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Technology transfer can help machine tool manufacturers to manufacture state-of-the-art machine tools locally

Image: Shutterstock, Micromatic Grinding Technologies
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Metal Cutting Smart & Sustainable Approach: The Changing Era of Indian Manufacturing

Sep 22, 2016

The recent demand for infrastructure development and local manufacturing of capital goods has given an opportunity for Indian machine tool manufacturers to expand and diversify their range and grow at a higher pace to reduce imports gradually. The feature discusses how the machine tool sector can look forward to an era of significant growth, by nurturing the design and development capabilities, thereby, developing new products and technologies.

The machine tools industry plays a pivotal role in the Indian manufacturing industry and ascertains the future strength and capability of the sector. The Indian machine tool industry is equipped to develop indigenous technologies, and offer world-class machines at competitive prices. Indian companies have also entered into technical collaborations and joint ventures to upgrade technology. This would enhance the competitiveness of India’s machine tool industry, which is one of the crucial elements for the development of thrust sectors such as capital goods, automotive, defense, railways, etc, which will shape the future of the country.

There are close to 700 manufacturers of machine tools in India, with the top 25 players having a 70% market share in the overall machine tools market. The Indian machine tool industry has strong market participants such as Jyoti CNC and Ace Micromatic, who, in addition to establishing a strong base in the country, have also invested outside the country to gain access to high-end technologies. The manufacturing clusters at Rajkot and Coimbatore have been instrumental in fostering an ecosystem for machine tool production in the country; this model can be replicated across the country. DMG-Mori, Makino, Doosan, Mazak, and Haas Automation are among the prominent players who export machine tools to India. Imported machines are preferred for applications with high productivity and precision needs. Low technology CNC machines are imported from China and Taiwan.

Production & consumption trends

The production for machine tools in India is not in line with the consumption; hence, the industry imports almost 57% of its total demand. Domestic production has shown a strong growth of 24.1% in FY 2014-15 over FY 2013-14. CNC machines contributed to 81% and non-CNC ones accounted for the remaining 19% of the production in FY 2014-15. The metal-forming segment achieved a production of INR 3,769 crore with the majority being CNC machines, while the metal-cutting segment achieved a production of INR 462 crore showing a dip of 5% over the previous year. Indian manufacturing is gradually shifting towards production of high value-added equipment like CNC and specialised machines.

Although India has a strong demand for machine tools, the machine tools sector is highly fragmented with a large number of SMEs who supply low technology products, thus limiting the growth of SMEs. The sector largely depends on the latest technology and requires vigorous R&D efforts to sustain. Advancements in machine tool technology reflect directly on the manufacturing expertise of the industry resulting in cost reduction, lead-time reduction, and design improvement. Indian machine tool manufacturers do not produce machine tools for machining large components and for meeting high precision requirements of the increasingly quality-conscious end users in the country. Hence, segments such as railways, defense, and industrial machinery manufacturers depend on imported equipment.

On a brighter note, major consumers of machine tools such as automotive, energy, and capital goods manufacturers have benefited vastly from improvements in the sector. A push towards technologically advanced products in the automotive, aerospace, and power generation sectors in the country has resulted in Indian manufacturers looking for the latest machine tool technology. However, the domestic production has made very little progress in developing special purpose CNC machines and multi-axes machines, which is mainly due to lack of access to technology.

A strong domestic demand, manufacturing-focused initiatives from the Government, and thrust on local manufacturing is expected to fuel the growth in the Indian automotive, aerospace, defense, and power generation sectors. This will provide ample opportunities for machine tool suppliers in India, both in terms of volume and product capability.

The changing dynamics of manufacturing

The evolution of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has enabled the concept of smart manufacturing. Dynamic customer requirements, intricate manufacturing processes, and the sudden upsurge of distributed assets have resulted in this manufacturing transformation. As manufacturing processes evolve, customers are also on the lookout for additional functionality in the form of manufacturing intelligent tools to address key manufacturing requirements and improve the overall efficiency of their operations. Smart manufacturing involves use of sensors and automation and digital technologies for a more efficient manufacturing system with an ability to adapt to changing demands. It will connect manufacturing and logistics to gather, visualise, analyse, and monitor machine, process, and sensor data. Machine tools are part of the entire ecosystem, which is expected to play a key role in achieving the goal of smart and sustainable manufacturing.

In an era where industries are adopting methods to reduce their energy footprint, usage of machine tools with features to reduce energy consumption and increase operational efficiency are gaining importance. Usage of electric drives (which reduce energy consumption), integrated hydraulic systems to increase the operational efficiency and capacity, effective design to enhance effective heat dissipation, thereby reducing the cooling requirements, are some areas where machine tool manufacturers globally are focusing on. Retrofit of machine tools with energy-efficient drives to prolong the life of machines is also on the rise. Integrating automation systems with energy intelligence systems help users monitor the performance of the machines and provide them with key data on energy consumption. Effective coolant usage by increasing the reuse cycles and using modern refrigeration systems to reduce the use of harmful chemicals is very relevant to the machine tools industry.

Interconnected machines, which can leverage seamless real-time machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, can adapt and respond faster to changing customer needs. Multiple field devices connected on the same control network, such as Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) or Distributed Control System (DCS) would be able to unite various processes across the value chain. The control system is connected to the Level 3 manufacturing execution system, to be able to communicate to the central purchase or production system. The enterprise solutions, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), integrate the various divisions and allow exchange of data and communication through the network. IoT brings in interconnectivity within the field devices and increases collaboration between equipment and users. Adoption of these advanced manufacturing systems will lead to high levels of data availability, which will also facilitate creation of intelligent control resulting in improved operational excellence. Real-time decision making will enable higher productivity, operational efficiency, and asset utilisation of current assets.

Automation as an efficiency enabler

Automation aims at using control systems for operating equipment to reduce human intervention and provide data for real-time performance management. Seamless integration and connectivity between multiple equipment including machine tools can lead to an integrated shop floor. M2M integration will also allow mass customisation and mass production of customised products where all manufacturing systems are agile to adapt to changing requirements.

Furthermore, automation of workplaces and machines including robotics can help in increasing productivity and utilisation levels. Automation of the overall production process provides added advantages such as reduction in errors, along with reduced downtime of the machine, while also reducing manual labour in the process.

Along with the adoption of systems for sustainable manufacturing and integration between different layers of automation, it is also pertinent for the Indian machine tool industry to rapidly embrace new technologies. Flexible manufacturing systems and Additive Manufacturing can play an important role in achieving the goal of smart and sustainable manufacturing.

Flexible Manufacturing Systems

Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) refers to an extremely automated Group Technology (GT) machine cell, comprising processing workstations, mostly CNC machine tools, attached to an automated material handling and storage system, and controlled by distributed computer systems. The FMS is capable of processing a range of different parts or products at various workstations concurrently. The system is capable of identifying between the different part styles, can adapt immediately to the operating instructions and also alter the physical set-up instantly. The desired quantities of production can be achieved according to the changing demand patterns; hence, it is referred to as a flexible manufacturing system.

In FMS, the entire set-up of workstations including machine tools does not require any significant changeover and can be directed by a central control system. With better implementation, the FMS can lower the manufacturing cost, reduce the cost per unit, provide higher labour productivity and enhance machine performance, improve reliability, reduce the lead time, lower the inventories, and provide a more sustainable manufacturing ecosystem.

Going a step further, if smart manufacturing is integrated with flexible manufacturing, factories can be quickly reprogrammed to cater faster time to market today and the next generation of mass customisation. Smart factories will bring in seamless machine-to-machine connectivity on the shop floor and integration of every aspect of manufacturing from suppliers to end customers. Moreover, it will also provide safety for workers and protect the environment by making zero emissions and zero-incident manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive Manufacturing, also referred as 3D printing, is the process of attaching layers upon layers to create products from 3D model data, as opposed to subtracting manufacturing, which involves cutting away what is not needed from larger pieces of the material. Additive Manufacturing has massive potential in almost every market ranging from automotive to aerospace, whereas subtractive manufacturing is becoming obsolete.

Recently, there have been a few instances of combining Additive Manufacturing into machine tools. An effort to integrate existing CNC machines, which is originally a subtractive machine, with Additive Manufacturing has been made. While Additive Manufacturing involves making parts from layers, a certain level of follow-up machining, ranging from drilling and tapping holes to finish milling for surface quality, is required. The combination of both subtracting and Additive Manufacturing into a single machine not only saves time and floor space, but also lowers part handling and errors.The whole process will combine the advantages of subtractive and Additive Manufacturing to provide economical parts or products, with minimum assembly requirements, lower lead time, lesser skilled labour, and lower wastage of materials. While cost has been the major hindrance in Additive Manufacturing, gaining a greater acceptance by such hybrid systems provide a means to reduce cost and the existing machines with greater flexibility.

Key issues and challenges

Technology-driven & knowledge-intensive: The machine tool industry is capital and knowledge-intensive with high dependence on R&D, which has always been a neglected area in Indian industries due to which it is not able to compete in the global arena. Hence, increased focus on research and innovation will help organisations build competitive edge and also overcome the challenge of denial of technology in key segments such as aerospace and defense.

Excessive dependence on import: The machine tools sector in India is excessively dependent on imports as direct imports for machine tools account up to 60% of the total demand. The demand of high technology machine tools is increasing over time, which has led to increased imports.

Zero duty imports under FTAs: Free import does not encourage domestic manufacturing and technology transfer. It, in fact, limits the growth and development of the industry. During the past few years, a number of Foreign Trade Agreements have been signed with many countries where the import duties of these nations have been reduced to zero. This has hit the domestic players badly due to the high input cost and high interest rates, thereby, reducing their profit margins considerably.

Value chain development: While Indian companies have started manufacturing high technology machines, certain key components like drives, controls, and electronics are still imported. It is very important to develop a comprehensive supply chain, which works along with the manufacturers on product development.


In order to achieve the goal of smart and sustainable manufacturing, India needs to focus on technology development and create a suitable environment for technology transfer from developed countries. Technology transfer can help machine tool manufacturers to manufacture state-of-the-art machine tools locally. There should be an additional and vigorous focus on research and development activities. The Government can help in a big way by supporting the SMEs and providing them convenient access to capital, technology, and skilled manpower, which can help them to increase their exports. Industry associations and end-user stakeholders are key to creating a suitable environment for adoption of smart manufacturing solutions. For successful smart manufacturing systems implementation, existing and upcoming manufacturers have to embrace new technologies and the older generation has to invest their vast experience to ensure higher returns on investment. ☐

Exclusive white paper by Automation & Electronics Practice, Frost & Sullivan —Middle East, North Africa & South Asia

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    Image: Frost & Sullivan

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