What challenges do you think the manufacturing industry will face during its transition from fuel vehicles to electric vehicles?
We are currently at a very nascent stage as far as EVs are concerned. In my view, some of the major challenges that the Indian manufacturing industry is facing or will face are affordability from the consumer point of view i.e., the cost of the vehicle, battery cost, and availability of charging stations and raw materials. A very common question asked by consumers is how long will the battery last? With batteries, as we all know, unlike China, lithium is not available with us. So, we need to find alternatives that are cheaper, affordable, safe and sustainable. While the industry is busy dealing with these problems the consumers are scared with news of EVs burning into flames. We need to find solutions as per the Indian standards. Batteries are the heart of the EVs. Any compromise with that will lead to unpleasant results.
From the manufacturing industry’s point of view, auto component suppliers and toolmakers that are specifically focused on engines and related components will have to strategise their business operations. Since EVs will not have engines and powertrain, companies will have to make a gradual shift towards other components of the vehicle in order to sustain the business. Also, EVs will demand lots of new materials in order to reduce weight so machining job shops and toolmakers will have to skill-up themselves to cater to such demands.
Keeping the global lithium deficit in mind, do the Indian automakers have any alternatives ready?
Not at the moment. A lot of R&D is going around to explore the potential of sodium ions as an alternative to lithium ions. Sodium is 300% more available than lithium. Hydrogen is also an alternative but, the scalability is the question. The government has also looped in ISRO for this research. We cannot just import battery technology; we need to evolve technologically on our own to meet these challenges. With charging infrastructure as well, I feel we need to make private charging available. Parking spaces need to be safe in residential complexes. China has banned EV charging in high rise buildings and basements and their 60% vehicles are electric. The solution for this is a proper ecosystem for charging. In India, for anything to be successful, it needs to be in high capacity and large scale and ultimately for any product, customer decides the price, so until and unless the EVs are rightly priced, total transition is difficult.
What are the upcoming technological trends in the Indian manufacturing industry?
The recent pandemic has made us focus more on shop floor management, supply chain disruptions and shortages of resources. We have learnt to use less resources in an efficient manner. For the tooling industry, the customer demand is increasing and designers are being challenged. Additive Manufacturing has really come in handy to deal with this during the pandemic. 3D Printing is helping designers focus on intricate features and customisation. I can say 3D Printing is solving some major problems in manufacturing. Industry 4.0 and factory automation driven by robots and data; all these technologies have created excitement in the industry. Manufacturers are keen to use and explore them.
What challenges is the tooling industry facing in keeping up with these trends?
In my opinion, finding skilled manpower is one of the biggest challenges faced by the tooling industry. We are also not backed with industry-friendly policies, the import duty on some of the key things like 5-axis machines and tool steel is also high. It is imperative for tool makers to explore new avenues. There are a whole lot of industries that look promising and need to be explored. We must step out of our comfort zone. With our huge young population and internet penetration, I believe, the coming decade belongs to India. Once the economy gets back to normal, the purchasing power will get stronger and that will drive demand for practically every industry. This, in turn, will help us, the tool makers, with huge domestic demand.
Do you think the Indian government’s policies and schemes concerning manufacturing, especially the tooling industry, need a change?
It definitely needs a change but there has been good progress. Indian companies need support for easy financing, import duty reduction in machines and tool steel, and development of tooling clusters in various parts of the country. We need policies that are specific to toolmakers. We need tooling clusters in big cities like Pune. We also need customer-oriented policies. There is a big void between customer demand and how and what the industry does to fulfil these demands. We need to collaborate with the government on the right things. The responsibility lies equally on us. I do not undermine the capabilities of Indian toolmakers, but we have a long way to go. I feel we should not depend on only one sector.
What specific developments does the Indian manufacturing industry and the tooling sector need to get globally competitive and which aspect of manufacturing has the most potential for digitisation?
As far as developments are concerned, I feel capacity enhancement should be a priority. Other things we need to get globally competitive are skill development and tooling clusters. We will also have to adopt new trends. As scalability is a challenge for tooling, we need to become specialists in tooling.
But to be successful, we need to go beyond competition. The way forward is to share resources and ideas and work in collaboration. The tooling industry needs to attract the young workforce by glamorising their processes and shop floors. With the recently held Die and Mould Exhibition, I saw a lot of enthusiasm amongst our young toolmakers and also our customers. So, in spite the situation, we are progressing towards a bright future.