The Right Cut
Indian cutting tool vendors are effectively dealing with the challenge of continuously enhancing business requirements for speed, cost improvements and enhanced productivity.
by Mitalee Kurdekar
It is a well-known fact that the Indian market is one of the most price-competitive when it comes to the cutting tools industry. This competitive element stems from the demand profile of its customers, who compete fiercely to not only generate demand for their products, but also to sustain this demand with the provision of value-enhancing product features. Given that the cutting tools component forms a major chunk of overall production cost, vendors of these tools are required to remain equally competitive by offering cost and productivity advantages to their clients.
The Indian manufacturing industry is currently dominated by automotive and auto components industries. They continue to make up more than 50% of metal cutting activities in the country, and are virtually driving the growth of the manufacturing sector. But things are quickly changing, with new industries now being added to the user base. L Krishnan, MD, TaeguTec India, explains, “Although the current base is small, there’s a lot now happening in aerospace manufacturing too. We do believe that defence manufacturing will be the next trigger for growth in the coming times.”
Even as automotive industry-dependent demand continues to grow, there are industries like railways, heavy engineering, aerospace, defence etc. that are creating fresh demand for cutting tool makers, albeit on extremely competitive terms.
AK Sareen, MD, Ceratizit India, says, “Traditionally, the automotive sector has always been our key demand area to cater to, and it continues to be so. However, along with that, the other major demand creators have been steel, general engineering, railways and power.”
Dormer Pramet is also vying for demand in a similar pool, including railways, die & mould, heavy duty machining, general engineering and maintenance, repair & overhaul (MRO). Gautam Ahuja, MD, Dormer Tools India, states, “In the coming years, competition is going to become even more intense, and productivity and efficiency would be the key. Manufacturing industries are reducing manual dependence and are moving towards digitalisation.”
When asked about what new business needs are emerging from customers, most industry players agree that many of them require refining of products due to shifting emphasis on certain factors. Most vendors are therefore re-aligning themselves to suit their customers’ requirements.
Tungaloy India’s MD Jay Shah explains this by saying, “We believe in the phrase: ‘What you seek is what you get’. We seek to service our customers with utmost care, integrity and perseverance. Each customer, based on his end customer, has different business requirements. But when we understand them, we always end up supporting, very well, these requirements. Today, customers want solutions and not just products.”
OEMs as well as their suppliers have a simple demand – a cost effective, quality product and service, believes Santosh Ullal, CEO, Emuge-Franken India. He agrees that increasing customer alignment is vital, when he points out that, “The customers’ expectations are ever increasing, from product performance to greater time investment from our side. Customers’ needs are also changing and they expect us to respond fast in the current scenario, where uncertainty is the only certainty.”
Working closely with customers to achieve their goals has become an important tool to success. Ahuja adds that, “The top business requirements from customers are to achieve the quality parameters, reduce cycle time by increasing productivity, and enhancing tool life. To achieve the above, the cutting tool supplier should get involved right during the machine ordering and fixture designing stage.”
While vendors are addressing customers’ needs such as reliability with high performance, productivity with precision and longer tool life, there are other considerations to make, stresses Prashant Sardeshmukh, director, MMC Hardmetal India. He suggests that his company is going the extra mile, when he points out that, “We take utmost efforts to take care of issues like energy & waste, safety & security, social & environmental responsibility, and harmonised standards with a special focus on supply chain integration. These are decisive aspects and vendors will have to address them for their own growth and survival.”
Cutting out Challenges
Technology gaps or non-availability of newer technologies has been a bane for Indian industries, and cutting tools is no exception. So, while the Indian Government’s focus on Skill India initiatives to support the Make in India programme addresses this issue across various industries of the economy, it is absolutely crucial for the cutting tools industry.
“Frankly, we have been making in India, for India, since the year 2000, and every year, we invest heavily in the expansion of our facility. We see a very bright future for us in India, and we will continue with our growth plans and make use of the Government’s policies, wherever necessary. With complex manufacturing processes coming to India in recent times, it won’t be long before the latest trends and technologies will find traction in the Indian industry,” states Ullal. They focus on ensuring that customers do not have to rely on imports for their needs, and that they can provide the best solutions, locally. As such, the company hardly imports any of their taps or thread milling cutters, with almost all their tools sold in India being manufactured at their Pune factory.
