Diversified supplier of products, solutions and services within rolling bearings, seals, mechatronics, services and lubrication systems, SKF has had over nine decades of presence in the Indian market. From being a ball bearing manufacturer in the early years, the company has developed into a solutions provider with keen focus on knowledge-driven engineering. In a recent telephonic conversation, Ulrich Selig, Director, SKF Automotive, Asia talked about how SKF is increasingly looking at helping manufacturers make their products more efficient.
Towards that, a significant new product that the company has introduced recently is a low-friction and lightweight hub unit for wheel-end application in passenger cars. A Mcpherson suspension bearing unit, which was developed with various specifications for cars having global platforms, is another new product in the passenger car segment. Similarly, a hub unit was also introduced for trucks. This truck hub unit is claimed to serve for the lifetime of the truck, without requiring any repair or dismantling during its entire lifecycle. The main advantage of this unit is that it contributes in cutting the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the truck.
Also introduced in recent times is a pinion bearing unit for the rear axle in truck and tractor applications. This product eliminates the process of measurement required for the pinion bearing arrangement. Selig said this unit was developed following a customer request for a product that could reduce the time required for the measurement process.
Although mechatronics is an important part of SKF's product portfolio, Selig is aware of its small presence in the Indian automotive industry. A start-stop solution developed by the company too has not been introduced in the Indian market yet. Then there are sub-assembly modules that the company is supplying to customers in the truck segment in China, and are being considered for the Indian market as well. However, Selig confirmed, manufacturing of these sub-assemblies have not been done in India as yet, since the market does not demand such products.
SKF Automotive also provides similar solutions in the passenger car segment, as in the case of complete wheel-end products being integrated into such modules. These sub-systems are currently being supplied outside India, and a few projects are being worked upon by SKF for undisclosed Indian clients.
Beyond products, the company is not looking at exploring new materials in the automotive space. Selig said development of new materials is an expensive proposition, and is a deterrent in the auto sector. Current development focus is towards increased performance and reduced friction from existing materials. In fact, Selig said the vision for SKF Automotive in India rests on three key performance methodologies – innovating products locally for domestic and global markets, developing products for fuel efficiency and reduced emissions, and finally development for the reduction of TCO.
SKF had set-up one among its four global technical centres in Bangalore in 2011. The 200 engineers at the centre work on two principles – local innovation for the local market, and local innovation for the global market – and develop products for the automotive and industrial segments. The tech centre in Bangalore has been supporting in the development of suspension bearings for passenger cars, whose specifications can be altered for use in vehicles in India, Korea and the US. In addition, developments related to fuel efficiency and control of emissions is also undertaken at the centre.
The complete value chain of application engineering, research, development, product engineering, testing and manufacturing is done in India, Selig said. The tech centre also undertakes research in material analysis, he said.
The slowdown experienced in the Indian automotive industry did not affect SKF much, mainly due to the company's focus on exports, as well as its diversification into various new industries. Additionally, Selig said that SKF has a level of flexibility in its manufacturing set-up that enables the reduction of production cost, as demand falls.
Text: Naveen Arul