Confidence in the future

Indian car-makers are confronting a challenging market with optimism for the future, looking to further develop production efficiencies through innovation and improved supplier collaborations

The automotive industry is facing nothing less than “iconic change”, according to Robert Frittrang, managing director of BMW Chennai, who gave the opening presentation at the sixth AMS India Conference. He said that the “external factors” of legislation, especially CO2 emissions regulation, and changing customer expectations are pushing vehicle manufacturers towards more sustainable production.

For BMW, this takes the shape of a dual strategy: the “evolutionary” improvement of its conventional cars and the “revolutionary” development of alternative drivetrains. The latter is epitomised by the new BMWi sub-brand, consisting of the all-electric i3 and the sports hybrid i8. The “holistic” BMWi concept, as Frittrang described it, covers the whole production chain and involves the removal of standard press shop and paintshop stages (see Nov-Dec issue for details). The idea was to use lightweight parts made of aluminium and carbon fibre, and to complete assembly using cold joining technology. Frittrang said these changes, plus the introduction of wind turbines at Leipzig, have resulted in an energy saving of 50%.

Responding to a question from Nick Holt, editor of AMS, about whether these energy-saving measures have been transferred to other models, Frittrang said the BMWi processes are not used in mainstream production but that carbon fibre will be introduced to volume cars in the future, including the 7 series. He agreed that serial production processes would need to be adapted as a consequence.

William Sarver, senior consultant, global automotive accounts at Rockwell Automotive, asked what plans BMW has to tackle costs and capacity restraints. Frittrang noted that the main cost lies in the materials used and that minimising waste is one of the OEM’s “main targets” to drive cost down, taking this principle right back to component design.

Frittrang also gave an update on BMW’s production figures in India, where the company provides 7-8,000 of the 40,000-strong luxury car market; the Chennai plant produces 97% of all BMWs in India. Frittrang said it “looks like” this volume will continue next year.

Lightweight production in India

Shrikant Marathe, director of the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI), which has extensive testing facilities in Pune, also discussed vehicle lightweighting and the implications for production, where “one of the biggest questions” is how to join such components. Marathe named the key challenges as the optimisation of the production process, the availability of materials in India, repair processes and safety.

Marathe talked in detail about the types of materials which can be used for lightweighting and the advantages they offer, concluding that despite the challenges lightweighting is “beneficial and essential”.

The final speaker in the opening session, Rajesh Nath, managing director of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) of India provided a comprehensive overview of the country’s automotive industry. It became clear that over the past two years India has been relying on its traditional staple of two-wheeler production, which has increased by 18% and dragged total growth up to 12.5%. The passenger car segment declined by 3.9%, while commercial vehicles (CVs) dropped by 19.8%.

Nath also reviewed the robotics and machine tool industries which depend on business from automotive. Looking to the future, he painted a positive picture for both, saying there will be “substantial” potential for robot supply in India.

In-plant logistics was the focus of the presentation from Shailesh Kathed, head of car supply chain management at Fiat India, who gave examples of optimised systems at the Ranjangaon plant which was the scene of this year’s AMS India tour. The facility has a capacity of 200,000 vehicles a year (although volume is now significantly down due to low demand) and handles 486 variants, plus 44 engine and transmission types and over 10 export machining parts. The considerable product complexity at Ranjangaon requires sophisticated internal logistics as well as collaboration with external 3PL and 4PL providers. Kathed also emphasised the importance of IT to assist integration throughout the supply chain.

Kathed discussed the plant’s electronic call-up system to link warehousing and production, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), pick to light for error proofing on a mixed line, auto loading and unloading and sequential supplies. Kathed added that the AGVs (seen in operation during the tour) were designed, developed and manufactured in-house to achieve additional cost savings. Responding to a question from the floor, Kathed confirmed that the use of AGVs is set to expand, with trials currently ongoing for bulky components.

Bumps in the road

Pankaj Munjal, managing director of Hero Motors, gave a potted history of one of India’s most famous brands and highlighted the values which have made it such a success story: trust, service and focus. He said it was these principles rather than factors such as turnover which led Honda to select Hero as its joint venture (JV) partner in 1981, helping to propel Hero from being a “very small” company to one which now churns out 40,000 products every day.

