The Nikon brand is known globally for its cameras, but it must be noted that the company has also been developing optical techniques for capturing information of very fine details at high resolution. The Nikon Industrial Metrology business is growing, with strong growth in the automotive sector. In line with this, the company recently inaugurated its second Instruments Business Technical Centre in India, in Bangalore.
During the inauguration, we spoke with Masao Nakajima, Senior Vice President, General Manager, Industrial Metrology Business Unit, Nikon Corporation, and Manu Sharma, General Manager, Instruments Business Unit – Technical Support, Nikon India Pvt Ltd.
Nakajima has experience of over 30 years in the semiconductor exposure tool business of Nikon, where he was in charge of design, quality assurance and production. He currently heads the Industrial Metrology Business Unit, including 2D, 3D measuring, X-ray inspection and Semiconductor inspection system. Nakajima holds a Bachelors degree in electronics engineering from KEIO University, Japan. Sharma has completed his Master of Technology in Electronics Engineering from the University Of Delhi. He has experience in business development of start-up technology businesses for over 20 years, having worked in Metrology, System Integration and Acoustic Design. In his present role, Sharma has been supporting management and development of Instruments Business activities in India for Nikon.
ATR _ Could you give us a background on Nikon’s history in the area of industrial metrology? How big is the Industrial Metrology Business Unit (IMBU) for Nikon?
Manu Sharma (MS) _ Measurement for Nikon is not new, and has been a part of the business since its inception in 1917, especially in the area of microscopes. In 1938, the industry saw its first Optical Comparator (commonly called Profile Projector) being implemented for quality assessment of fine details in small mechanical parts used in automotive manufacturing. In terms of the size of the Nikon Instruments global business, the company forecasts to achieve annual business of about $ 725 mn by the end of the on-going financial year.
What percentage of business under the IMBU comes from the automotive sector? How do you see the segment growing in future for the company?
MS _ While the concrete ratio of business on a global level cannot be disclosed, in India the automotive sector contributes to 35-40 % of the total business. Additionally, the demand and expectation to Nikon products from the automotive sector is increasing, and to meet them the company is continuing to strengthen its metrology business and making meaningful investments. The company is making conscious efforts to be involved in product development that is more aligned to the challenges that the automotive manufacturing industries face in India today. These challenges include higher efficiency, lower weight and sustainable manufacturing.
Within the past few years, we have opened Technology Centres in major automotive markets like Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and China, and have great expectations for this Bangalore Technology Centre too. We will make all necessary efforts for customers, and hope Nikon contributes to the development of industry in India as well.
Masao Nakajima (MN) _ Growth for the business from the automotive sector is experienced due to the strong demand in the countermeasure of global warming through stringent emission controls. Our automotive customers are interested in many of our technologies, mostly because they are non-contact and non-destructive measurement methods. While conventional measurement, especially of castings, used to require the entire component being cut and destroyed. Nikon uses 3D optic features such as taking data through light and measuring material internals through X-ray. Companies are seeking strong control of emissions and making the automotive body lighter, and there is growing motivation for them to move to solutions from Nikon. We expect the contribution from the automotive industry for Nikon to increase to over 50 % in the future.
Please tell us about the most recently-developed technologies in the area of metrology?
MS _ Nikon is focussed on developing systems that are non-contact, help in productivity gains and allow to retain the efficiency and accuracy of measurement. Of late we have introduced non-contact, programmable automated laser scanning systems for the automotive sector. These systems use laser radar, as well as high-resolution scanners and Micro CT (Computed Tomography) to effectively complement the trends of continuous manufacturing concepts. We have also extended non-contact sensors on robots and non-destructive testing with high resolution. This non-destructive testing is especially favourable in ensuring vehicle safety by helping in the detection of very small defects and correcting the components.
What are the typical use cases of Nikons measurement tools in the automotive ecosystem?
MN _ The automotive industry is one that has been very mechanical in nature, even with regards to the measurement technologies, relying mostly on contact measurement techniques. But over time, the industry has gained awareness of the advantages of optical technologies of measurement that use X-ray and laser scanning technologies. These optical measurements can be put into use in digital simulation, in the development of components and products, to address challenges like weight reduction and thereby efficiency.
