From helping a Sea Harrier land on the INS Viraat to ensuring the braking and turn signals on a Honda Activa are visible to traffic – Mithabhi Lamps Pvt Ltd services a wide spectrum of lighting requirements, both for the Indian Air Force and the automotive industry. A home-grown company, with its base in Faridabad, Mithabhi relies on technology to offer innovative solutions to its customers. We recently visited the company to understand their story.
COMPANY BRIEF & PRODUCTS
Lighting, a critical safety aspect for automobiles is also an area, where many Indian suppliers have found global prominence. Multiple companies in India are today part of supply chains for lighting solutions on global platforms, owing to competitive cost and technical strength. One such company is Mithabhi Lamps, which started out as JS Lamp Industries for automotive bulbs.
The Faridabad plant, Mithabhi's older facility was commissioned in 1999, and presently manufactures bulbs for two-wheeler and defence applications. We also visited the new plant of the company in Palwal, Haryana, which will drive the company's financial and product growth in the coming years. Sumit M Sinha, Director, Mithabhi Lamps showed us through the Palwal shopfloor, and gave us insights into the company's growth story and technical roadmap.
The company currently supplies to aircrafts such as the Sea Harriers, Jaguar and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), while in the two-wheeler space, it supplies to Hero MotoCorp, Honda Motorcycle & Scooter India, Yamaha, Suzuki, Bajaj, TVS, Mahindra and Piaggio. Bulbs manufactured include all lighting applications on two-wheelers except headlamps, which the company has no immediate plans to make. Once the new plant goes fully operational by March 2016, the company will venture into the four-wheeler space for which it is already in talks with undisclosed customers.
The present production capacity stands at about eight crore bulbs per annum and is expected to grow to about 10 cr by 2018. This growth will primarily be on the back of the new Palwal plant, which began operations about five months back. Daily capacity is rated at about 350,000 units right now and will undergo a gradual increase as the new facility ramps up.
The company has witnessed steady growth through the last five years, growing at average of 14-15 % pa. Revenues in FY2014-15 stood at Rs 53 cr and is expected to grow to Rs 65 cr by the turn of the current fiscal. Sinha expects this pace of growth to continue over the next decade or so, on the back of new products the company plans to introduce and the projected growth in the Indian automotive sector. The current revenue split is heavily lopsided in favour of the automotive sector, which accounts for 97 % of Mithabhi's total revenue. Sinha mentioned that the defence business isn't aimed at driving the company's financial growth. Instead, it's more of a statement of the company's technical capabilities because on fighter planes, there is no room for a bulb to fail before its rated life.
The Palwal plant is spread across an area of 70,000 sq ft, of which 40,000 sq ft is dedicated to manufacturing; 16,000 sq ft houses the office block and the remaining is empty space marked for future expansion. During our visit we were taken through the assembly line for tail lamp bulbs as there are different assembly lines for each product. Glass tubes for making the glass is sourced from external suppliers and is then heated, formed and cut. Post inspection these glass pieces are fed into the stem machine, wherein five wires of specified length are automatically placed into the already cut tubes. Hereon, the next step is to pass the product into a mount-making machine, wherein the wires inserted in the previous step are shaped and then two filaments are placed one after the other.
Here onwards, the glass structures resembling a bulb pass through a sealex machine, which puts the top cover in place and importantly removes the air and fills the desired gases. In the following process, the bulb goes through manual inspection, despite the fact that all machines have quality checks built into them. Once the check is done, the bulb moves onto the threading machine, which opens the inserted wires and places them appropriately. Next up, it places the base cap and this is where the bulb is illuminated for the first time. If all goes well, the soldering process is carried out and the bulb is then sent for a final inspection and thereafter for dispatch.
Interestingly, for a company of this size the focus on automation was impressive. All the processes explained above are entirely automated with human intervention only limited to feeding the products into the machines. Sinha told us that going forward this process too will be automated, allowing for further improvement in quality and manufacturing pace. In addition, since the lines are specific to a product, constructing them is a time-intensive process requiring around eight months for one line to become operational from start of construction. There are 15 machines present at this plant, and the next step of expansion will take place in about two years, for which space is already available in the built-up area.
A machine deserving special mention is the shell blowing machine, which gives the glass top for indictor bulbs a desired shape by a combination of heat passages and rotations. For other types of bulbs, glass tops are sourced externally.
The technical evolution of Mithabhi was pretty interesting to get versed with and contrary to what many would expect, the technology in the automotive sector has no co-relation with that from defence. Lamps used in aircrafts use an entirely different technology, which cannot be trickled into automotive as usage requirements and tolerances vary vastly.
The bulbs produced right now are of conventional type but the company plans to progress to LED technology in the next 18 months or so. During this progress, Mithabhi aims to skip the xenon technology altogether as its usage is limited and Sinha believes LED is the future. Also, the technology used presently has been developed completely in-house and this approach will continue for upcoming products as well. The company procures all materials locally.
The Palwal plant will house Mithabhi's R&D division, which is currently in the process of being shifted from the older Faridabad plant. R&D as a separate division started about eight years back with a single vibration machine. Having grown at a rapid pace, the department today is capable of carrying complete product development and testing in-house. Sinha believes the company's testing capability is one of its key strength as all tests compliant with Indian as well as ECE regulations in Europe can be carried out in-house. This not only saves the cost of testing at external vendors but also speeds up product development, Sinha added. R&D presently comprises of 14 engineers and is open to expansion, if business demands.
Indian companies getting into technical agreements with foreign partners to manufacture components locally has been an old practice. Mithabhi, on the contrary, has taken a different route altogether by focussing on technology development rather than being a manufacturing organisation only. Putting into consideration the projection for growth in the two-wheeler segment, especially scooters, Mithabhi's growth targets seem modest. With technology being the company's tour de force, Mithabhi will soon have the capability to get involved into vehicle programmes from a design stage, strengthening its business relations.
In a few years after new technologies such as LED and four-wheeler solutions are put in production, the company can look at developing solutions and pitching them to customers. All these are signs of an innovation-driven company. Historically, technology-driven companies have fared better than those lacking it, especially in turbulent times. Our outlook for Mithabhi points towards a brighter future engineered by local technology.
Text: Arpit Mahendra
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay