducing the weight of the materials further? According to Damodaran, it will definitely be more of plastics. But, not just plastics. "There will also be materials like jute PP, fabric materials, etc, which can be recycled. There are also metals that are developed which have high strength like magnesium, aluminium and carbon fibre. The cost would not be a disadvantage here because when you look at the weight saving you get a better or equivalent cost management," he adds.

The future will see a lot of electronic integration. Then there is lighting, soft-touch material in instrument panels, etc. Several OEMs have already introduced the soft-touch in India for a few vehicles. More chroming and features are also coming into the instrument panel. A few vehicles will continue with the buttons and some will go with the electronics. Mostly it will be a mix of everything. But, all this depends on the vehicle and where it is targeted to. In terms of R&D, most of the engineering is happening on the electronics integration because it is the future.

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