The automotive industry is facing nothing less than “iconic change”, according to BMW’s Robert Frittrang

Munjal ended by issuing a rallying cry for Indian manufacturing, asking why the country is lagging behind competitors such as China: “What is not making us tick at that speed?”. Munjal laid the blame on political obstacles and a cultural fear of comparison. He pointed out that, despite national economic progress over the past few decades, a considerable proportion of India’s vast population remains untapped by the automotive industry. India, he said, is “standing at a huge opportunity”.

Sudheesh Vasudevan, purchase manager at Jaguar Land Rover India, opened the final session by referring to an earlier remark by conference chairman Simon Duval Smith about metaphorical “bumps in the road” in India. He said that setbacks can “actually help you to take a breath and realign yourself to the current situation”.

Vasudevan mixed positive statements about Indian automotive production with several criticisms, such as a culture of denial among suppliers, who will not admit to a client that something is not possible. Sensibly, he said Western OEMs would prefer “a realistic picture”. In Vasudevan’s opinion, suppliers in India are “not that mature” and the country’s automotive industry is too “OEM-driven”. One of his key messages for supplying to foreign OEMs is that “ownership and responsibility has to be taken by the suppliers”. Vasudevan ended with a vote of confidence: “Any OEM can be supplied from India”.

Rajiv Bajaj, principal at Roland Berger Consultants, gave a comprehensive overview of the current state of India’s automotive industry, in the context of ongoing “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). He said that although the global light vehicle industry has rebounded “much better than expected” after the economic downturn, 2013 has been “a difficult year for India” – although he added that “nobody believes the long-term story is negated”.

Passenger vehicle (PV) sales, he said, “took the brunt” of inflation, a lack of job creation and other factors, dropping 5% from April to November this year – although a “revival” is expected after the upcoming election. The CV segment is also expected to improve once the economy “rekindles”. India’s “silver lining”, as Bajaj called the two-wheeler segment, continues to grow. Bajaj also noted that there has been “fantastic growth in the supply space”, which has run at 15.7% over the last few years. Yet he warned that, for Indian suppliers accustomed to outperforming the global competition, the cost-base gap is “narrowing”.

Indeed, Bajaj noted that competition is “emerging everywhere”, citing China as a key rival. Nonetheless, he said India is “well placed” to enjoy the growth of many developing countries, especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In addition to growing competition arising from globalisation, Bajaj listed the biggest challenges as technology changes, legislation and heightened risk perception among suppliers. He said automotive companies must ensure that they have the agility to deal flexibly with change.

The next speaker, Pranab Ghosh, assistant general manager at Tata Motors, gave an extensive assessment of risks in automotive production, together with their likely impacts.

India’s potential

Vinay Patil, deputy general manager (manufacturing operations) at General Motors (GM), championed India as a player in the automotive industry, like Munjal and Vasudevan before him, saying that the country has “unique skill sets” which put it “in a good position vis-à-vis many countries”. He cited the availability of skilled manpower, saying Indian personnel are “as good as any worker in the world”, and praised a government apprenticeship scheme. He believes that the trained manpower enables India to “deal with a low level of automation”.

Patil also said that Indian companies are moving towards quality manufacturing rather than just low-cost production (which might perhaps offset the narrowing cost advantage mentioned by Bajaj). Contradicting Vasudevan somewhat, Patil argued that Indian suppliers are growing more mature “day-by-day”, getting better at issue reporting and no longer “going into denial”. He called for India’s many competent gear manufacturers to make the most of their capabilities and challenge Korea by moving into transmission production. Echoing the confidence of many speakers at AMS India, Patil concluded by saying that “Indian manufacturers, Indian OEMs and Indian suppliers can do wonders”.

Technical sessions

Hero is investing in new production technologies to achieve higher quality and consistency, according to Mahesh Kaikini

Two & three wheelers: room for development?

‘’A company speeding production through technology and establishing benchmarks for production.” These were the opening comments from Mahesh Kaikini describing Hero Motors. Like a number of the Indian two-wheel manufacturers, Hero is investing in new production technologies to achieve higher quality and consistency in volume production but Kaikini noted that any new technologies “had to make business sense”. He gave examples of a new gear rolling process which had improved the quality and consistency of the transmission process, and also how the assembly line synchronization had been greatly improved by better in-plant logistics. Another example of improving efficiencies was the move from using a two-piece fuel tank blank to a single piece blank. This had helped to optimise the process and reduce waste and energy consumption.

Umesh Kini, of Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions, discussed the need for a standardised form of data exchange that would allow OEMs and their suppliers to communicate more effectively. He explained that at present data was generated from disparate sources and that Bosch has developed an engineering data management system with the aim of creating a standardised data exchange format to encourage greater collaboration between OEMs and suppliers.


