The Indian forging industry is considered to be a very big part of the manufacturing sector in India, with a large contribution to the automotive industry, and Bill Forge is one of the prominent names in the sector. In a recent interaction, K Hari, Director, Bill Forge Pvt Ltd, told us about the importance of updating machinery, the company's diverse forging activities and its plans of manufacturing outside India.
EXTENSIVE FORGING OPERATIONS
Bill Forge undertakes activities of cold forging, warm forging and hot forging, as well as machining and other supporting activities. Hari credits Bill Forge as being one of the very few companies that carries out complex and diverse forging activities. Individual focus on each area of forging has made the company bring in the latest manufacturing techniques and machinery into each of these areas.
The forging part of the cold forming operations has a high level of automation, while the warm and hot forging operations have begun to receive investments. This is mainly due to the fact that volume of products demanded from warm and hot forging methods are only now starting to justify the need for automation, Hari said. Earlier, the volumes required from these processes would not have justified the return on investment, if automation processes had been employed.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Bill Forge makes components to print from the designs completely provided by customers, and hence sees no need for R&D in the design of products. The company undertakes R&D for the improvement of manufacturing methods, but does not have a separate facility for such activities. However, it has a dedicated engineering group that works on the development of its forging tools and dies.
The company does not have any technical tie-ups, and purchases metal forming technology from vendors as and when it is required. Earlier, the company used to outsource its simulation activities, but over the last two and half years has begun using forging-specific simulation software from French company Transvalor. Simulation is a vital part of the development activity at Bill Forge, Hari said.
Including all these components and machinery as inputs, the company invests between 2 % to 2.5 % of its annual revenues into R&D, it was noted.
The company has been approached by a number of component suppliers and OEMs to help localise and indigenise products. Hari informed us that the company has manufactured parts for manufacturers of electronic power steering (EPS) and fuel injection systems.
The forging industry in India has been seeing an increased trend of customers demanding for ready-to-fit components or sub-assemblies. With regards to this, Hari said talks were on with customers to make complete assemblies, but they haven't begun manufacturing any such sub-assemblies as yet. He added that most products from Bill Forge go as machined components that are ready to fit, and are not currently part of other sub-assemblies. However, the company believes that this trend will grow further, and may become the norm for the forging industry in the future.
EFFECTS OF SLOWDOWN
The company commenced operations in 1985, but the slowdown in the Indian economy in the past few years have affected its business, with growth percentages in single digits for FY12 and FY13. Although he did not divulge exact growth rates, these have been the lowest growth figures for the company in the last 10 years, Hari said. The company enjoys a healthy split of business between the two-wheeler and four-wheeler segments. The commercial vehicle segment contributes a very small and insignificant part of the company's revenue, and therefore has not affected the business in the last few years.
The current year, however, is expected to be extremely good for the company. It expects to grow by 25 % in the current year, mainly due to the export programmes that the company is looking to get into. The company is also looking to expand, by setting up a new manufacturing facility outside India, the location of which has not yet been finalised. About 60 % of Bill Forge's exports are to companies in Europe, the US and Mexico. Hari expects the new facility to be set-up in one of these countries.
Hari observed that the entire industry needs to leap forward in terms of technology and manufacturing methods, and needs to move away from being people-intensive. The industry is expected to see the consolidation of a few players and large investment in manufacturing methods and technologies due to customer demands, he added. That should help push demand for volumes upwards.
Text: Naveen Arul