Bharat Fritz Werner (BFW), the leading manufacturer of machine tools, has proven a success in several areas, from building a platform for connecting machines to expertly leading its digital journey, while proficiently entwining innovation, R&D and kaizen to provide its customers with the best solutions. The company has one manufacturing location in Peenya, Bengaluru and one in Hosur, Tamil Nadu. EM recently visited the centre in Peenya, where a new machining shop has been built, which was invested in a year ago; it happens to be a fully connected factory, where the company is in the process of implementing step-by-step full digitalisation. From a customer perspective, BFW is operational in 48 locations within India, with four tech centres. Besides, the company has more than 40,000 installations across the world, being present in 18 countries through channel partners.
In the last five to six years, BFW has focused on its product portfolio with great insights and has come up with a series of new platforms. “This has led to a significant increase in our market penetration,” Praful Shende, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, BFW told EM and went on to state that the company’s thrust on solutions has come out very strongly. “We have co-developed products with our customers, which have become great successes in the market,” he cited and continued, “our aim is to get closer to the customers and take the learnings from them to product development, with a big plunge towards R&D.”
R&D is a part of innovation
This inevitably led us to asking: How does the company cultivate the right kind of mentality in the people who allocate resources to R&D? The answer was that BFW believes that innovation is going to be the key and R&D is a part of innovation. “In the last 2-3 years, we have been working on how to get innovation rooted in the culture of the company,” Shende revealed and continued, “therefore, we conduct many activities related to this; for example, we form small groups, assign each group with a problem and empower them to find a solution to the problem. In the process, a lot of innovation takes place and we see how this innovation can be made generic and get horizontally deployed in the product or company. So, there is a difference between continuous improvement (kaizen) and innovation; in fact, kaizen leads to innovation.”
Kaizen’s role in lean manufacturing
Not just innovation, but kaizen also plays a very important role in the process of lean manufacturing. One of the lean manufacturing methods that BFW has adopted is the simplification in process, where assemblies are broken into several excellences. “These excellences are sub-assemblies where the parts get manufactured in one place and come together for the final assembly of the machine. This has improved our way of responding to customer requirements and the overall throughput time of the entire assembly system has reduced,” Venkataraman P, COO, BFW asserted and went on, “this has called for certain process changes where we work on ‘standardised modules’ – we have been able to hit on the important aspects of standardisation, which has helped us to de-skill the activities of the people working on the line. What used to happen earlier from scratch to the end has now been simplified into different activities, during which a lot of kaizens come up.”
Getting closer to the customers
Customers can also go online on BFW’s website to get quotes for products. “However, when we launched our machine and put it up online for sale, we saw that the Indian customer, especially in capital equipment, prefers one-on-one interaction,” Rajesh Agte, Vice President – Sales & Marketing, BFW, informed. Another element that helps the company to respond to its customer’s needs is through m2nxt – a new subsidiary which will deal with everything around the machine. “It’s a machine that connects with anything, making it suitable for smart manufacturing and enabling the entire ecosystem of the customer, so that the response to their needs is much better and helps them make meaningful decisions in real time,” Ravi Raghvan, Managing Director, BFW expounded and added, “plus, the solution is not only for BFW machines but for any other machine of customers.” De facto, BFW’s partnership with Universal Robots to co-create robots for the MSME sector is also an m2next activity, as physical automation is a part of the subsidiary. The objective of this partnership is to get the smart automation on the shop floors of MSMEs within India.
IRIS platform at BFW
The company has also done a lot of cyber automation, which happens to be built on the platform called Intelligent, Reliable, Innovative, Seamless (IRIS). IRIS is BFW’s platform for connecting machines and building data & analytics of data. It took about two years to develop IRIS and is already available commercially.
The Dr Kalam Centre for Innovation
Besides, the Dr Kalam Centre for Innovation has been developed to help BFW carry out pioneering research, where the company is putting in a substantial amount of money and resources in R&D. “We develop new technologies here and not products,” clarified Shende and added, “Our long-term vision is to develop the technologies that are needed for making manufacturing smarter and more efficient through the centre.”
BFW’s digitisation strategy in 2019
Among BFW’s various manufacturing facilities and processes, the company has also built a few excellence centres and has critical sub-groups of machines which have been built in these excellence centres. They are then taken for the final assembly of the machine and built to suit the exact requirement of the customer. Plus, there’s a significant amount of digitisation that has been done in this process in terms of how data can be collected from the point the machine is born and then be kept till the machine ends its life at the customer-end.
In fact, in 2018, the company’s entire strategy has included digitisation. Expanding this strategy through 2019, it first implemented it in-house and recently built a new manufacturing plant at Hosur, Tamil Nadu which is an example of smart factory and has been built on the IRIS platform. “The machine, processes and people need to be smart, for which we are training the people in the Hosur plant,” Raghvan averred and went on, “sitting in Peenya, we can see the exact status of the plant in real-time. We are now also deploying the higher version of SAP Hana, which will further bring in seamless connectivity of all our processes to the supply chain side and customer side.”
Putting digital strategy in place
When asked about his thoughts on the current pace of digital transformation in the manufacturing industry, Raghvan responded that the Indian manufacturing industry is doing fairly okay in adapting technology solutions, with a very handful at the maturity level. “The machine tool industry falls in line with this as CNC itself has seen a digital transformation,” he divulged and continued, “in fact, with CNC, data is automatically gained, which needs to be filtered and put to best use. We put our digital strategy in place two years ago; if one has a strategy in place, then activities can run comfortably in the business. This has resulted in every product of ours improving in performance and reliability.”
Initiatives as productivity tools
Apart from digitisation, BFW has other productivity tools as well, which are more of initiatives. “The first initiative of good productivity is built when the product is designed,” Shende pronounced and went on, “so, we have product design done on a platform concept; if there is a platform with a series of machines where there is a lot of commonality, it then helps the customer in keeping maintenance down & us to keep things common, leading to building common skills and therefore, improving productivity.”
Providing topmost solutions
BFW has worked on moving forward by staying in line with technological developments happening in the industry, all leading to its chief focus – serving its customers with the topmost solutions. Several of its initiatives & platforms have profoundly helped attain this, along with its keen attention to kaizen and investment in R&D, which have resulted in the company’s innovative & effective production.