In March this year, Rockman Industries, the 58-year-old auto components arm of the $ 6 bn Hero Group acquired a strategic stake in UK’s MCT Engineering through Moldex Composites. A specialist carbon composites manufacturer, MCT Engineering counts among its customers bigwigs like Jaguar Land Rover and other British & European brands for over 20 years. This was the Indian company’s second strategic investment in an advanced material manufacturer after it forayed into advanced composites in 2017 by picking up a majority stake in Moldex Composites, a British-Indian carbon-composites design and manufacturing company.
Auto Tech Review recently caught up with Suman Kant Munjal, Chairman, Rockman Industries (Above) and Ujjwal Kant Munjal, Managing Director, Rockman Industries (Below) to understand the company’s strategy for the future, especially with regards to materials and composites.
Demands for cleaner emissions as well as improved fuel efficiency have led manufacturers to invest heavily in research, development & innovation across product & technology areas. Lightweighting is one such area that has witnessed immense efforts from all stakeholders in the industry. To begin with, Rockman evaluated magnesium, titanium and other materials before narrowing down to carbon composites. Carbon composites are fairly mature in the aerospace industry, and have made inroads into sports car models. Rockman realised it would take a few decades for costs to come down, and the technology to be adopted by the mass market. That gave Rockman the confidence to invest in it. India‘s cost structure makes carbon composites an interesting value proposition for any customer and that‘s the intent with which Rockman has got into this business, said Suman Kant Munjal. The company wants to be at the forefront of carbon fibre technology as it further penetrates different sectors, including automotive. Carbon composites would constitute 10 % of the revenues over the next five years, he said.
THE MOLDEX FACTOR
An AS9100C certified company, Moldex Composites has a manufacturing facility in Surat, Gujarat to make composite components. It exports 99 % of its output across the world to premier racing series in North America and other marquee automotive and motorsports customers in UK and Europe. Until about two years back, Moldex was entirely focussed on motorsports – 70 % of its revenues were being made in 60-70 days. For the rest of the year, based on their capability, Moldex used to be a sort of prototype shop for a lot of new composite developments, as the company had capabilities to design with speed and cost effectively, even for as less as 10 units.
However, the company has been able to move more towards mainstream automobiles like super high-end vehicles of British and European origins. It was a difficult transition, but Ujjwal Kant Munjal said the company is gaining traction now. In fact, the two companies – MCT and Moldex – complement each other, While MCT offers cosmetic components and short production runs, Moldex brings enhanced capacity for longer production runs and experience in structural as well as cosmetic components. The partnership, Munjal said, is able to offer end-to-end solutions to their customers from detailed design, mould and patterns manufacturing to bespoke products, prototypes and short runs as well as volume production.
The collaboration between Rockman and Moldex goes deeper. While Moldex selects and designs the part and material, Rockman decides how they are to be used on what kind of wheels and patterns. MCT is now using engineers from Rockman to support its customers as well. For example, Moldex is helping the company elevate their discussions with Aston Martin for next generation of cars. “We are trying to become a one-stop-shop for all customers. MCT was happy at growth rate of 10-12% and we are now talking about 25% growth this year. We are trying to expedite how we can pull in business from them without risking on quality and productivity, said the junior Munjal.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Since the acquisition of Moldex, the company has doubled capacity of its plant. It is committed to stay invested in the new areas of technology to be ready for the next wave of growth. Munjal expects the carbon composites business itself to be around £ 12-13 mn this year. Rockman Industries is looking for partners overseas across automotive, motorsports and aerospace businesses in Europe, particularly Great Britain.
By investing in carbon composites technology today and building up relationship across Europe, Rockman Industries is ensuring it is in touch with the latest developments around materials. When the technology matures and becomes mainstream, the Munjals hope to be leading this space in the automotive world. On the domestic market, the company is looking beyond the automotive market as well - it has already received the AS 9100 certification for aerospace and is now liaising with carbon composites aerospace players around the world to create awareness about themselves.
While doing so, the company isn’t losing focus on its current core business. It continues to invest in its aluminium business. Wheels remain the company’s main focus product as on date, and the next phase of growth would see it moving from two-wheeler wheels to four-wheelers wheels.
TEXT: Deepangshu Dev Sarmah