Corrosion was the subject of a joint presentation from Angsuman Sharma and Ayushee Mallick of Volkswagen India. Sharma spoke of the possible use of alternative materials and how, while more costly in the supply and production phase, when viewed over the lifecycle of the vehicle, made a good economic case. Mallick showed some specific solutions employed by her body shop, and the paintshop, including electroplated sections, sophisticated flange and joint sealing, and automated and manual wax injection of box sections and door interiors.

Michael Berger, managing director of paintshop providers Dürr spoke on paintshop innovation under the title of ‘The Next Generation of Sustainable Process Implementation’. He said Dürr has found that global demand for paintshop installations is generally very healthy, in spite of localised slowdowns in demand for vehicles. Berger showed a comparison study, made with BASF, into the relative costs and environmental impacts of solvent-borne process, high-solids solvent-borne, and the increasingly fashionable water-borne system. The study showed that with the latest VOC controls and scrubbers, the high-solids, integrated solvent-borne process is the most sustainable. He talked of Dürr’s ECO+ paintshop system and how the company was aiming for a 50% reduction in energy usage over the next development cycle of paintshops, and how its benchmark figure is 390 KW/h per vehicle.

Markus Hachmöller of Eisenmann showcased his company’s E-CUBE system. He talked of flow rates of up to 9000 m3/hour for each E-CUBE unit and showed examples of his company’s projects at BMW Leipzig and at Volkswagen, comparing 5A paint process using a 2K clearcoat, to an Integrated Paint Process with 1K basecoat and 2K clearcoat.

Norio Nakanishi of Taikisha presented an exciting development in electrostatic paint systems, with a revolutionary method of painting plastics without using a conductive primer coat. This system uses no ‘corona pin’ in the spray head but charges the paint further back in the gun head, giving fewer free ions and exploiting the vortex effect to ‘wrap’ the low resistance paint around the object.

Driveline development

VW showed some specific solutions for paintshop, including electroplated sections, flange and join sealing, and automated and manual wax injection

Echoing a strong theme which emerged throughout the conference, Sathian Jayaraman of Hyundai Motor India said that innovation was key to enabling OEMs and suppliers in India to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the market. Jayaraman offered the example of the increase in volume for diesel transmissions but how certain operations, such as gear grinding, were not achieving full capacity. He said that they had looked closely at the process for a production solution to improve productivity. A change in the tooling provided a solution which resulted in less downtime while tooling was being exchanged. Senthilkumar Rathinam, from the Renault-Nissan Technology and Business Centre India, discussed the parallels between the reduction in engine capacity and introduction of energy recuperation systems to Formula One engines in recent years to the current trend for engine downsizing in the volume passenger car market. He pointed to the similarities in the objectives and technologies being used to achieve these goals: turbo charging, low-friction components, smart energy management and variable demand systems. As part of a joint presentation, Vikram Satunkhe from Accurate Gauging described a 3D measurement solution which included tailoring gauging to customers’ needs, and improved data management and integration (another common theme at the conference). Nayan Patel, operations manager at Renishaw, discussed the development from 3 to 5-axis measuring. Patel explained how this required minimal machine movement and so increased the accuracy of the measurement. He also said this would increase the speed of measurement and therefore increase throughput.


Dileep Naik of Tata Motors led the debate on pressing issues and listed the various challenges of cold and hot forming and spoke the importance of virtual modeling of the process, particularly to predict the variations in springback, with HSS and AHSS. Naik went on to detail Tata’s use of tailor welded blanks, focusing on their usage in door assemblies, and how they save weight and add strength.

AIDA’s Klaus Rothenhagen offered a study of a Jaguar Land Rover commission to develop a high speed servo press line to stamp both steel and aluminium panels, using speeds of 22 strokes per minute (SPM) and 18 SPM for aluminium, with a servo die cushion force of 500 kilonewtons, to achieve 70% energy efficiency. Rothenhagen pointed out how the new designs with their sharp convex creases demand more powerful presses with longer ‘hold down’ periods at the bottom of the pressing stroke, to allow material flow.

Gorka Ibañez of Basque press maker Fagor Arrasate showed his company’s FlexCell technology and its advantages, including the ‘concantenation’ of operations, and how the system can be fed from both a coil and from a flat sheet destacker, and of Fagor’s extensive use of CATIA and other simulation software to model interferences between pressing and transfer operations.

