Content of metal in modern automobiles has been reducing over time, mainly due to factors like lightweighting and development of new materials. But there are a few components, like engine and transmission parts, which will continue to use metal as the principle material. These components, and their sub-components need to be manufactured using precision tools and machines, and that is where companies like Ace Micromatic Group play a significant hand.
In a conversation with TK Ramesh, Chief Executive Officer, Micromatic Machine Tools Pvt Ltd, we learnt of the trends in the machine tool industry and its relevance in the automotive sector, among other topics. The machine tool industry and the automotive industry support and complement each other, and are two strong pillars of the manufacturing industry of a country.
Ace Micromatic accounts almost 70 % of its business, directly and indirectly, to automotive clients, with about 70 % of those customers being small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). The company mainly supplies to automotive component suppliers, with a miniscule presence in OEMs. Within automotive component manufacturers, the Tier II and Tier III companies form the crux of the company's customer base. The company mostly provides engineered solutions to Tier I companies, Ramesh noted, and within OEMs, only two-wheeler makers use some of Ace Micromatic's machines for the grinding and finishing of key components.
Some of the parts that are commonly manufactured using the company's machines include fuel injection components, powertrain components and transmission components. Some of these components are engine valves and rings, bearings, crankshaft, crank case, common rail, torque plate, piston, compressor housing and motorbike handle assembly.
NEW DEVELOPMENTS & RESEARCH
The company is working on new twin-spindle machines, which could be as compact as traditional machines having a single cutting tool and single part. The new twin-spindle machines would have two cutting tools and two parts that could double production capacity or halve production time. This is one significant area that the company is working on, noted Ramesh. It is also developing more intelligent machines, self-healing machines, and even machines that provide data for better future productivity. "We continue to work on automation, robotics and gantry systems, with cost-effective solutions. We're focussed on providing Indian solutions that work for Indian SMEs," Ramesh said.
Ace Micromatic invests about 2-3 % of its turnover in R&D, with a department for development at each factory. About 85 engineers across the R&D departments not only work on product development, but also on process development to make machines more effective and productive. The company credits 70 to 80 % of its development activities to be customer-driven.
Over 80 % of components on the machines are indigenous, with only the computer system, drive, ball screws and bearings being imported. In terms of value, the imported parts constitute almost 55 % of the total cost of the machines. The raw material for machines, iron, is sourced from domestic foundries as well as the company's own foundry.
EXPORTS, FUTURE PLANS
Exports contribute about 10 % to the company's total sales, and the aim is to increase this to 15 to 20 % in the mid-term. Machines are currently exported to China, Turkey, Germany, and other south-east Asian countries, and plans are afoot to enter markets like Russia and Brazil. Currently, China alone accounts for about half of the company's total export market.
Business from the automotive sector has been balanced, Ramesh mentioned. This year, the company is expecting to record a turnover of about ' 1,200 cr this year. Machines manufactured by Ace Micromatic are currently priced between ' 13 lakh to ' 70 lakh.
TRENDS IN THE MACHINE TOOL INDUSTRY
A major trend in the machine tool industry is towards machines that have better flexibility to produce various kinds of components. This is mainly being driven by the move of carmakers to manufacture many variants of each model, which requires components to be made in smaller batches with minimal design changes. Therefore, flexibility, reliability and speed of changeover of the machines, combined with lower costs are important features that need to be kept in mind while making machines.
Another requirement is that of manufacturing machines that are smarter, and need fewer, but more reliable manpower to operate them. The machine will have to be developed to carry out in-process measurements and need to be fool-proof. The future will also need machines with a higher level of automation for the reason of lack of manpower, or due to hazardous working conditions.
Ramesh also talked about a new method of manufacturing – the technology of additive manufacturing, like in the case of 3D printing. Under this method, only the required amount of material to build components would be used, making the process fast, flexible and cost-effective. Although this would take some time to catch on, it is definitely the way of the future, Ramesh said.
Text: Naveen Arul