VE Commercial Vehicles, the brand of the joint venture between Volvo Group (Volvo) and Eicher Motors Limited (EML) recently completed a decade of its existence in India. The company has gone from strength to strength in developing flagship products across domains and posted a 15 % CAGR over the last 10 years. Auto Tech Review was recently invited to VECV's Pithampur facility to witness its manufacturing excellence in developing advanced products.
Over the last decade, both Eicher and Volvo have been leveraging each other's strengths. While Eicher benefitted from its access to global technological advancements through Volvo, the Swedish CV maker leveraged the Indian CV maker’s frugal engineering strengths to turn India into a global hub for outsourcing medium duty engines for its international commitments, apart from establishing a base for sneaking into India's competitive bus and truck market. VECV today boasts of an extensive truck portfolio ranging from four tonne to 55 tonne GVW category. The company offers a wide range of products in the five to 16 tonne category, with a strong 30 % market share, while in the heavy duty segment it enjoys a 10 % market share. VECV's Pithampur facility till date has an annual installed capacity to roll out one lakh vehicles across three shifts that is equivalent to around 270 vehicles per day.
CAB TRIM LINE
The cabin trim line for trucks has a capacity to deliver around 250-260 cabins a day. The body in works (BIW) facility has three weld shops – two in the legacy range, including heavy duty and light duty products in the Pro 1000 and Pro 5000 series. A third line called the condour range manufactures cabins for Pro 3000 and Pro 6000 series. The condour range is managed by 22 robots sourced from Kuka Robotics for better consistency in welded cabin quality, whereas the LD range is operated more manually.
The cabin assembly kick-starts operations with underbody skeleton loaded on a structure to facilitate spot welding of front, rear and side beams to develop the cabin base. The base developed is subsequently transferred to the main line managed by robots, using grippers. This is followed by cabin roof welding and the door hemming process. The door has two parts – the inner and outer shells are joined together using the door hemming process, in which edges of outer shell are bent to make one complete door. The doors that are attached to the cabin make the shell ready for the paint job.
VECV’s paint job process is managed by eight control desks called the Supervisory Control and Data Analysis (SCADA) system. A cabin is passed through the entire process in 410 min. The installed capacity of the line is to roll out 12 cabins per hour to make up to 265 cabins in a day. However, the paint job line is currently operational in one and half shift to roll out 150 cabins.
The paint job line is 70 % automated, where the cabin shell is sent in by the BIW department. Certain areas that don't require paint job are locked in the very first step. Every cabin structure is passed through a pre-treatment process spread across 11 tanks. The engineers at the company have specifically developed the erodip process to ensure better paint is spread out on the cabin metal. The cabin is passed through various stages including hot water spray, knockout degreasing and deep degreasing to make it ready with zinc phosphate coating to avoid the cabin surface from getting rusted. The welded cabin is submerged upside down for three minutes each in a smaller tank filled with primer. According to the company, the erodip process reduces the operational costs of the pretreatment process by 50 % as the primer tank is smaller in size against the one used in the standard camel deck primer process. After every 100 tanks, the primer density is evaluated and replenishment of primer solution takes place as per VECV standards.
Cabin pre-treatment is followed by the Cathode Electro Deposition (CED) process that is spread across 13 stations. The system ensures ionisation of paint particles to spread out well on to the cabin surface and make it ready for top coat of paint as per the demand. Following ionisation, the cabin is washed and each structure is baked at 180 °C to make it more robust for better performance. The jigs and areas locked at the start of the paint procedure are unlocked, and areas where the top coat is not required, are marked in the next step. The cabin is subsequently forwarded to the sealing line, where polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material is used to seal the joints and under body areas and is transferred to the sanding booth to give rough abrasion to the primer coating post the sealing oven.
The sanding process is followed by the top coat painting booth, where colour is given to the cabin as per the RFID input. Electrostatic bells guns imported from Durr have been deployed to manage the paint job, as it ensures almost double the paint when compared to traditional paint spray guns. Electrostatic bell guns are designed to change colours in less than six seconds to save time on the conveyor belt. The painted cabin is subsequently baked at 140°C for the paint to settle down on the surface.
Various operations like cab trim roof lining and clutch deployment, instrument panel dashboard, ECU to control truck instrument panel, telematics, steering column, windshield and seats are fitted to make it ready for the final assembly line.
The truck assembly section at VECV Pithampur is divided into three lines – heavy duty (HD) chassis lines, HD cab trim line and one line for light and medium duty trucks (LMD). HD lines undertake the assembly for 16 tonne and above portfolio. The first line rolls out Pro 5000, Pro 6000 13.16, 13.25, 20.16, 40.35 and 40.40 trucks, whereas the second HD line supports the same portfolio with the scheduled addition of the Pro 8000 series soon. The LMD line at the plant is designed to roll out Pro 1000 and Pro 3000 series along with 11.10 and 11.14 trucks. The LMD chassis is built upright using the chassis assembly parts like suspension, air tanks, axles, etc, whereas the HD line initiates operations with inverted chassis as it helps facilitate easier assembly of aggregates that are heavier in weight and bigger in size.
During the heavy duty chassis line assembly operations, all necessary aggregates are fed into the chassis assembly lines at regular intervals. The work on chassis begins with the bolting of the long and short cross members across the chassis. This is followed by oil and air flow piping along with the air tanks that control the air flow during braking operations. Subsequently, as the chassis rolls down the line as per the requisite takt time, various operations like rear axles fitment, front axle fitment and leaf spring dropping are followed in a sequence along with propeller shafts that are used to transfer the engine power to the entire truck. At the end of the line, the chassis is turned upright with turn out device (band hoist) and transferred on to the main line.
The main line introduces parts of the drivetrain like engine, radiator, exhaust and fuel tank. Bar code scanning of each and every part remains a crucial part of the assembly line as various models are rolled out from the same conveyor belt. As the chassis is equipped with electricals and electronics, both cabin and cowls are lowered on to the chassis and carefully attached, as both are rolled out of the same assembly line as per the requirements. The final assembly includes fluid filling stations and testing stations at the end with last two stations being wheel alignment and shower test.
VECV has registered a compounded annual growth rate of 18 % over the last decade and clocked a turnover of ` 10,200 cr in FY18. The JV has pumped in ` 3,500 cr till date and will augment it by a further ` 2,000 cr over the next three years to develop new capacities and expand its product portfolio. Subsequently, the manufacturing of engines will be scaled up from 50,000 to 75,000 units to cater to Volvo's global commitments. It has also earmarked Rs 400 cr for setting up a new greenfield facility in Madhya Pradesh.
The CV manufacturer aims to ramp up its capacity from the current one lakh units to 1.4 lakh units annually, and expects the new facility to go on stream in the next year and a half. The Pithampur facility achieved full capacity production in Q4 FY18 and has been striving to keep pace with growing demand. The Pithampur facility is also building capacities to develop cabins for Pro 8000 truck series that is currently being sourced from Thailand along with upcoming models for Pro series vehicles. Once the new facility kick-starts operations, the Pithampur facility will be rolling out medium and heavy duty vehicles only and the light duty vehicles will be sourced out of the upcoming new facility.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay