‘The primary focus of our new R&D facility will remain on India.’
Sanjay Jain, business director, Engineering Plastics Division, DSM India, speaks on its capabilities, and direction of its operations, factors driving the new shift on quality and lightweight materials and other important trends.
Sanjay Jain, business director, Engineering Plastics Division, DSM India, speaks on DSM’s first R&D Centre in India, the intent with which it is set up, its capabilities, and direction of its operations, factors driving the new shift on quality and lightweight materials and other important trends. Excerpts from an interview with Amit Panday.
How much has the company spent in setting up its all-new, first R&D Centre in Ranjangaon, near Pune? In what direction will this new R&D facility operate?
This is our first R&D facility in India. As a company policy, we cannot disclose the financial investments. In terms of the direction of this new facility, there are two elements involved. The Indian market is now maturing in terms of its approach towards product development. Earlier it was print-to-build model where the companies would simply manufacture based on the given blueprints.
However, now the companies are making products from the concept stage all the way to design and to manufacturing. Therefore, the companies are now approaching with more innovative ways of designing and are exploring new materials for their products. A lot of decision making is happening in India. This is where we see that we will be able to work with our customers in a speedier way and hence we needed to have an R&D centre here.
Although we have many R&D centres globally and we can always reach out to them, it is faster when discussions and processes happen locally. We feel that we can now serve our customers better and move higher up the value chain (from print-to-build approach to actual concept design level). We should be competent enough to support our customers from product development from CAE and other application developments. This is the first part of the strategy.
There is a lot of talent available in India and obviously there is the factor of cost arbitrage. Simultaneously, we will also support our global development teams. However, the primary focus of the facility will remain on India.
So this clearly means that you want to go to the drawing board with your customers, who would be Tier 1 and 2 suppliers and maybe also OEMs?
Exactly. The automotive industry is one area where you need a lot of data generation, lot of elements to be put on the table before you select a material. This is where we will now have a lot of testing facilities where we can measure low / high temperature data for whatever products we develop in India with our customers. All these things we can do in a much faster way and come with better solutions.
How much time does it take to boil down to a particular set of approved materials after studying all factors with your customers?
We have been in the business for almost 40 years globally. What this means is that many things that are happening in India currently have already happened globally. If it is just a simple choice of materials from our existing portfolio, then we can upscale the same within 1-2 months. However, if the material requirements are unique and if the customer has some tailor-made requirements for Indian conditions which is not a part of our global portfolio then the development time may have longer development cycles. This may go from a few months to a year.
Do you see the automotive value chain now gradually stepping up to embrace quality, technologically superior, lightweight materials? Are cost pressures reducing overtime or OEMs investing more openly now in product development?
While the cost pressures continue the way they have always been here, new safety and emission standards are driving the OEMs and component vendors to invest more in their products. Maybe in the near future, we will have a compulsory recall policy. All these developments are driving OEMs to understand what goes in the making of the components that they procure, what materials are used and their respective benefits.
Further, the bulk of vehicles are now manufactured in India keeping global quality standards as guidelines as these (passenger cars, two-wheelers, commercial vehicles) are exported to a number of global markets.
They want to have a better control on the chain (product development chain involving Tier 3, 2, 1 component suppliers). These are significant factors contributing to the quality consciousness of the industry. They are looking for lightweight, compact and high-performance solutions.
Can you cite an example in this context?
Airbags and ABS are good examples of this shift. As our safety standards improve, airbags on the driver side might become compulsory in the foreseeable future. This is where DSM comes into play. We make materials used for making canister housing within which the airbag sits. Earlier this was made of metal but now it is made of plastics.
As you can imagine, since it has to go into the steering wheel, it has to be very light in weight and compact in size. This will have a direct impact in terms of convenience in moving the wheel. All things put together, more plastic parts will penetrate into the product development in the near future.
DSM has a number of patented material solutions such as Akulon, Stanyl and others. Do we see developments from scratch for any of these existing product lines or will it be absolutely new materials?
Absolutely, that would be our ambition. We are here to address our customers’ requirements. It will all depend on the nature of requirements that will come up. We have competent people now and we have the right facility to do the research. From that perspective, I am pretty confident that in the near future there would be development from scratch also in India using our existing polymer solutions. Maybe, we will have new developments coming out of India in the future.
The R&D facility has scope for future expansion. When will you look at that?
I would say that the current facility should suffice for the next five years. Beyond that, we will further build upon on the facility. We currently have 15 people in research and technology based at the R&D centre, which will grow to 40 in the next five years.
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