India Pistons firms up expansion plans

Along with IP Rings and Mahle IPL, India Pistons plans to expand capacity and grow its capabilities designed to produce innovative solutions, says Murrali Thalor.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 01 Nov 2010 Views icon11004 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
India Pistons firms up expansion plans
Speaking to Autocar Professional, N Venkataramani, vice-chairman and managing director of IPL, says the investments currently planned will increase, without any loss of competitive edge, the process capabilities of the companies besides introducing new technologies that will enable OEMs to meet emerging emission norms. According to him, the focus is on innovative solutions that will suit local conditions.

Employing this strategy, IPL is engaged in developing a unique diamond coating process for rings, which will significantly enhance engine performance levels. He expects that the process will be commercialised in 2011 and will help OEMs address higher thermal load demands and meet future emission norms, besides doubling ring life now obtained with chrome-plated rings. The potential customers for this technology are Ashok Leyland and Tata Motors to whom IPL at present supplies molybdenum and chrome ceramic coated rings. Venkataramani reveals that IPL is also developing pistons for a range of two-wheelers and will enter this segment in 2011-12. The company is already present in this segment in a small way and caters to Royal Enfield. IPL makes pistons, rings, pins and liners for commercial vehicles, utility vehicles, tractors, industrial engines, compressors and the railways. It makes pistons ranging, in diameter, from 50mm up to 250mm and in weight, from a few grams up to 22 kilos. At present, the company makes about 300 part numbers in pistons, about 1,200 part numbers in piston rings, 300 part numbers in pins and few liners. IPL is also involved in the aftermarket, selling its products as also those made by its associate companies. The company hopes to expand its product range in the aftermarket in future, says Venkataramani. New coating technologies

Speaking about IP Rings, Venkataramani says the company will soon introduce new coating technologies to help enhance engine performance. It has developed piston rings for two-wheelers, for which volume production is slated to begin soon. Talks for supplies to some two-wheeler manufacturers are underway. The company has also commenced commercial production of sealing rings for turbochargers, thereby expanding its product portfolio and leveraging its existing capabilities.

IPRL is adding capacities in phases and its total capacity along with IPL, which manufactures cast iron rings, is expected to cross the 500 lakh rings per year mark in about 18 months, he adds. The company, which began operations as part of India Pistons Ltd with technology from Nippon Piston Rings of Japan, pioneered the concept of steel piston rings in India, which has since been accepted by OEMs here. Today, its core strength areas lie in surface engineering, plasma spraying, chromium plating, gas nitriding and salt-bath nitriding and it supplies piston rings to passenger car, utility and CV manufacturers. Its clientele includes Ashok Leyland, Fiat, Ford, Eicher, Enfield, Hindustan Motors, Hyundai, Mahindra, Maruti, Simpson and Tata Motors.

Venkataramani says IPRL has several technologies that will help OEMs meet emission standards up to Euro 5 with potential for extension to Euro 6. The company has developed Physical Vapour Deposition (PVD) technology, which is one of the key processes to help enhance ring performance as well as product longevity. “We are introducing PVD technology, which is essentially a manufacturing process to make steel rings for high performance engines and also to meet emission norms. We are focusing on the basic material technology, which is sourced from Japan. And, our association with NPR gives us access to Japanese OEMs. I believe we are the first one in India to introduce this process. This technology is slightly ahead of the market as there are still alternate solutions available for lower-rated engines. However, we feel that the future lies in steel rings using PVD technology. We have a couple of engines fitted with these rings undergoing trials now. We are just waiting for the right opportunity to introduce this ring into the market, and this should come along by next year,” he says. PVD technology offers engine manufacturers several advantages in terms of higher performance and longevity. PVD surfaced rings can work for up to a million kilometres, says Venkataramani. The company has invested about Rs 25 crore to create this facility. “The capacity is already there and the capability has been built up and we expect to go into volume production in about six months. This will add quite a lot to our sales turnover. We expect to continue to grow at 25 percent for the next two three years,” he adds.

