Alcoa scouts for business in India

The sharp downtrend in the industry notwithstanding, Alcoa Inc, the world leader in the production and management of primary aluminium, fabricated aluminium, and alumina with revenues of $27 billion in 2008, is seriously scouting the Indian commercial vehicle market for opportunities to introduce its forged aluminium wheels and Huck-brand lockbolt fasteners.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 04 Feb 2009 Views icon10934 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
The sharp downtrend in the industry notwithstanding, Alcoa Inc, the world leader in the production and management of primary aluminium, fabricated aluminium, and alumina with revenues of $27 billion in 2008, is seriously scouting the Indian commercial vehicle market for opportunities to introduce its forged aluminium wheels and Huck-brand lockbolt fasteners.

Alcoa Wheel Products (AWP), since February 2008 a part of Alcoa’s Wheel and Transportation Products business unit, is the pioneer and industry leader in the development and manufacture of one-piece hot-forged aluminium wheels for the commercial transportation, automotive, and motorcycle markets.

Following a year and a half of carefully studying the market, AWP exhibited a selection from its wide range of truck wheels for the first time at the third Busworld India show in Mumbai last month. Ross Simmons, AWP’s general manager (sales/technical) for Australia, New Zealand, and Asia, told Autocar Professional he sees big prospects for this product given the amount of “infrastructure capital being spent on roads” and the “government legislation on load carrying”.

“The enforcement of restrictions on loading plays into our product’s hands because it allows you to increase the payload by lowering the tare weight of the vehicle. For example, you can save 100kg per axle compared to steel wheels, or 300kg on a three-axle prime mover,” he said.

More significantly, because they are forged from a single billet of aluminium without welds, Alcoa wheels are more than five times as strong as steel wheels and can withstand the severest of operating conditions. “Because of their 100 percent concentricity and tight manufacturing tolerances they are less prone to vibration, and this, together with their lower unsprung mass, reduces wear on suspensions and shock absorbers,” Simmons explained. And since aluminium is a natural dissipator of heat the wheels run cooler, which increases the life of the brakes and reduces wear on the tyres, which last up to 11 percent longer than on steel wheels, Alcoa India Pvt Ltd’s commercial & technical head (South Asia & Middle East) Biplav Basu pointed out “Though an aluminium wheel costs at least three times as much as a steel wheel of the same size and for the same application, it has a lifespan of 15–25 years, compared to five for the average steel wheel — that’s longer than the life of the truck!” he said.

Alcoa’s wheels are designed for tubeless radial tyres, and since the maximum tubeless radialisation has occurred in the bus market, this is where Basu sees the most immediate prospects, though he concedes that the estimated payback period of 3–4 years in bus applications in India is also “a lot quicker than in commercial transportation”.

The company shipped 3,500 wheels to Volvo India (via Volvo in Sweden) from its Székesfehérvár (Hungary) plant last year to be fitted onto tippers exported to South Korea. Simmons expects actual sales in India to begin with 2,000 wheels this year, with uptake increasing geometrically from next year onwards. As part of its new focus on this market, AWP will shortly appoint a representative in India. “An Alcoa India manager will have responsibility for wheels based in Mumbai,” Simmons said.

He said AWP is amenable to joint marketing strategies with JK, MRF, and Apollo, the biggest domestic manufacturers of tubeless radials, which at present they mostly export.

Although Alcoa wheels can be specified as original equipment on trucks and trailers from all the North American, European, and Japanese manufacturers, in India as elsewhere in the world the company does not plan to make direct approaches to the OEMs. “We built this business through fleet specification,” he said. “We seek to create the demand through fleet operators. If they are happy with our products then we will look at retrofit opportunities.”

AWP has wheel forging and finishing facilities in Cleveland (Ohio), Monterey in Mexico, and Székesfehérvár, and a standalone finishing plant in Japan for the domestic market. The rest of Asia (excluding Japan) accounts for a presently minuscule but rapidly growing proportion of sales, and Alcoa plans to set up a finishing plant in either China or India or Vietnam when this region reaches a “critical mass”, Basu said, but gave no further details.

