On May 2, Hero Group company Rockman Industries inaugurated its UK office in Silverstone, for its composites subsidiary, Moldex. Ujjwal Munjal, executive director, Rockman Industries, spoke to Autocar Professional's Mayank Dhingra on on wanting to be in the thick of the action in the carbon composites industry, and why he thinks the expensive but lightweight material will gradually percolate to mass-market vehicles
What is the strategy behind having an office in Silverstone?The new establishment is a direct entity of our acquitted composites subsidiary, Moldex. Carbon composites currently find major applications in the motorsport space and Silverstone enjoys a historic legacy as a home to Formula 1 and also being highly instrumental in pushing a lot of innovation in the area.
Also, we wanted to be as close to the heart of the action as possible, engage with customers and look for JV partners, acquisitions, as well as investment opportunities, to consistently drive developments in the highly evolving carbon composites space.
Which sectors are you going to target in the short term?
The next 3-5 years are going to see us concentrate our focus on motorsports, high-end automotive segments, aerospace structures and components. Airbus, with the new A350, and Boeing with the 787 have portrayed increasing use of carbon composites. Rockman has already started engaging with aerospace majors in the last four months and we are currently awaiting an AS (Aerospace) certification, which will come through by the end of this financial quarter and would then allow us to intensify our market forces.
The world over, companies are increasingly stressing on using lightweight materials and reducing vehicle weight. Do you foresee this material technology percolating down to the mass market automotive segment? If yes, then by when?
Yes, definitely. Carbon composites are going to find their way into general applications too and play a very vital role there. We entered this space at a strategic time, so as to be ahead of the curve. Currently, the use of such materials is very cost prohibitive as they are not much mass production friendly. But, with increasing electrification and hybridisation of vehicles underway, where companies are looking for solutions to compensate for the weight of the heavy EV technologies, we will see the cost come down over the next decade, and composites will find widespread applications in mass market automotive products.
Rockman Industries sees around 95 percent of its business come from exports. How are things going to be driven in the future and what markets are you eyeing?
Currently, we export more than 95 percent of the production from our facility in Surat, Gujarat. We expect it to continue to be so until the next few years at least. Europe is the major market, which we are looking at. The UK, Italy and Germany are the specific locations which will see us increasing our foothold in. While aerospace is more global, a lot of innovation in the materials space is happening in Germany, with BMW leading the pack.
How much benefit do companies witness by incorporating carbon composites in their product architectures?
One is able to see around three-fourths of the weight of the total steel being shed by use of carbon composites and around half that of aluminium.
What is the current status of your clientele in India and how do you visualise market growth in the coming future for carbon composites?
The Indian market is at a very nascent stage at the moment. We currently only supply in one-off or prototype development cases to very few customers. I believe the market is not going to pick up in the next 3-5 years in the carbon composites space as the cost versus benefit equation is going to remain challenging. Apart from automotive segment though, high-end applications like furniture and super- luxury interiors will also find good composites implementation in the country.
What is the capacity utilisation at the Surat facility and what are your plans for the future?
We are currently running at 60 percent capacity utilisation and aim to reach full capacity by the end of CY 2017. We then intend to explore expansion within the same premises first, as well as also look towards an additional unit.