Hitachi Metals has had its presence in the Indian industry since 2006. How has the company evolved since then and what are the areas of business development?
We have been present in the Indian market for a considerable period, being among the first Japanese tool steel manufacturer. The most prominent transition over the last decades has been the proliferation of local capabilities of our customers as compared to the era when die & mould was restricted to imports from Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
Earlier, there were only captive tool rooms available. But now, there is a significant growth of commercial tool rooms. The introduction of CNC machines, the latest CAD CAM & simulation software, IoT, and Industry 4.0 combined with the ever-increasing skilled manpower has enabled a giant leap in domestic capabilities. On the demand side, there is a renewed emphasis on assigning importance to the lightweight of interior and exterior trims. Thus, there is increased usage of high tensile steel & plastic injection moulding in the automotive sector, both interior and exterior.
Optimisation is crucial. Implementation of lean manufacturing processes like VSM, SMED, and 5S is the need of the hour for the manufacturers to be more competitive, the most important factor being the continuous investments in manpower skill enhancements. This includes in-house training facilities, collaboration with technical institutes, and partners in the ecosystem with material suppliers. As tooling is a capital-intensive industry, a support policy from the Indian government can play a pivotal role in ensuring a competitive advantage for SMEs.
What are the notable trends in the die & mould sector?
Today, one of the emerging trends is the reduction in the number of die & mould imports, vis-à-vis the domestic enhancements. This incidentally now coincided with the ‘Make in India’ initiative and push from the government. On average, the die & mould components market has been growing at an average CAGR of 15-16% in the recent decade.
Machines with equipment built on the latest technologies are being used, together not only with the latest CAD/CAM but simulation software. Even the size of tools and the capacity itself are seeing an upward trend. For example, it took 26 years for machine tonnage in the die casting segment to increase from 800T in 1974 to 1400T in 2000, while it took only 10 years to increase from 1400T to 3200T.
Similarly, the trend for press tools is focussing more on high tensile light metal components. Some relevant trends in the various departments relate to high-speed machining as well as multi-axis spindles machining centres to produce complex dies in a single setup, usage of the latest simulation software for flow, solidification, and finite element analysis.
Lastly, automation, AI, and Industry 4.0 continues to find inroads into the die & tool segment. Making complex moulds & dies from digital designs and plans is a major challenge for even experienced human workers.
According to the latest global market research reports, the global tool steel market is expected to be valued at above $7.30 billion by 2028. How are you prepared to meet this growing demand?
We completely realise the potential that the Indian market represents and the clear demand that it puts on us as regards innovation, advancements in product grades as well as expansion & upgradation of our local infrastructure. We are also investing a substantial amount in R&D to come up with new grades/compositions to make our customers even more productive and competitive.
What are the major demands of Indian mould makers?
The raw material is one of the most integral parts of the entire tooling ecosystem, which not only governs the price, but also the output and productivity of the tool. Indian mould makers are essentially looking at the following:
Lead time: The criticality cannot be overstated. Materials are required once the design process is already completed, and the production deadlines have begun. Delay in the availability of the material can jeopardise the entire project.
High performance: Latest grades that can give an enhanced performance, be it high polish ability or reliable tool life so as to reduce downtime for a tool change.
Near net shape: Mould makers expertise’ lies in producing moulds and not machining. There is an increasing expectation for finish sizes, and minimum excess material - to the point, even the rough scooping of the cavity is being expected at the material supplier stage itself.
Heat treatment reliability: Heat Treatment (HT) is an integral link in the process of getting the maximum output from the material. Mould makers look for exact recommendations as regards the HT process - more so a clear expectation for the steel supplier to have their heat treatment facility so that the onus is on process capability.
Machinability: Ease in machining so as to improve productivity as well as reduce productions costs.
Can you point out the technological developments in the tool steel sector?
As far as technological developments are concerned, there is a clear transition towards more refined grades with lesser, few, and far between impurities. Processes like vaccum arc remelting are being employed more often now to produce even cleaner steels. There are also huge investments in our forging presses so that the steel produced is of the cleanest and most uniform microstructure possible. The pursuit of high abrasion resistance, excellent lubricity, and heat resistance requirements of various dies and forming tools, is necessitating hybrid PVD technologies with laminated functional layers.
How do you foresee the growth of the Indian manufacturing industry?
The Indian manufacturing industry generated 16-17% of India’s GDP pre-pandemic and is projected to be one of the fastest growing sectors. In the sphere of manufacturing, India has traditionally been focused on domestic production and consumption. Having said that, both the government and the Indian companies recognise the need to move forward to the next phase of the industry.
The National Manufacturing Policy aims to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25% by 2025. The ‘Make in India’ is expected to increase the demand & consumption for machinery and equipment by the local manufacturing industry. In addition, the PLI scheme targets to develop 13 sectors on par with global manufacturing standards.