As a matter of fact, players within the industry are re-visiting their R&D drawing boards to address this important challenge as quickly as possible, so that they are not left behind. It is possible that, in the process, there would be some consolidations within the industry as is the case in many R&D-oriented industries. However, this is a well-intended exercise.
The total cutting tool market, including the unorganised sector, is estimated to be worth around Rs 3,000-3,500 crore. “There are more than 15 MNCs operating in India, while there are also some traders importing and selling under a private label. The market should be growing faster than the GDP, at about 8-10%. However, in the cutting tool industry, due to fierce competition and lower earnings, global acquisitions have started and soon there should be consolidation with 5-6 large groups being dominant players,” Ahuja confesses.
Speed of response poses a big challenge for the Indian cutting tools industry, where new technologies are required to be unveiled and executed with greater alacrity and equally high service levels. Apart from working closely with customers in the initial stages, vendors need to continuously support their customers with superior service. Here, inputs like internet-based IT systems and connectivity to vendors’ technology centres are being looked at more intently than ever before. Indian players are keen to gear up for this challenge.
Cost-effective procurement and distribution is yet another test in a vast geography like India. But initiatives like GST and investment in improving rail/road infrastructure would help the manufacturing sector with procurement and distribution excellence. Shah agrees that these reforms are making a significant impact for India, and proclaims that even though Tungaloy is only a trading subsidiary, they are a part of this
idea and will do their best in supporting the manufacturing sector in increasing efficiency of metal-cutting operations.
Investing in the Future
Today, India is one of the most sought-after markets for many reasons, and hence one often finds perpetual competition in the manufacturing sector, from both Indian and global players. Customers are therefore spoilt for choice, when it comes to looking for technological improvements along with cost competitiveness. Cutting tool vendors have been arming OEMs with optimised machining solutions, so that, in turn, they can offer their customers increased productivity, cost benefits and, more importantly, quality. Of course, the industry’s R&D investments are of immense help in achieving this goal.
With Dormer Pramet’s range of HSS substrates, they have invested in powder technology to develop a material that provides better results. The taps produced with this technology aim to give additional toughness, consistently stable properties and superior grind-ability compared to conventional high-speed steel.
MMC too has recently launched powder metallurgy HSS, which coupled with their patented Miracle Coating Technology, can work at much higher cutting speeds, compared to conventional HSS.
On the other hand, Sareen supplies that, “HSS cutting tools have, to a large extent, been replaced by tungsten carbide tools. In fact, the sector is now moving rapidly towards other high-speed cutting materials like ceramics, polycrystalline diamond (PCD) and cubic boron nitride (CBN) tools, which Ceratizit has in all available ranges.”
Krishnan agrees, saying, “Developments are taking place in the areas of basic hard metal tool geometries and surface treatments. Technologies are continuously evolving and offer customers a bouquet of options to suit their materials and applications.”
Additive manufacturing is another technological advancement that is trying to establish its footprint in this industry. It is a process of creating 3 dimensional objects using digital files and is a revolutionary idea, where layer upon layer is added with 3D printing, rather than the traditional manufacturing technique of machining by subtraction. This latest entrant on the Indian manufacturing scene is proving to be useful in the designing of complicated geometries, and is currently used largely in prototyping work.
Shah is optimistic about the trend. He says, “Tungaloy uses additive manufacturing for new product development and testing. This process has helped us to speed up the cycle of in-house testing and evaluation of new products.”
Despite a few initial hiccups, Sardeshmukh is confident of working with experts “to look for a possible breakthrough in using this technology for manufacturing of cutting tools.”
With an eye to the future, new-age technologies such as additive manufacturing are becoming the talk of the town. And when they spell faster time to market, cost-saving due to economies of scale and precision with enhanced productivity, there is no shying away from their use. After all, that’s what customers are demanding, and the cutting tools industry is all set to deliver the right solution.