Machine tools serve as the backbone of various processes in the manufacturing of critical components for various industries. The automotive industry (OEMs and suppliers) extensively uses such machines for production of precision components that make up the pieces for larger products or modules. Bharat Fritz Werner Ltd (BFW) has been operating in machine tool-building space for over half a century. Auto Tech Review met up with
Ravi Raghavan, Managing Director, Bharat Fritz Werner Ltd, to understand its journey in this automotive ancillary business, its manufacturing prowess, unique offerings and steps taken to stay relevant in the market.
Established in 1961, BFW began producing milling machines through a technical collaboration with Fritz Werner Werkzeugmaschinen GmBH of Germany. Subsequently, the Indian company bought out the shares of its German counterpart, turning it into a standalone company. Today, BFW is by far the largest supplier of various types of machines for automotive OEMs in India, of which a number of companies use BFW’s machines as line products, Raghavan said. The company has also built a fairly large customer base among Tier I and Tier II suppliers. Automotive, in fact, is the company’s largest customer base, Raghavan said.
Addressing OEM needs would generally include providing a large line of machines after constant collaboration on the requirements, which makes this more of a project management scenario, noted Raghavan. In the case of suppliers, they would set requirements to which the machines will need to be built, he added. Around 35 % of the company’s business comes directly from the automotive sector, but a few companies that use these machines also supply components to other industries. The automotive industry is the most demanding one for machine tools, in terms of requirements for accuracy, as well as the cost efficiency per piece produced. The company aims to contribute substantially to enhance the profit of its customers, Raghavan observed.
BFW builds machines for both turning and milling functions, with its portfolio encompassing Vertical Machining Centres, Horizontal Machining Centres, Multitasking Machines, Knee-Type Milling Machines, Horizontal Turning Centres, Vertical Lathes, and Special Purpose Machines (SPM). BFW has the largest portfolio of milling and turning machines, which also enables it to provide line solutions for its customers, claimed Raghavan.
The milling machine platform has been BFW’s strength. It is also the largest player in SPM, both in India and globally, noted Raghavan. Machines that provide with turning functions are the newest in the company’s product line-up, which it entered into three years ago. This product group has been performing well for BFW and has been doubling every year since inception. This year, BFW is hopeful about achieving three times the growth of the previous year.
The company employs a total of about 1,100 people, and operates two facilities in Bengaluru and Hosur. The Bengaluru plant, which is the company’s original facility, takes care of the final assembly of machines, along with the machining of critical components. Meanwhile, the Hosur facility houses BFW’s foundry that provides around 30 % of the required castings. The company is also constructing a machine shop in Hosur that will help enhance its overall production capacity.
BFW has over 180 designers working at its Bengaluru location, who are considered to be part of the shopfloor, as they are actually seated in office premises above the manufacturing operations. The company’s designers also spend a lot of time on the production floor focusing on how certain elements of design can contribute to improvements in the manufacturing process.
BFW also operates its own R&D Centre in Bengaluru, where it carries out applied R&D. The developments carried out at this R&D centre have not yet hit the markets in terms of products, but will be rolled out later this year, noted Raghavan. From a manpower perspective, BFW employs doctorates, post-graduates and engineers from premier colleges, and includes persons with experience of about 40 years, down to freshers in their first job, Raghavan said.
BFW has recently adopted a platform-based product designing model, which is different from the manner in which development has been taking place. This is similar to the concept in which automotive companies develop their new product models. Although the number of models offered by the company is high, the platforms that they are based on are very few. This has helped the company in commonising various components, scaling up production, managing sales & service as well as quickly passing on production information to new employees.
The company also operates two technical centres at Kolhapur and Ahmedabad and has drawn up plans to launch three more by 2018-end. These are centres where the company’s machines are showcased to customers, Raghavan said. The technical centres carry out training, application prove-out and demonstration of new products and features.
A unique feature of BFW’s manufacturing process is the way in which the shopfloor has been organised for production of various critical sub-systems of machines. The company has divided the manufacturing of each of these critical components into separate sections called Excellence Centres. Currently it has four excellence centres, for structures (mechanical), spindles, electrical & controls, and fluidics (hydraulics and pneumatics).
