Monday, April 9, 2018

Swaraj Tractors: Focusing on Higher HP Tractor Segment

The Indian tractor market is witnessing a steady shift to higher horse power tractors. Punjab-based Swaraj Tractors – the tractor arm of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd – that hitherto did not have a presence in the higher horse power segment recently marked its arrival in the new 60-75PH platform, up from its current offering of 15-60HP range, with its all-new Swaraj 963 FE. Auto Tech Review caught up with Rajesh Jejurikar, President Farm Equipment sector, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd to know about its newest offering, changing farm mechanisation trends and what lies ahead for the industry.

The higher horse power tractor market is still in its nascent stage - the market for 50HP and above in India is less than 10% with a couple of players having a presence in this segment. Swaraj Tractors took a call to develop this tractor as it felt that it was missing out on opportunities in the 60-75HP segment. The company took around four years (including six months of planning) to develop this tractor. Swaraj Tractors had rolled out the 960 FE two years back and the exercise provided it an opportunity to understand the needs and gaps of the high horse power segment. The launch of the Swaraj 963 FE enables it to address the missing link in the 60-75HP segment, Jejurikar said.

The government has drawn up plans to frame a contract farming policy. Such a policy will create new opportunities for tractor manufacturers like Swaraj Tractors. A contract farming policy will effectively create a need for bigger farms. Bigger farms, in turn, will create demand for higher horse power tractors. Swaraj Tractors is excited to tap into this higher horse power segment, Jejurikar explains.

The tractor landscape is fast evolving and will witness more specialised products for niche applications like niche horticulture-based farming. There has always been a focus on rice and wheat but going forward there will be more focus on non-core grains. The farming is diversifying; the horticulture output is higher than grain output and many mechanisation solutions will come into play, Jejurikar said.

The Indian tractor space enjoys a high level of farm mechanisation penetration in stark contrast to the trends witnessed across the globe. The size of the non-tractor mechanisation market globally is much higher than the tractor market. 30% of the business comes from tractors and the rest from machinery or whether attached to a tractor or independent. In India, tractors comprise 85% of organised mechanisation and only 15% comes from machinery. This is because the landholding size in India is much smaller, but the market will see a change happening over the next 3-5 years once the government contract farming policy is rolled out, he added.

The country is grappling with acute labour shortage in this space, which leaves adequate scope for new technologies to come into play that will improve yield and productivity. Farming 3.0 is all about bringing new technologies to enable farmers improve yield and productivity, including use of technology like driverless tractors and precision farming. Precision farming will be an important part of Farming 3.0, using emerging technologies with algorithms to predict the yield and the right use of products, Jejurikar puts things in perspective.

The Swaraj 963 FE is designed indigenously by its in-house R&D team based at Mohali. The tractor is powered by a 60HP engine and the company claims it can deliver 15% more torque (delivering 220Nm of torque) than other tractors in the same category, which will significantly enhance productivity. Torque plays an important role in enhancing productivity as well as the ability of the tractor to get more work done in time. High torque engine enables a farmer to operate bigger and heavier implements that other tractors cannot, Jejurikar said.

The engine of the Swaraj 963 FE operates at a lower rated RPM. There is less wear and tear when an engine moves slowly. As a result of this, there is less fuel consumption and offers much better efficiency for farmers, Jejurikar said. The engine is equipped with a bigger radiator that ensures enhanced engine cooling. The increased engine cooling enables farmers to operate for longer hours without running the engine hot.

The Swaraj 963 FE comes with industry-first 400 hours of service intervals. A lengthy service interval reduces the cost of ownership of the farmer and paves the way for prolonged operation as well as significantly lowers service stations visits. This is in line with Swaraj Tractors’ tradition of long life engines, Jejurikar noted.

The tractor space in the country is witnessing heightened farmer expectations. The general trend is that farmers want more power, speed, productivity as well as flexibility but without any corresponding increase in fuel cost, Jejurikar pointed out.The Swaraj 963 FE boasts of a best-in-class lifting capacity of 2,200 Kg. The higher capacity hydraulic pump enables quick lifting, making it best suited for various ploughing and sowing operations. The precision of how hydraulics work and manages the lift with implements is crucial. It is important to understand that if precision is not achieved it will lead to slower work or rework.

