Achieving technical superiority in grinding & turning operations of machine tools is key if India has to realise her new growth potential.
by Mitalee Kurdekar
At the inauguration of the IMTEX 2017 exhibition, organised by the Indian Machine Tools Manufacturers (IMTMA), in Bengaluru earlier this year, Siddaramaiah, honourable chief minister of Karnataka, had said, “It is well known that machine tools are the backbone of manufacturing and a strong machine tool industry propels strong manufacturing, which in turn spurs the economy.” At the same event, speaking on the Indian Capital Goods Policy and its impact on the Make in India initiative, Girish Shankar, secretary (HI), department of heavy industry, Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Government of India, had elaborated that, “India’s Capital Goods Policy envisages the capital goods to grow from Rs 2.3 lakh crore to Rs 7.5 lakh crore in 2025. Our endeavour is to drive growth for the capital goods sector and build India as a world class hub for capital goods.” He expressed his confidence that these initiatives will lead to the strengthening of the machine tool industry and capital goods industry, and these will prove to be a strong enabler of Make in India.
Given this background, it is safe to assume that machine tools are bound to see a sharp rise in demand, the beginning of which was witnessed in the form of the positive response from customers at IMTEX 2017. However, the road to success is rather long, with much needed to be done to reduce the import of machine tools and increase domestic production & consumption of technologically advanced products.
Current State, Future Drivers
Everybody is aware that India still relies on imports of high-end technologically advanced tools to meet the needs of its manufacturing sector. Current demand for machine tools is spurred by the demand from the automotive and auto components industry, given that India has become the manufacturing and export hub – since past few years – for auto majors like Ford, Honda, Suzuki, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes, Fiat etc. Consequently, import of advanced products in machine tools has been coming in from countries like Japan, Germany and Italy. In addition to this, the Indian machine tools market is currently fragmented with global and regional players who are small, medium and large in size.
On the other hand, the future demand pattern is slated for a change with a big push coming from demand for machine tools in the capital goods industry and through Make in India initiatives. The demand from defence & aerospace industries will further drive the demand for precision and technologically advanced machine tools like grinding & turning tools, in the coming years. As a result, the country has the opportunity to become a force to reckon with in machine tools manufacture, for both internal consumption and exports. This is bound to result in a significant growth in high-end machine tools production. Adding to these positive trends, the Indian industry has seen a growing need for CNC-based machine tools in order to achieve the precision and quality required by these new segments of user demand. It is estimated that this will spur the growth of this industry in the next 4-5 years. Another satisfying feature is that intense competition amongst players has led to product differentiation on features, service and pricing. All this has prompted manufacturers to invest in R&D and implement cutting-edge solutions that bring newer benefits to end-users.
Although that the growth in the manufacturing and capital goods sector had been weak until 2016, a turnaround is underway, with healthy growth registered from January 2017 onwards. It is estimated that this will have a positive influence on technologically advanced segments of the industry like grinding & turning.
Nitesh Gupta, GM, projects & product support, Phillips Machine Tools India, is euphoric about this, when he says, “These segments have been growing at a CAGR of 10-12% over the last couple of years. We have seen approximately 17% increase in sales of grinding & turning machines year on year. Customers are looking for high-end solutions from suppliers for grinding & turning machines. Tolerances have gone down to micron levels. We strongly believe that there is a huge potential in these processes and strong demand shall follow in the coming years too.”
Mohini Kelkar, MD, Grind Master Machines, echoes this sentiment. She observes that, “The Indian government is promoting investment in the defence and aerospace sector in a big way. Precision grinding & turning machines will be required on the shop floors of such manufacturing companies. Also, surface finishing after grinding has become extremely important to fulfil the additional performance demands in aerospace and auto parts applications.”
Innovative Technology Solutions
Turning happens to be one of the most basic machining processes, typically carried out on a lathe – considered to be the oldest machine tools – and usually one of four different types: straight turning, taper turning, profiling or external grooving; whereas, grinding is one of the most critical processes. Most of the time, the manufacturing process starts with turning & ends with grinding, since the most critical accuracies can be achieved with grinding technology. In fact, vendors are investing in making these processes more accurate and precise, as per customer requirements. They are constantly innovating to differentiate their product and increase its value and relevance in the eyes of their customers.