Raghavan said each of these excellence centres need to be self-dependant, but also work together to bring out the highest level of machine building to the table. In addition, these excellence centres also follow lean manufacturing practices for efficient production. Each of these divisions look into factors like changes required in design to enable accurate and quicker manufacturing as well as best practices for high-quality manufacturing, he explained.
BFW BENGALURU PLANT
The BFW manufacturing plant in Bengaluru is spread over an area of 19 acre, with the factory operating in three shifts. The company has initiated measures to address space utilisation and optimum utilisation of assets on the production floor. These steps have enabled the company to free up about 30-40 % more space on the plant floor, which can be utilised for further expansion. In addition, the amount of time taken to build machines has also reduced drastically due to the improved efficiency of space and assets. In terms of sustainability, the plant uses solar power, which provides about half of the factory’s power requirements.
The plant had a total production capacity of 2,500 machines per year in 2017, with the capacity to increase it to 4,000 machines a year this year, noted Raghavan. The company’s product portfolio extends from milling machines that is probably the smallest in India with sub-1 metre frontage, right up to 6-metre long machines – all of them are manufactured at this facility. BFW has also built machines with automation, which have helped customers augment their production efficiency, observed Raghavan. BFW’s exports are around 5 % of the total sales, and with domestic sales growing well, this number might shrink further, he said.
The manufacturing facility is separated into hangars that manufacture various sub-systems. The hangars are separated into building structures, spindles, small turning machines, special turning machines, milling machines and assembly. Depending on the size of the machine, it can take anywhere from two full days to about eight weeks to completely manufacture a machine, Raghavan said.
Once the components are supplied to the assembly area from the various excellence centres, the process takes seven stages to complete assembly. The first stage begins with the assembly of cabling and other basic components onto the structure of the machine. This is followed by the installation of the electric box, which connects the electrical and electronic aspects of the machine. The third stage is where all the hydraulics and pneumatics for the machine are installed, after which the telescopic tools are fixed. Overall inspection of geometry and other estimates make up the fifth stage of assembly, with the sixth step being made up by the final functional test of the machine. The last stage of assembly involves dismantling and packing of the machine for final shipping to the customer location.
DIGITALISATION, FUTURE PLAN
Digitalisation is one of the biggest drivers for the company. Raghavan said the machines produced by BFW are smart with a number of connected technologies built into them, and the manufacturing process is also becoming connected, in terms of data being collected and analysed, leading to a smarter shopfloor. He noted that the upcoming plant at the Hosur facility will be a smart factory in line with this digitalisation route. The entire digitalisation of BFW revolves around its Internet of Things (IoT) product, which is called IRIS (Intelligent, Reliable, Innovative, Seamless), which was completely developed in-house.
From the point of view of a machine, IRIS will cover the entire asset lifecycle from the stage of being built, to its presence in the customer environment, and also extending to service and maintenance. It will provide information on components used, testing carried out, traceability, predictive maintenance and other key machine-related data. All these information is maintained securely in a cloud environment, with ready accessibility to customers, Raghavan noted. He said that this facet of digitalisation by BFW partly contributes to the overall concept of Industry 4.0, by making manufacturing smarter and connected, backed by high data availability.
BFW is looking at injecting investments in the future, with focus on three areas. The first area of investment would be in setting up more mother machines to enable better machine building, followed by R&D investments. The third area of investment would be into enhancing the capacity of the company’s foundry. BFW is also mulling setting up a new manufacturing facility in the future, in order to address the growing market demands.
With regards to collaborations, Raghavan said that BFW is looking at carrying out technical collaborations with industry partners on specific platform development. While the company has made acquisitions and carried out joint-development work in the past, it is currently not in any such ventures. Another important factor of BFW, which it considers as a strength is in the manner in which it is creating import substitution for certain machines that have been largely imported into the country. This focus was enhanced by the government’s Make in India initiative, he concluded.
TEXT: Naveen Arul
PHOTO: Naveen Arul/BFW