MUMBAI REPORT 23 Jan 09     

Technologies at Centre Stage of first AMS India Conference

The first Automotive Manufacturing Solutions India Conference brought suppliers and carmakers from around the world to meet and do business with their industry counterparts in India. Held at the Mumbai Renaissance Marriott from 21-22 January, 2009, and supported by gold sponsors Uddeholm Assab, Schneider Electronics and SICK, the conference was a blend of industry presentations and sessions on specific technologies, within a timetable which encouraged networking and interaction among attendees.

 Speakers and delegates came from Germany, South Korea, the USA, Sweden, Italy and other parts of the world to meet and do business within the fast-growing Indian marketplace.

Proceedings started with keynote presentations by Sugato Sen, Senior Director from SIAM (Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers), MM Singh, Maruti Suzuki's Managing Executive for Production, and Piyush Arora of the Technical Planning team at Mercedes-Benz India.

Money, money, money

 Acting as an advocacy group for its 44 members, SIAM's Sen said that although two-wheeler production currently outnumbered passenger cars by 74% to 13% in total unit volumes, the organization still predicted that India would be the seventh-largest car-producing nation by 2010. Speaking at the time when domestic sales growth had temporarily flattened as global financial storms blew, he looked to the future and advised: "Indian manufacturers must reduce development and ownership costs."

MM Singh predicted that compact cars were the country's automotive future, but that these models "must use the technologies already available in India to reduce CO2 emissions". While not dismissing exports, Singh noted that "the middle class earning Rs 200,000 per year (about $4,000) can afford a car," advising carmakers to target this social demographic.

Piyush Arora noted that Mercedes-Benz had experienced good growth in two of the company's key areas, bus production and luxury car sales, the latter supported by the more than 100,000 (US dollar) millionaires now living in India. There had been a change in mindset where a nation of savers had turned to spending, particularly on luxury cars, he said. To support local production, Mercedes-Benz would be looking to source more materials and components in-country, while also making plans to export finished vehicles.

Into the technology

The largest part of the conference was split into streams so that delegates were able to delve deeper into the specific technologies featuring in different sectors of automotive production. Digital manufacturing was covered by William Sarver of Rockwell Automation with OEMs Sairam Vedapudi of Mahindra & Mahindra and Nitin Rajurkar of Tata Motors, while a parellel stream focussed on commercial vehicle production, with VK Vijayakumar Unni of Ashok Leyland and Rajinder Singh Sachdeva of Volvo Eichner leading proceedings.

Delegates were able to follow up these and other sessions with questions and one-to-one discussions during refreshment breaks and a working lunch.

AMS India in Mumbai: senior attendees and a great success for the inaugural event

The conference structure encouraged networking, and the buffet ambience of the Marriott's Gauri Point, overlooking Lake Powai and central Mumbai, provided a suitable environment.

The final sessions of the first day featured automation and control systems, and the growing demands for environmental management.

Kishore Karandikar of Tata Motors demonstrated DeviceNet and Ethernet connectivity for PLCs and welding controllers, while SAP's Robert Sherburn outlined the software's application to developing a number of parts for the Porsche Cayenne and Harish Mehra talked about how IBM recommended the planning of an MES strategy.

The session was rounded out by Thomas Staehler of SICK speaking on applied safety technology and efficiency optimization.

There is no more iconic label in environmental protection than Greenpeace, the organisation's Ankur Ganguly spoke of global corporate responsibility that would introduce increased transparency in business. The first day ended on the CO2 theme, with Dr BP Pundir of the Indian Institute of Technology setting out how the Indian market would benefit from the introduction of emission-efficient vehicles.

Dinner and cases

Delegates joined colleagues from the parallel conference on sourcing and logistics, hosted by AMS' sister magazine Automotive Logistics, for a dinner under the stars. This was the time when many business relationships were cemented and the all-important social dimension provided for business connections. 

Case studies were a significant part of the whole conference, providing practical illustrations of the implementation of techologies and allowing them to be assessed in the Indian context. They featured strongly on the second day of the conference.

Stamping and forming were illustrated by Ford's Arthur Devadawson, who emphasised safety curtains and other technologies used to prevent worker injury. Ramon Casanelles of ABB spoke about how the company had developed modular solutions to control car production costs, while Klaus Rothenhagen of AIDA Europe covered servopresses and increased productivity.

Other case studies were as varied as GM India's Satya Veerapaneni covering how to balance production efficiencies with customer demand, and Prahalada Rao describing the buyer evaluations behind the Xylo, the latest incarnation of M&M's four-wheel drive vehicle

Returning to operations, Uday Kumar of Castrol covered the significance of lubricants in manufacturing, despite them only making up about 3% of total cost, he said, while Thomas Vetsch of Trumpf set out how OEMs were replacing spot welds with laser welds in the BIW arena. Also on joining, Rangs Padmanabhan of KG Hirotec highlighted the importance of hemming in car production, while Suresh Nagabhushan of Fanuc outlined 100-hour robot testing to ensure reliability.

The cost of paint

As the conference drew to a close, the issues of cost came back to the fore. One of the most expensive elements of car production is the paintshop, and Nitish Bhatt of TAL Manufacturing Solutions pointed the need to develop lean paintshops by considering each process option in turn. Dirk Gorges of Durr Systems introduced the company's Ecodryscrubber, a water-less paint system that could reduce both the physical size and cost of paint facilities, he said, while Roland Nikles of X-Rite and Vilas Gupte of Advanced Graphic Systems focussed on the latest developments in paint, including colour analysis.

Returning to the benefits of digital techniques, David Lake of Lotus Digital Manufacturing described how costs had been cut in bringing the new Evora model to production.

India is special

The final plenary sessions for attendees at the first AMS India conference were devoted to India's special position for automotive production. Contrasting themes for different parts of the market were drawn by Prakash Telang of Tata Motors, and Stefan Hulsenberg who heads BMW's plant in Chennai.

Telang covered the differences between the Indian market and other world markets, pointing out what represents good value to the Indian consumer. Hulsenberg, in turn, offered thoughts on sustained growth in emerging markets, particularly important to an upmarket provider like BMW which is looking to increase share as well as volume in the luxury segment.

But the last word should go to feedback from attendees. Taking time out to travel to Mumbai and engage with others in the industry was a challenge at a time of global financial uncertainty, was a frequent comment, but also a necessary part of planning for the future. 

"This AMS conference perfectly showcased world-class cutting edge technologies," was the verdict of Nitin Rajurkar, Technical General Manager at Tata Motors. Summed up Milind Wadke of Mahindra & Mahindra: "Very good networking of manufacturers & users of new technology & systems. Makes you think differently."

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