There is a great deal of buzz being generated about electric vehicles in India, but Swaraj Tractors does not believe that there is a market for electric tractors as yet. Tractors are used for long hours and there will be a need for backup torque something that electric does not easily give, Jejurikar signed off.

Paracoat Products Focusing On Innovations Around Driver Monitoring Systems

Driver management has always been a huge challenge in India, be it the passenger vehicle or commercial vehicle space. Paracoat Products Ltd, a well-known NVH solution provider, has taken up the challenge of coming up with an innovative solution that it claims will alleviate the ‘driver handling’ concerns of customers in a big way. Auto Tech Review caught up with Rajesh Poddar, Director, Paracoat Products Ltd to know more about the driver management system (DMS) that was showcased at the recently-concluded Auto Expo.

At the expo, Paracoat rolled out three types of dash cams – front, internal and rear. While the front and rear cams will come into play in cases of a vehicle being involved in an incident, the internal cam tracks the behaviour of not just the driver but also of the passengers. The internal cam could work wonders for cab aggregators such as Ola and Uber, said Poddar, as it can not only track driver behaviour but also passenger behaviour. This is critical, since passenger misbehaviour does not generate the same kind of attention like driver misbehaviour in India.

The feedback from radio cab drivers has been very encouraging for the company. Poddar has himself taken over 30 rides in radio cabs, and “all of them” have shown interest in buying the cams at their own cost, because it is for their safety, he claimed. The company intends to sell the dash cams through OES partners as well as OEMs’ accessory showrooms.

Paracoat also showcased an in-cabin sensing technology, which it claims will track drowsy or drunken driving and pre-empt any untoward road accidents, especially in the commercial vehicle space. An estimated 60-70 % of road accidents in India are attributed to trucks. There are no regulations to monitor truck drivers in the country, and they are often found tired, drowsy and at times, drunk. This is what this in-cabin sensing technology aims to address. The DMS will set-off a buzzer, when it detects a driver feeling drowsy. With the aid of the GPS technology, the system will also inform the fleet manager about the health of the driver, and his location.

Paracoat also entered into a licensing arrangement with Israel-based eyeSight Technologies for this in-cabin sensing technology. Under this arrangement, the company is importing the hardware and software from Israel and will do the installation, servicing and monitoring, if any issues crop up, said Poddar.

Part of the DMS is a driver identification system (DIS) that integrates biometrics and retina into the sensor. Simply put, this system recognises drivers of a particular truck, and any unauthorised person driving the truck will be flagged. The DIS will ensure that the truck will not start unless the driver is recognised. If at all a driver wants himself replaced by somebody else, he will have to contact the call centre and get the new driver identified or recognised, before the latter can proceed with the journey.

Daimler has recently announced that it will deploy such a technology in their trucks, Poddar informed. He is confident that every truck company, school buses and public buses will be keen to deploy such a technology.

The company also unveiled a gesture control infotainment system that it claims will help avoid driving distractions, such as increasing or decreasing music volume, changing music channels or attending to phone calls. Fitted with a small camera, the infotainment system can respond to the driver’s voice or by just raising the hand to receive or lowering his hand to refuse a call. The company is looking to forge tie-ups with multiple Tier 1 infortainment system guys on how to in-build this sensor into their infotainment and make it a compact package for OEMs, said Poddar.

The company also rolled out an EV battery charger that features a display board. This interchangeable display board, Poddar said, could be used to post advertisements. It will enable shops adjacent to the battery charging stations to post commercials for customers, who may like to eat or engage in something else during the time his vehicle battery is being charged, said Poddar.

Most OEMs have an EV somewhere across the globe and bringing them to India will be a huge challenge, he said. Moreover, he recognises that putting in place an EV battery infrastructure will be a gargantuan task. The company nonetheless is seeking opportunities to set-up EV battery charging infrastructure across relevant markets.