Two years ago, IPRL diversified into the manufacture of forged components through orbital cold forming technology which helps produce near-net shaped components. Applying this technology, obtained from MIBA of Austria, IPRL manufactures several transmission components including differential gears and pole wheels for anti-lock braking systems. It supplies these to Force Motors, Iljin, Knorr-Bremse, Piaggio, Tata Motors and Wabco-TVS. In addition, it makes fuel injection parts and will soon commence manufacture of synchronisers with molybdenum coating, carbon friction lining and synchro rings. Currently IPRL’s R&D activities are focused on new surface coatings of piston rings to meet emission norms and increasing engine power ratings. As the manufacturing processes followed are critical to performance of engine components, IPRL has taken several initiatives to ensure sustenance of quality. Significant among them is ‘Total Process Management’ developed in-house by the company as an innovative initiative to ensure total control of production processes with the help of information technology.

This methodology ensures that the right man is operating the right machine with the correct method and materials and also ascertains that correct information flows to the operator to execute the required method of operation. These initiatives help the company to make quality products continuously. IPRL believes that processes used determine results and keeps them under sharp focus aided by process prequalification at every stage. It has also installed systems to effect traceability of products.

Mahle IPL banks on breakthrough business

This JV between Mahle GmbH of Germany and India Pistons manufactures a range of pistons focusing on automotive applications. Mahle is among the 50 largest automotive component makers in the world with about 80 manufacturing facilities. In India, it is present in three product lines such as filters, camshafts and pistons.

The Maraimalainagar plant of IPL, built in 1987 as its second production unit, became MIPL’s sole manufacturing plant when the JV was set up. Incidentally, this plant was the first production unit to get 100 ppm award from Hyundai Motor India. MIPL is a systems supplier and supports its customers with pistons, rings, pins, liners and cir-clips. Parts other than pistons are bought out from its Group companies. More than 95 percent of its production goes to OEMs, with the remainder to the aftermarket. It currently caters to car, utility vehicle and CV manufacturers including Ashok Leyland, Eicher, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Mahindra Navistar, Maruti Suzuki and Tata Motors.

The plant has a dedicated manufacturing line for every one of its customers with capacity matching respective volume requirements. Ram Venkataramani, director, says the company currently has an installed capacity of 4.5 million pistons (both diesel and petrol engines) per year and will end the current fiscal by manufacturing 3.5 million pistons. It makes about 120 part numbers including 70 active part numbers.

“We are planning to increase capacity to 6.2 million in about 18 months. It will happen in phases as we are progressively improving our space utilisation. The plant is de-bottlenecked to enhance capacity and this has kept the investments low,” he says. The objective has been to ramp up the volumes anticipating in time the demand increase that would arise out of organic growth and breakthrough businesses from a few customers including Mahindra, Suzuki Powertrain, Tata Cummins and VE Commercial Vehicles Ltd. These initiatives will help the company enhance its market share in the businesses it is operating in, to 35 percent from the present 27 percent, he adds.

In addition to enhancing the capacity, MIPL is also investing in capability enhancement in four core areas – castings, machining, non-destructive testing and surface treatment. Alongside, it will also introduce low-cost automation which is possible since it procures equipment from India Pistons which has its own machine building operations, and has the capability to make special purpose machines at competitive cost.

While vehicle manufacturers are actively working to reduce new product development time to address the issue of time-to-market faster, MIPL, on its part, is enhancing its R&D setup according to Mahle’s methodologies. It may be noted that Mahle has R&D centres in Germany, Japan, China, UK and the USA.

MIPL has been growing at 35 percent CAGR for the past five years. “We foresee that we will grow ahead of the market in the next four years due to the business we have acquired recently. We are able to offer our customers the latest technologies that are available within the Mahle Group. Combined with local cost-effective manufacturing capabilities, we are able to offer our customers innovative solutions with high technology at competitive cost,” says Ram Venkataramani.

The company is a major player in the utility vehicle segment, while having a substantial presence in the passenger car segment. In the CV segment, it will soon emerge as a major player as it is present in the engine development programmes of Ashok Leyland, Cummins and Tata Motors. “We are aggressively bidding for the business from the new project of VE Commercial Vehicles (VECV) and we think it will also be through,” he says.

It may be noted that last June VEVC announced that it would invest Rs 288 crore at its Pithampur manufacturing facility to make the Volvo Group’s new medium-duty engine platforms. It already has a capacity to make 40,000 engines per year and with further investments the capacity will increase to 1.25 lakh engines, which spurs the demand for engine components. Seen overall, India Pistons' Rs 175 crore investment into the three companies' operations will help spearhead their R&D and innovation efforts. This will help drive their business plans to further make inroads into OEMs in India, most of whom are gunning for faster time to market and improved products.

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