Continental Automotive Components (India) Pvt Ltd, part of global giant Continental AG, is celebrating its 10th anniversary in India this year. Over the past decade, the company has established itself in the Indian market as a leading supplier of various components and sub-systems. In line with its growth, Continental recently inaugurated a new production line to manufacture circuit boards for electronic control units (ECUs) of two-wheeler and passenger car ABS and ESC, at its Bangalore Central Electronics Plant. These newly-added braking system components are part of the company’s Vehicle Dynamics (VED) business unit, which comes under the Chassis and Safety Division.
Continental’s Bangalore facility manufactures printed circuit boards (PCB), with the production divided into two processes – front-end and back-end. Spread over an area of 3,200 sq m, which has remained unchanged since being set-up, the facility manufactures components for multiple business units, including Passive Safety and Sensorics (PSS), Engine Systems, and Body & Security.
Following inauguration of the new line, we met with Prashanth Doreswamy, Managing Director, Continental Automotive Components (India) Pvt Ltd (Above) and Harald Lichtinger, Senior Vice President, Vehicle Dynamics Operations Business Unit, Continental AG (Below) to discuss a variety of subjects, including the company’s journey in India, demands for safety equipment from the market, as well as Continental’s focus towards its Vision Zero initiative of reducing and eventually eliminating road accident fatalities.
The company has plans afoot to set-up another new line, which will begin operations from 2019. This line will support engine systems ECUs that will focus on emission reduction, in line with government regulations of moving to BS VI emission norms in 2020. The new line will cater exclusively to two-wheelers, which is a division that was set-up with Continental’s acquisition of Synerject, supplier of petrol engine management systems and components for marine, motorcycle and recreation applications.
NEW LINE & PROCESSES
The decision to set-up a new line was taken in 2014. As a first step, the company decided to set-up an assembly line for VED braking components in Manesar by importing ECUs, which was then followed by the addition of the new line in Bangalore, Lichtinger said. This, he believes, is an important step for the company towards establishing its VED footprint in India. Customer feedback too has been positive, noted Lichtinger.
Production in the new line commenced with the manufacture of PCBs for passenger car ECU modules, while the same for two-wheelers is expected to begin by 2019. This plant in Bangalore is the company’s largest in India, catering to automotive OEMs across the country. The new line is claimed to be a strategic next step in localising ABS and ESC modules, after system assembly began in Continental’s Manesar plant last year. The new lines for braking systems, as well as the other lines follow the same process of manufacturing. However, the new line includes processes such as loading, fuse forming, de-panelling, in-circuit testing, hot air oven, hot function test, conformal coating, ultraviolet curing and unloading before the back-end process begins.
The front-end process has a total of seven surface mount technology (SMT) lines, which has grown from five lines in 2016. These front-end SMT lines populate the various electronic components onto the circuit boards and tests their performance. Further, the back-end lines are the ones that assemble the boards onto the ECUs, fitting components like connectors and bodies, as well as assigning their functionalities for final product conversion.
A single SMT line consists of machines that can place 60,000 components on the boards per hour. The company noted that a PCB contains anywhere between 30 to 800 components on a single board, depending on the level of complication of the module that the board is fitted into. As the components are placed onto the board, the machines use vision system technologies to ensure precision of the placement of components as well as in applying the soldering paste.
The next process consists of soldering the components onto the board through convection, which is followed by in-circuit testing to check for the analogue and digital parameters. The SMT lines can be interchanged between the types of PCBs required, but generally takes place only following an approved audit by the customer for whose components the boards are being produced.
The last process of the front-end consists of selective soldering to attach connectors onto the PCB. However, the selective soldering technology is considered to be less reliable in the global league, which has now given way to the single pin insertion process. Single pin insertion, as the name suggests, is a process where the pin is directly inserted into the board. Once the selective soldering or single pin insertion process is completed, testing is carried out to ensure that all the electronics parameters of the components on the PCB are achieved. The next step is called Flashing, which consists of writing the application programme onto the device, making it a live board, and completing the front-end activities.
The back-end processes of the boards are different from one another, depending on the functionalities that they are assigned to perform. The back-end process consists of lines assigned as per each customer, and depending on the level of criticality of the product, will include automated or manual assembly. Additionally, highly-dense circuit boards like that of ECUs for engine management systems are assembled through a highly-automated process.
VED FUTURE, CONTINENTAL INDIA ROADMAP
Continental is on a growth mode with regards to the VED business division, noted Lichtinger, saying that the newly-added line in Bangalore, along with the recently-added line in Manesar enable the company to produce both ABS and ESC modules. He said that legislations mandating systems like ABS or ESC for four-wheelers and two-wheelers have helped in raising the demand for such safety systems. Additionally, Lichtinger observed that OEMs are also seen to be equipping their vehicles with safety systems even before regulations are being made mandatory, in order to differentiate their products from those of competitors. This market movement will also lead to added demand for the mentioned systems, and also help in making road travel safer. Doreswamy noted that the ABS market in India stands at Rs 8,000-10,000 cr, which is a large market to tap into.
The company has grown its engineering and R&D footprint over the past years with focus on clean, safe and connected mobility, keeping in mind the affordability factor in a market like India. India has the potential to grow to be one of the largest automotive markets globally, providing an encouraging market for Continental, Doreswamy observed, adding that the two-wheeler segment is a strategic growth area for the company, where it offers solutions for systems relating to engine, safety, sensors, connectivity and electronics.
Legislations relating to emissions, safety and consumer trends are likely to be the growth drivers for the company, Doreswamy said. The switch to BS VI emission standards enables Continental to offer its customers innovative technological products present in its portfolio by customising them to local conditions. On the safety front, regulations mandating ABS for all new vehicles (two- and four-wheelers) from April 1, 2018 and for existing vehicles by 2019, would be a key enabler. Finally, consumer trends towards increased connectivity requirements in the market would also drive up demands for products from the company, Doreswamy said.
VISION ZERO REINFORCEMENT
A leader in active and passive safety, Continental continues to focus on reducing the number of traffic-related injuries, fatalities and accidents through a more widespread use of its innovative technologies, which forms the basis of its Vision Zero initiative. The long-term strategy of Vision Zero is being attained by focussing on innovations and improving components & systems to decisively contribute to road safety.
From the perspective of the VED business unit, Lichtinger said Continental offers ABS, ESC and emergency braking systems to help in its journey towards VisionZero. Continental is also working with organisations like Global NCAP, providing such partners with state-of-the-art technologies that follow its ‘SensePlanAct’ strategy to provide smart safety technologies.
TEXT: Naveen Arul