Also on display at the AWP stall at Busworld were samples of Alcoa aluminium chequered plate for bus flooring, which Basu said the company supplies in the widest widths available on the market. “Produced in Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, this product is made of a strong magnesium alloy and is highly wear-resistant, maintaining its texture for years, whereas the competitors’ products wear smooth in only a couple of years,” he added.

Huckbolt it, forget it At the SIAT 2009 Expo in Pune the following week, Alcoa Fastening Systems (AFS) displayed its BobTail system for the first time for commercial vehicle chassis applications. This is the latest generation of AFS’s Huck lockbolt technology, a permanent, mechanically locked fastener that needs no torque for installation and, unlike conventional nuts and bolts, will not work loose even when subjected extreme vibration.

“The key feature of the Huck bolt is that it is tension-, not torque-based. It uses a proprietary swaging technology that delivers higher clamp than the equivalent size of threaded fastener,” AFS India sales manager Maneesh Minocha told this correspondent. “The installation process elongates both the bolt and the collar while it swages the collar into the bolt’s lockgrooves, developing a precise clamp with a variation of only ±5 percent, compared to ±15 percent for a threaded fastener,” he explained.

AFS’s extensive Huck product line includes – besides lockbolts – structural blind rivets and blind bolts, and full line of pneumohydraulic and hydraulic tooling and hydraulic rigs that power that tooling. Its BobTail lockbolt system was developed specifically for heavy assembly applications in the commercial vehicle and rail industries, and is primarily used to assemble trucks and trailers, buses, and railway wagons. “The product was only recently launched in the USA and we are now bringing it to India,” Minocha said.

In particular, BobTail fasteners are used to assemble chassis long members and cross members, fifth wheel top plates to their pedestals, and spring hanger brackets on suspensions, for example. Using AFS’s patented Swageforward technology, the BobTail tooling makes the installation process quick and easy and installs the fastener in only two seconds, increasing productivity. Moreover, only a quick visual inspection is needed to ensure a secure fit, he said.

The compact and lightweight installation tools allow greater operator flexibility and extended reach into difficult areas. The installation sequence is smooth and shock-free, eliminating jolts to the operator and increasing overall safety, besides directly contributing to longer tool and component life and allowing extended tool maintenance cycles. As a result, costs for parts and overall support are reduced, while the system uptime is increased.

Available in a wide range of sizes and grades, BobTail fasteners and tooling are precisely matched to the application, resulting in lower installed costs and increased user safety for both assembly and repair. While the fasteners can cost up to 30 percent more than threaded fasteners at present, the cost will go down as the volumes go up, he said.

BobTail fasteners are specified in all railway wagons built in India, and their strength is of particular benefit not only in heavily loaded coal hopper wagons but also in the lighter-weight aluminium wagons that will begin to be introduced over the coming years.

On the commercial vehicle side Minocha sees trailers and tippers as the “best fit”, although he doesn’t rule out applications eventually emerging right down the scale for the Tata Ace as well.

While all the Indian OEMs and joint ventures appreciate the advantages of the product, he says, no order has come in yet. In the mean time, Minocha revealed that AFS plans to work with Mahindra Navistar on a proof-of-concept demonstrator using one of the latter’s new trucks to be introduced later this year.

The company counts Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Scania, Freightliner, Mack, and International Truck as major customers worldwide. “Volvo uses only Huck fasteners – around 200 of them – on its whole chassis,” he said. In fact, Huck U-Spin fasteners have been standard on the proprietary Volvo air suspensions installed on Volvo Trucks North America’s tandem-axle Class 8 trucks since 2005.

While Huck fasteners are common on Caterpillar, Komatsu, and JCB machines worldwide, AFS is also “chasing” business with the mining and construction equipment industry in India, Minocha said. “They are used in the severest of applications, in conditions where they are subjected to extreme vibration, such as Sandvik vibrating screens.”

The company

plans to start manufacturing fastening systems shortly in India, Minocha revealed. At present the fasteners are manufactured in the US, UK, and China, and the power rigs and tooling in the US. While it makes sense to continue importing the Huck bolts from China, he explained, the installation equipment will be more immediately localised, he admitted, but gave no further details.
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