Dreher Automation’s Thomas Kern spoke of the modern trend of customers specifying on a ‘split line’ basis, buying equipment through separate contracts for press and transfer lines. Kern showed a press refurbishment concept undertaken by the company at Opel and the reconditioning of a 2,500 tonne transfer press and two slide presses at VW and how new automation enabled this line to go from 18 to 25 SPM for steel and up to 15 SPM for aluminium. Heinrich Weber of Dreistern gave a novel demonstration of roll formed components, with a lively talk and examples of the company’s roll formed products for the delegates to handle and examine in the conference room.

Heavyweight manufacturing

KUKA’s Frank Petrolli discussed the challenge of developing collaborative robot systems

Nirmal Babu Jagannathan of Ashok Leyland showed a number of examples of production improvements, including production monitoring and efficiency improvement through the use of RFID tags for cabs, spot weld gun automation and CO2 weld station replacement with spot weld and the use of weld gun simulation. He also presented an advanced solution for paintshop where wax application was automated to improve speed and quality.

Mahindra’s Prashant Harkare and Ajay Phadke talked of their use of Six Sigma methods of press set-up time optimisation. They showed a video of a 2,500 tonne press line from Schuler with offline die set-up, blank loading onto auto cart to go into press, fully automated cross bar handling with end of line conveyor, and manual handling into automated racking systems. Harkare stated that with so much automation in place, die changeover has become the most critical operation in the press line.

Material handling & automation

William Sarver of Rockwell Automation noted that the challenges facing the automotive manufacturers had become more complex

Discussing wireless solutions for production automation, Vivek Roy of Siemens described the development of improved bandwidth within plants and creating a wireless LAN network using K-coax cabling as the receiving/transmission medium. Roy offered an example of how this had been successfully used on a Mercedes-Benz production line with an unusual layout.

An interesting point raised by Frank Petrolli of KUKA Roboter was the increasing average age of the workforce in automotive manufacturing. He suggested this would require more automation to be used in assembly operations to assist the workers on the line and that KUKA is developing collaborative robots for this purpose. The challenge in this was ensuring the safety of the worker; Petrolli noted that this had still to be fully developed and that safety measures would be a high priority in the deployment of this technology.

André Hack of SICK also raised the challenge of further automation in assembly. Hack described the development of a flexible 2D-3D co-ordinate sensor system for complex operations such as laser welding and parts handling. He also discussed the use of sensors in dynamic production environments for creating safety systems for human/robot interface.


Bernard Negre of ABB presented the company’s new Body Shop generation with its FlexLean products. He showed the Gate Framer system and highlighted its rapid changeover time, flexibility (up to six models on one line) and its ability to reach 70 jobs per hours with the correct process optimistation.

KUKA Systems’ Amir Patil showcased the company’s new automated welding technologies, with a video of heavy truck chassis rear module group cell, utilising manual loading but fully automated complex CO2 welding. The robots in this application are all overhead mounted, thus freeing up floor space for rapidly changing model lines.

Andrey Andreev of Trumpf discussed laser technology, running a slide of a typical body-in-white, starting with tabs showing where laser welding could add value and speed production. Andreev then overlaid this diagram with hotformed part applications (another of Trumpf’s areas of expertise), showing where they can integrate with laser welded parts, and rounded it off with an illustration of where laser brazing can be used in the place of trim-covered conventional welds on roof ditches.

Production control, IT & energy management

Data from the shop floor is often delivered in isolation according to Dr Naveen Gautam from Hella India Automotive. He explained the benefits of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and how it could be used to optimise all the pieces of data to synthesize a solution for execution. Gautam discussed the need for real-time data transparency, and how this could help reduce the time-to-market and improve change management.

Pradeep Kumar commented that the demand for energy in India would increase four-fold by 2030. He said this required careful planning for new production facilities, not just in how they are built but also in how they are managed. Kumar noted that energy efficiency and management should be integrated into the design of any new facility. He described the creation of a smart energy distribution network that would be the ‘nervous system’ of the plant. The industry drivers today are the same as those of 10 years ago, said William Sarver of Rockwell Automation. He also noted that the challenges had become more complex. Issues with the supply chain called for the integration of information between OEMs and suppliers. Sarver observed that ‘point’ solutions wouldn’t solve the whole issue, that this required the development of a platform solution.

back to top

essay writers