MS _ Other uses include inspection of car body, engine and other critical, micro-mechanical assemblies, as well as automotive electronic parts important for vehicle safety. Nikon’s solutions also help in crash testing and in testing the quality assurance of various parts and sub-assemblies. Manufacturers have gained significantly in productivity using Nikon high resolution non-contact laser scanners with improved cycle time. They also continue to explore frontiers using data for simulations and future designs.
Could you tell us about some of the automotive trends that have led to higher adoption of technologies like metrology for the development of components and products?
MS _ The global trends that any automotive manufacturer would like to address today are those of weight reduction and enhancing vehicle performance. Weight reduction means using lighter materials with the same level of rigidity and stiffness as the previously-used material, so that strength and safety of the vehicle remains unchanged. Now that the structure is lighter, the shape of the components plays a critical role in enhancing vehicle dynamics. This is where laser scanning is helpful, in the sense that it allows the assessment of free-formed surfaces quickly, with a very high degree of accuracy.
Technologies aligned to non-contact measurements and non-destructive testing have been rapidly adopted and acknowledged for ensuring weight reduction of cars, while ensuring strength for vehicle safety.
What are some of the upcoming metrology technologies? What stages of development are they in for Nikon?
MS _ The trends in India are in close semblance to those of global trends, in terms of what the automotive industries require, and therefore their requirements for metrological technologies are also similar. The main requirement from customers is for automation, and faster measurement with high accuracy. Nikon is looking at developing products that help a manufacturer achieve process optimisation. It is not always necessary to bring in a completely new system; we can also try improving a customer’s existing system. An example of this is in adopting laser scanners in to existing devices of automotive customers.
Our motivation is to enhance the productivity of the industry, be it with completely new systems or by bringing in improvisations to existing technologies. Automated non-contact metrology inspection systems, adaptive systems and non-destructive testing technologies have been proved, and are being used by early adopters for new-generation flagship automobiles. To ensure structural integrity of materials used in building lightweight cars, optical non-destructive micro focus CT systems are making strong contributions by detecting invisible defects in casting and sheet metal parts.
The automotive industry in India has improved the quality of components and products, especially relating to the use of various technologies during the development phase. What is your view on this?
MS _ There has been a shift in the thinking of automotive manufacturers in India, since they no longer manufacture products exclusively for the domestic market. Following global trends and considering the availability of resources at hand in India, manufacturers have started to believe in creating products for global markets, in India. Leading two- and four-wheeler Indian automakers have laid out clear expansion plans with an eye on product development and manufacturing for export markets. Additionally, these companies are also setting up technology centres and are focussing on R&D.
What will be the main roles and responsibilities of the Nikon Bangalore Technical Centre?
MN _ The most important focus of the Bangalore Technical Centre is to give clear solutions to customers. It is important to develop and provide these solutions quickly, and being close to these customers is essential. This centre will work with customers across various automotive segments, as well as with automotive ancillaries around the southern part of India.
MS _ The new Technical Centre in Bangalore will carry out activities including product demonstrations, sample evaluation and conduct product training for customers. It will also work along with customers and distributors to identify new application areas of its solutions and extend support to small manufacturers by offering measurement trials. This technical centre is the second of its kind in India, apart from the other one in Gurgaon and is aimed at targeting customers from the region.
The Bangalore Technical Centre will carry out product design initiatives by new, young entrepreneurs and engineers, as a part of the skill development program introduced by Government of India.This is to intensively support the growing manufacturing activities in our areas of focus in industries like automotive, electronics and healthcare.
What can you tell us about the future roadmap of Nikon in India?
MS _ We would like to extend our footprint of customer support services to key industrial clusters in India, with a clear focus on customer satisfaction. We have made a beginning with Bangalore in southern India, and with the growing significance of the western region are considering it as a distinct possibility for the future.
TEXT: Naveen Arul
PHOTO: Nikon India