Power Management is an important aspect in making the wheels of a vehicle move, especially in making that movement cleaner for the environment. Within the power management business, transmission systems play a vital role since it is this component that directs the power from the engine or motor to the wheels, leading to movement. Eaton is a global manufacturer of power management technologies, with over a century of experience in this field. This feature highlights the company’s focus on manufacturing transmissions for the future.
In over two decades of its presence in India, Eaton has set up a number of manufacturing and engineering facilities, including its plant in Ranjangaon, near Pune, which is part of its Vehicle and Hydraulics business division. Auto Tech Review visited the plant and met up with Shandar Alam, Managing Director, Vehicle and Hydraulics, India, Eaton, and Balachandran Varadharajan, Director – Operations, Vehicle and Hydraulics, India, Eaton, to get insights into how it emerged as a market leader for heavy commercial vehicle transmissions in India along with its manufacturing focus, use of latest technologies and future direction.
BACKGROUND & INTRODUCTION
Eaton has operations in over 175 countries, and India is a critical piece of the overall Eaton strategy. The company has created a large footprint in the country in order to leverage the strengths offered here, and has set-up seven manufacturing facilities, along with a large R&D centre that has around 1,500 engineers, Alam said.
The vehicle business is a pertinent vertical to Eaton’s overall business in India, with three manufacturing facilities. While the Ranjangaon plant exclusively manufactures transmissions for HCVs, including trucks and buses, the Ahmednagar and Nashik facilities produce engine valves and valve actuation products. The technologies and solutions offered from these facilities of the vehicles division are all BS IV- and BS VI-compliant. Alam said as a technology provider Eaton’s whole focus is to innovate products that reduce emissions and improve fuel economy.
Set up in 2007, the Eaton Ranjangaon facility is a greenfield plant and has produced over 100,000 transmissions that are currently on the road in India. The plant manufactures six-speed and nine-speed manual transmissions for CVs with capacity of 16 T and above. The transmissions are said to offer a high level of robustness and reliability that has helped the company capture around 90 % market share, noted Alam. The facility produces core child parts that are required for transmissions, namely gears and shafts.
A majority of the transmissions manufactured at the Ranjangaon plant are offered for the domestic market, with some exports made to China, Poland, Brazil and Mexico. The plant was primarily set up to cater to the local needs, Alam said. Majority of the transmissions are used in trucks.
This plant has been expanding over a period of time, for which Eaton has drawn up a robust growth strategy plan for the next five years, noted Alam. He said that the company’s cutting-edge technology requires it to be expanded continuously, and places Eaton in a better position to address the regulatory norms to reduce emissions and increase fuel economy. Eaton has been consistently making investments on R&D, engineering, manufacturing, and shared services in India.
Speaking about the upcoming BS VI emission norms rollout in 2020, Alam mentioned Eaton’s global expertise in this regard, offering products that are already Euro VI-compliant. However, Eaton is looking at the Indian customer needs with regards to BS VI and their specifications, for which it has already won orders. All transmissions being manufactured at the facility are compliant with the upcoming emission standards.
While no standalone changes are made to the transmissions with regards to new emission standards, the modifications needs to be in line with the changes made to the engine, explained Alam. The upcoming emission norms combined with the alterations in the axle loads announced by the governing bodies would lead to the requirement of higher horse power engines, which would have an impact on the transmission requirements. The transmissions manufactured at the facility are already designed to address high torque requirements of BS VI engines, and are in a better position to cater to the market, he added.
Another trend that is witnessing growth in the Indian market is that of automation of the transmission, for which the company offers only automated manual transmissions, said Alam. Eaton offers an AMT product called UltraShift PLUS, which is claimed to be highly efficient and reliable and also results in better fuel economy when compared with conventional AMTs. Alam said UltraShift PLUS offers increased fuel efficiency in the range of 18-20 %, when compared to conventional AMTs, and better fuel economy of 3-5 %, when compared to a manual transmission. Alam noted that the AMT trend is leaning more towards the bus segment at present, but Eaton anticipates a move towards the truck and off-highway segment as well.
Powertrain electrification is another market trend that will be seen as an important factor for the company. Eaton globally offers two-speed and four-speed transmissions that are paired with electric motors. Eaton is carrying out manufacturing of some components of the four-speed transmission in India. Alam said that the company has lined up plans for further localisation of products or for new product adaptations. Clearly, the company’s focus on future megatrends would be towards AMTs, electric vehicles and BS VI emission standards.