Danobat Group has its own Technological Research and Development Centre, focused on specialist innovations and the creation of state-of-the-art machine tool products, and the main objective is to supply ground-breaking technological solutions. An example is the Danobat MDM-Absolute Measuring Unit, which is being used for in-process gauging across the entire machine’s working envelope. Swapnil Apte, commercial director, Danobat Group Machine Tools India, explains this, “The finest technologies are utilised to achieve the highest rigidity, precision and productivity. Our machines have been designed on a modular basis to meet each customer’s needs, ranging from universal configuration machines to the most demanding customisations. This modularity provides flexibility to achieve the shortest lead time and optimum cost for a machine made to order.”
Elaborating on this thrust for R&D, Rajesh Khanna, CEO, Wendt India, states, “We believe R&D and innovation always go hand-in-hand. Therefore, we always provide the latest technology solutions to our customers, not just products. Innovation is a continuous process. Both product and process are customised at Wendt India, because we are a solution provider in the areas of grinding & honing. In fact, more than 95% of our products are customised to fulfil the customers’ needs.” They have established a state-of-the-art, DSIR recognised, R&D centre within their premises, which continuously works on new areas, new product testing & developments and innovative solutions.
Kelkar speaks of their latest offering. “The advanced Nanofinishing Technology offered by us not only improves the finish values, but also improves the geometry on the part. Higher levels of finishes and accuracies are in demand in the automotive sector, and they also help to meet new emission norms.” She proudly adds, “Grind Master has come up with various disruptive innovations like robotic fettling, de-flashing & machining solutions for the foundry industry which utilises various grinding, machining and deburring processes,” she states.
Gupta points out that customers are looking for fully integrated solutions from suppliers. He suggests that, “Customers are expecting machine tool suppliers to work in the background for developing processes that meet their component demands and implement the same during actual run of the component. We have been introducing newer technologies like Y-axis turn mill centres, 5-axis solutions, grinding solutions and honing/finishing solutions. We are also providing robotic as well as gantry automation solutions as turnkey packages, along with the CNC machines, to customers, wherein the cells work unmanned around the clock.”
Customer Service and Support
But vendors do not stop at providing the latest in technology and innovation. They continue to address customers’ needs even after supplying such products. Gupta makes a clear statement in this context, when he says, “Phillips does not consider itself just a sales company; we consider ‘High Quality Services and Products’ our motto, and try adhering to the same.” Gupta adds, “We have one of the best service teams available in the country. Their in-depth product knowledge has played an important role in increasing our customer base, as our sales team decides the best solution available, from our portfolio, according to the components which the customers are machining. We also provide comprehensive and extensive training to our customers on the machines.”
Khanna describes their direct approach to customer service: “We reach our customers directly with no intermediaries – no traders and stocking points. We are planning to augment our efforts to reach and service our customers more directly by using a digital platform and even using mobile apps, while still following the traditional methods. This is what differentiates us from our competitors.”
Apte supplies that, “Danobat produces the entire range of high-precision grinding machines developed to suit the specific applications of our customers. These solutions have been conceived in close collaboration with end-users resulting in a product comprising the machine itself and all related processes, hence offering a complete tailor-made solution.” He further states that, “Customers recognise us for service quality, trustworthiness, high performance, flexibility and the advanced technology in our solutions; always meant to improve efficiency and productivity, resulting in profitability for the customer.”
Kelkar proclaims that, “Grind Master has successfully entered the elite group of global players who fulfil demands from the modern automotive industry by offering ultra-modern micro-finishing machines. In fact, over 60% of our turnover comes from exports.”
Going forward, precision, accuracy, flexibility in operations and cost-effective lead times are going to be key for machining of parts. Gupta feels that the future for the metal-cutting industry surely lies in more advanced CNC controls; they are producing a flexible machine with 6-CNC axes, all driven by linear motors and position control through glass scales. This is only possible with CNC technology.
Kelkar goes a step further to suggest that, in the future, data analytics would be key to highlight the important aspects and machine health, and are needed as a part of flexible manufacturing and adoptability. Therefore, the industry is going beyond CNC machines and towards ‘smart’ machines.
With many companies venturing into smart factory territory, this comes as no surprise. The real challenge now will be acceptability on a wider scale, and fast. The sooner India can adopt this change, the faster she will propel herself into the hallowed league of global manufacturing leaders. And that’s the simple truth.