The ‘Make in India’ campaign is driving change, innovation and investment in new processes throughout Indian manufacturing, not least in the field of welding and joining technologies. A good example of this can be seen in the increasing desire by designers, to incorporate a greater number of dissimilar materials in the mix of a manufactured product. This trend is particularly noticeable in the automotive and aerospace industries, where light-weighting, efficiency and enhanced functionality are demanded by end users and legislators alike. Such factors have generated a good deal of research and development in how to weld two different metals, and the more extreme case of metal to composite or polymer joining. There are proven solutions in both cases; such as solid state friction welding and the use of surface texturing and structural adhesives.
Opportunities for Indian manufacturers
These technologies have been developed over many years, often in western economies, at a time when India was less well placed to invest. Conversely, India can now maximise its own investment strategies by leapfrogging intermediate welding technologies and acquiring, or developing for itself, state-of-the-art processes, especially for greenfield manufacturing sites. Examples of such opportunity can be seen in laser welding and friction stir welding, which are relative newcomers to India, but both processes have been through many years of intensive development. Refinements, such as fibre laser power sources, delivering high power densities for thicker section welding and stationery shoulder friction stir welding tools, enabling high integrity solid state joining of titanium alloys are readily available for Indian manufacturers.
However; it should be remembered that arc welding remains the predominant source of processes for joining metals, and is likely to do so for sometime to come. In a global welding equipment market of around $18 billion, more than $13 billion is still spent on arc welding machines. In India, as in many other countries, more than 80% of all welding is arc welding ranging from traditional ‘stick’ electrode methods to more sophisticated automated systems, such as orbital TIG welding for critical parts including aerospace and pressure vessels. At TWI (The Welding Institute), the most frequent users by far, of our arc welding information web pages, are Indian engineers and welders. Global research and development in arc welding is still highly active, with incremental process improvements still being achieved. Examples include; “Low Stress – Low Distortion” techniques for thin sheet metal and “Activated TIG” which enables better weld penetration. More recently, there has been much work carried out in using combination methods, such as Hybrid Arc Welding, which offers both penetration and fill advantages and less stringent fit up requirements. This process is attracting great interest in India, especially in the automotive and aerospace sectors.
A survey carried out by DVS has suggested the following likely trends in established and new or disruptive welding process use in industry in the next 10 years— Arc welding (constant), Lasers (considerable increase), Spot welding (considerable decrease), Friction welding (constant), Adhesives and mechanical fasteners (considerable increase), Robotics (considerable increase). These trends support statements from companies such as Audi, in the automotive sector. They predict a much greater use of aluminium and composites in the next 10 years, and almost no steel. The automotive sector is the largest user of welding in India.
Training modules for skilled employees
Whilst most of the world is struggling with a shortage of welders and welding engineers, India is busy creating a resource that is envied, and often used, by other countries. One comparative illustration is the USA where, according to the American Welding Society, the average welder is 54 years of age, and there are about 200,000 less of them than required. Qualified Indian welders are in demand globally and this is presenting an interesting dichotomy for the ‘Make in India’ campaign. It is generating much thought on how best to create an indigenous skilled Indian labour force that delivers in India.
Consider this; TWI has offered training for welding engineers in India since 1986, with a globally recognised accreditation known as CSWIP. This qualification is attractive to many industries, including the oil & gas sector, which pays top rates for such engineers. Currently, TWI trains around 2000 to 3000 Indian students each year to this standard and, until recently, most of these highly qualified people have taken their skills abroad, especially to the Middle East oil fields. However, there now appears to be a slowing of this ‘welder emigration’, which may be partly due to the recent low oil price – but other factors are affecting the trend.
Greater opportunities are arising for skilled people in India, especially in advanced manufacturing, and partly driven by significant investment by overseas companies. UK-based Rolls Royce, GKN and BAE Systems have all established considerable engineering facilities in India and have done so, not for cost advantage, but primarily for the pools of talent they can access amongst India’s young engineers. India is now the world’s largest producer of small cars with many of the international players there. The same can be said for construction, energy and component manufacturers up to tier-1 suppliers. This FDI, coupled with the strength of Indian OEMs is having a powerful impact on the current, and likely, trends emerging in the Indian welding sector.
There is increased demand for ensuring best practice in traditional welding procedures. This creates good business for training providers, and fresh impetus for Indian home grown welding research. The 6th International Institute of Welding Research and Collaboration Colloquium, held in Hyderabad last year, produced a plethora of Indian papers and presentations. There are important developments in arc, electron beam, laser beam and solid state welding processes, being carried out in Indian institutions that are of a pedigree second to none.
All of this technology push, and the pull of end users of welding is making a major up-skilling drive inevitable. India has about 40 million SMEs, many of them with welding capabilities. For ‘Make in India’ to succeed, high value manufacturing indigenous supply chains are essential. For example, aerospace sector expansion in India will be ultimately stifled, if it cannot access components and materials from within.