Eaton has a clear roadmap in place for implementation of Industry 4.0 practices across its Indian manufacturing operations, said Varadharajan. The Eaton global Industry 4.0 strategy covers topics including automation, additive manufacturing and manufacturing execution system (MES). Robots are used at the facility for managing processes like upset forging and extrusion, while software programmes are utilised for simulating and optimising layouts of manufacture. Additionally, Eaton is working on an assembly management system that will deskill the entire assembly operation, while making it safer.
A 3D printer at the Ranjangaon plant is currently being used to produce jigs and fixtures among various other manufacturing components. This knowledge and expertise of plastic 3D printing is now being honed, and together with the team’s growing knowledge in material science, the company plans to move into metal 3D printing solutions, he explained.
Eaton is also exploring the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies in the maintenance area of manufacturing, since it seems to provide more benefits there. Over the next two to three years, Eaton is looking at building regional capabilities for Industry 4.0 solutions as well, with the next step being the connectivity of plants with one another.
The assembly areas are all U-shaped, with the application of lean concepts for improved manufacturing efficiency. The company has moved away from traditional manufacturing processes and has implemented others, such as dry hobbing, dry cutting and cubic boron nitride (CBN) hard turning. In addition to this, Eaton leverages Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software solutions that result in the complete removal of manual interference with regards to transactions and communication within the various functions of manufacturing.
The manufacturing area includes a machine shop, heat treatment plant, gear lab and assembly lines. The facility has over 220 operators, covering two shifts, except for the heat treatment plant that runs 24x7. Varadharajan said the company accords highest priority to safety, with focused bombardment of safety information. The other focus area is transparency in manufacturing, which he said allows easy access to information on the reasons for issues during manufacturing, while also enabling operators to provide insights into improving manufacturing practices for improved productivity.
The gear lab at the facility carries out testing of various sub-products of gears as well as incoming raw materials. This lab is also tasked with testing finished products that will go into the final transmission assembly. The facility also houses a metallurgical lab that mainly checks the products at a microstructure level. It helps identifying apt materials for production of robust and reliable transmissions. The critical components for transmissions, gears and shafts are put through processes like heat grinding, as well as newer steps to bring out the quality required as per the company’s global manufacturing standards. Heat treatment of various components is carried out at the facility in a section that runs round the clock.
The components are put through the shot peening process, in order to modify the mechanical properties of metals and produce a compressive residual stress layer. This process is followed by other finishing processes to provide the required quality of the component. For the shaft specifically, Eaton uses a table-up broaching machine that machines the shaft vertically. The company is one of the few manufacturers in the country to have such a machine and carry out this type of machining for shafts, claimed Varadharajan.
He said the Eaton Ranjangaon plant follows a multi-machine concept rigorously. The facility features a U-shaped setup for better ergonomics of the operators, while maintaining single-feed mechanism of parts and components. This is complemented by a loop-styled assembly line for both six- and nine-speed transmissions.
The Eaton India Innovation Centre (EIIC) supports global development programmes, but backs the India business more strongly, said Alam. The engineers work on all the megatrends that Eaton is foreseeing, mainly with regards to AMTs, electrification and reduced emissions. Alam noted that the company not only interacts with its customers, but also with their end customers to understand their requirements and then develop offerings and solutions accordingly. EIIC carries out product design, manufacturing, testing as well as gaining insights from customers to improve products. This makes the company self-sufficient within the country, especially fuelled by the deep integration between the business and the innovation R&D centres, he said.
The company has drawn up a five-year strategy plan, which foresees a robust growth in profitability in India, along with the rationale for this growth, Alam observed. He said these expectations are backed by Eaton’s technology-leading product offerings, over 100-year market experience, and knowledge of customer requirements. Eaton has a huge focus on engaging with customers, end-users and other stakeholders, who play a critical role in the company’s development and taking its technologies to the ground. Beyond its communication with OEMs, the company engages with end-users of its products to gain insights into the market requirements. Alam said Eaton is probably the only transmission manufacturing company that operates authorised service centres across the country. These have been set up to capture field challenges of end-users and address these issues in future products.
The company is also focussing on the requirements of higher efficiency of engines that will also become more powerful. In addition to this, the aftermarket business is also a major opportunity that Eaton would like to capitalise. In terms of manufacturing, Eaton would like all its manufacturing sites to ultimately reach model plant status with zero safety challenges and incidents as well as increased manufacturing efficiency, noted Varadharajan.
Eaton has a vision of improving the life of people and the environment through its power management technologies and services. Sustainability is one of its core values.
TEXT: Naveen Arul
PHOTO: Naveen Arul/Eaton India