Robust Design And Cost Efficiency Drive Market Requirements

Interview Hanon Climate Systems
Robust Design And Cost Efficiency Drive Market Requirements

Thermal management plays an important role in maintaining optimum temperature for critical auto components, which ensures longevity over a period of time. Hanon Climate Systems India Pvt Ltd has been providing energy management solutions to auto OEMs, for their powertrain requirements. Auto Tech Review recently met Amit Gupta (R), MD, HCSIPL, & Hanon Systems and Kunal Ahuja (L), Deputy MD, Hanon Climate Systems, to discuss the current need to meet emission norms and economy standards, urged by an ever-increasing demand for quality adherence.

Amit Gupta currently serves as the global opex (Operational Excellence) leader at Hanon Systems. He is responsible for development and deployment of operational excellence system aligned with enterprise vision. He also is the Managing Director of Hanon Systems’ two plants in Bhiwadi and Sanand. Amit has been with Hanon Systems since 1998 and has held several leadership positions in product development, quality, business development and program management, before taking over as Managing Director of Bhiwadi operations in 2008.

Kunal Ahuja is Deputy MD at Hanon Climate Systems and is responsible for leading plant vision and execute business performance to deliver bottom line. Kunal has been with Hanon Systems since 2008 and has held several leadership positions in product development, business development and program management, before assuming his current role for the Bhiwadi operations in 2014. Under his leadership, the Bhiwadi plant of Hanon undertook aggressive business expansion plans and won multiple awards and recognitions.

ATR _ Please brief us about Hanon India’s current operations and activities.

AMIT GUPTA (AG) _ Hanon’s Indian operations are primarily involved in the production of engine cooling modules, which involves radiators and tank shroud assembly, and air-to-air charge air coolers. We are yet to enter the water-type variety, but with BS VI norms coming up soon, we intend to enter this domain as well. We are currently under a policy, whereby we do not plan to add any further verticals, but focus primarily on expanding and improving existing expertise.

In terms of material requirements, aluminium remains the preferred raw material for the heat exchangers globally. It has been accepted as the most techno-commercially viable and optimal solution by the industry and I do not see any innovation happening there, in the near future, in terms of material usage. Controlled atmosphere brazing is the key technology for manufacturing aluminium heat exchangers.

In terms of localisation, there is some amount of import, as there are not enough suppliers in India. However, over the years, we have worked very hard on this and have reached a significant level of localisation. I think any player who does not focus on localisation will not able to compete in the Indian market.

We continue to work with our suppliers for further localisation. Suppliers are our partners and we have a dedicated team working with them. We have a dedicated supply base and we work with them very closely.

Over the years we have worked very hard to achieve significant levels of localisation

How do you see technology adoption for IC engine vehicles vis-à-vis EVs?

KUNAL AHUJA (KA) _ The electric mobility business has been quite upbeat globally in recent times and Hanon is a partner to leading manufacturers of electric vehicles for their component requirements. This puts us at an advantage for the Indian market, as we already have the technical know-how in place. We are at initial levels of discussions with potential customers in India and with market dynamics evolving, we are sure to generate substantial business in the future.

The domestic market today is significantly behind global markets, in terms of technology adoption and implementation. A lot of effort is required to understand the value chain involved in manufacturing e-vehicles, both for the OEMs and component makers. Globally, the scenario is quite different, as there are solutions already available in the market and efforts are underway to make these solutions affordable in the long run. There is a lot of technology adoption, which needs to take place.

Share your thoughts on Vision 2020 and its implications for electric mobility.

KA _ A lot of investments are required for this futuristic vision to materialise. This involves innovation in engineering capabilities, manufacturing technologies, and tier I and tier II suppliers coping with advancements across the value chain. From the thermal management perspective, BS VI will not require any significant change, but our challenge remains in terms of lightweighting and efficiency. We definitely need to be aware of special OEM preferences if any, but major disruptions are not foreseen.

Hanon tries to ensure that while we go ahead with our weight reduction and efficiency drive, the quality expectations are never compromised. The idea is to provide a cost effective solution, which adheres to global standards of weight management and efficiency. This is where our investments in R&D undertaken at both our Bhiwadi and Chennai plants are enabling us to adapt our global expertise and customise it for Indian requirements.

How do you see green mobility initiatives progressing in India?

AG _ BS VI is expected to be the final stage for IC engines. OEMs today are struggling to bring in innovations in IC-engine vehicles meeting BS VI norms. Given the fact that the government wants electric mobility solutions to kick start by 2030, the next decade would ideally be the time when most of the innovation and engineering breakthrough will take place. That’s the time technology will evolve in the country and OEMs will need to rethink their manufacturing strategy to come up with solutions, which will work well in the long term for us.

For electric vehicles to be successful, mere OEM efforts will not get the desired results. Having the right infrastructure in place, coupled with government efforts to incentivise the use of EVs is a must. A few Indian OEMs have been proactively engaged in manufacturing EVs, but fail to find a market in India due to the lack of infrastructure. As standalone vehicles, these cars have acceptable levels of quality, which merits them being exported. However, the issue of infrastructure will need to be addressed immediately, as only then will the dream of electric mobility materialise in the desired timeframe.

Another debate is whether electric vehicles are actually beneficial for the climate. Electricity generation today is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and many of the raw materials going into the manufacturing of EVs are also made from the same resource. Until this anomaly is addressed, it may be counterproductive and in the short run, IC engines might prove to be ‘greener.’

What are the best sustainable mobility options for India?

KA _ In the Indian context, hybrid vehicles make a better proposition compared to a pure EV module. The initial purchase and maintenance costs may be high, along with the infrastructural requirements, but the end result will always be path breaking – I believe it will be a better value proposition for customers. The entire ecological system will be better served through a hybrid, than an EV in a market like India, given the number of vehicles already plying on our roads.

The shift from IC-engine-powered vehicles to EVs may not be smooth. Many feeder industries will either shut down, or will need to restructure their operations in order to meet new product and policy norms. This will also be a cause of concern for the government, in terms of the job losses predicted, and policy formulations might consider going all-electric in the next 20 years, while the next 10 years see the development of hybrids as a rightful bridge between current technology and EVs.

We strive to provide cost-effective solutions, adhering to global weight management norms

Tell us more about your R&D initiatives.

AG _ Component lightweighting, energy efficiency and passenger comfort are the key drivers for all our current research initiatives. The ultimate aim of an efficient thermal management system is to ensure that not only the various elements within a vehicle have their temperature modulated, but the in-cabin experience for the passengers is also pleasing.

R&D centres located across our major international presence areas have been instrumental in identifying key concern areas and addressing those concerns in time. The findings at any given centre are taken up as case studies and serve as benchmarks for other markets as well. Over the years, lightweighting has been unanimously given the highest preference, as it directly impacts fuel economy.

The key to achieving an optimum balance between all our efforts is not to over-engineer any product category. While aluminium remains the backbone of all material development activities, a lot of plastics and plastic composites have found their way into our products. These not only help in keeping mass low, but also offer better moulding characteristics.

In the future we foresee the role of electronics increasing in our product categories. Currently we do not see this happening in a big way in our line of products, but it’s the system integration in the ancillary equipment market and connected car technology, which will see our products being more electronically integrated to a vehicle’s modular system. Globally, we have been investing significantly in mechatronics, as it’s the emerging trend for automakers.

In recent years, we have taken up the design-to-cost approach, as the Indian market is highly sensitive to cost factors. Our engineering team in India is strongly focussed on achieving our prescribed cost-quality ratio, and being well integrated into the global Hanon value chain, innovations are easier to implement. The best part for us is that the global R&D team now has high confidence in our R&D activities to allow us to lead various advancement projects, where they are in the supporting role. Many ideas proposed by our team have been carried forward in other emerging markets with similar market dynamics.

What are your key challenges and what is the way forward for the industry?

AG & KA _ The major challenge faced by component makers like us is with time, cars are becoming compact, and with it the need for better space utilisation has surfaced. While this is a good thing, OEMs want components to occupy lesser space within the vehicle. This requires the efficiency of parts to go up, without the parts getting heavier. Given the condition of many Indian roads, our products also need to be oblivious to harsh usage, which requires critical components like electrical units to be better capsuled.

Product robustness has always been our commitment to the OEMs and we strive to outperform our standards with every new product. This has resulted in OEMs showing more confidence in our capabilities. They provide us with the skeleton guidelines for their requirement and trust us to take care of the contingencies that occur during the [design and manufacturing] process. This also allows us to be better integrated within the product value chain.

OEMs today are keeping a strict watch on the products they certify. Product recalls are currently optional, but with the new motor vehicles act coming up soon, the recall policy should become clearer. This will require stakeholders like us to identify and address problem areas better, with the margin of error being minimal.

TEXT: Anwesy Koley

PHOTO: Vasu Anantha