At the expo, the company also rolled out a battery cover that ensures the heat from the engine does not go into the battery, enhancing the battery life by a claimed 30 %. Business overall has been good for the company in the last five years, growing at 14-15 annually. This year, Poddar said aiming to grow at 20 % on the back of the various future-ready solutions rolled out recently.

Delux Bearings Is Bullish About Tapping Into Passenger Car Segment

Automotive bearings are a vital component in the efficient and smooth running of a vehicle. Mumbai-based Delux Bearings has been India’s leading manufacturer of clutch release bearings, ball bearings, pulleys and steering column bearings largely catering to the commercial vehicle segment over several decades now. Auto Tech Review caught up with Rohan Rathod, Director & CEO, Delux Bearings to know about its robust presence in the commercial vehicle segment and its new focus areas in the bearings space.

Delux Bearings is betting big on its newest product – pneumatically actuated clutch release bearings – that were showcased at the recently-concluded Auto Expo – Components. These bearings can be pneumatically actuated for heavy duty cycles with doubly extended product reliability, and offers a lifetime run of 100,000-200,000 km. Compared to a typical release bearing for trucks, these bearings eliminate the complete clutch actuation mechanism, making all into one.

The company has also made provisions to mount sensors on these bearings. That would allow automatic actuation through the intelligence of the engine and transmission. The sensor will dictate when the shift should be made – thus reducing shift time – and has the capability of finding out if the vehicle is going uphill or downhill, explained Rathod. It will be commercially available in 12 months, he said.

Bearings essentially transmit load and reduce friction. But there are always frictional losses within the bearing that are contributed by rollers, balls, cages, lubrication, etc. These are inherent within the design of the bearing, Rathod explained. The challenge lies in reducing internal frictions. The company is carrying out innovations on the existing types of bearings a typical car would use, not just in the powertrain but in the wheels and other areas and how it can increase those efficiencies, the Delux CEO observed.

On the R&D front, Delux adopts a ‘studio method’ that is unlike a typical R&D set-up. Its R&D activities have engineers, robotics and graphic designers all sitting in the same room. Rathod is striving to bring a flavour of his strong overseas experience in architecture at Delux. “Such collaborative R&D provides us a competitive edge and also ensures our products are aesthetically more appealing than typical products,” he said.

The company revamped its development process and introduced a lot of simulation software that enabled it to predict and prevent instead of doing trial and error. This simulation software helped plug small issues that can typically cause a delay of six months during prototyping, he said. The company is also implementing Windchill PLM for its product data management. All its plants have access to the entire library of components that they can share in the design phase. It also uses software that is similar to Nomax for calculating scenarios within which a bearing has to perform. This has enabled the company to understand the dynamics of the product in a virtual condition before it is prototyped.

The company has high focus on efficient manufacturing and has already started piloting Industry 4.0 at its factories. It has installed computer and distance screens at some of its machines for monitoring. One can check out on their phones what is the OEE (overall equipment efficiency) of the machine; the level and reasons for operator rejection; the failure mode for that rejection – all these will ensure a level of interconnectedness in manufacturing and ultimately bring down unit economics, Rohan pointed out.

The country’s move to electric mobility will render many bearings redundant. Typically, an IC powertrain or driveline needs around 30 to 42 components, but an electric powertrain would need around 7 to 10 components only. Clutch, clutch bearing, some gearbox bearings as well as some bearings in the propeller shaft will turn redundant, Rathod highlighted. What happens to these players who are supplying these bearings and how their capacities will be utilised is a big question, wondered Rathod.

With a robust commercial vehicle market presence, Delux is now bullish about tapping into the hugely untapped passenger vehicle market. Many top Indian carmakers like Maruti Suzuki India, Honda Cars India and Hyundai Motor India are still importing release bearings. Delux wants to replicate its CV success in the PV segment. The company has bagged orders from Mahindra for one of its UV platforms, and is close to sealing a deal with PSA Group for clutch release bearings, intimated Rohan.

Delux generates around 60 % of its revenue from OEMs and exports, while the remaining 40 % comes from the aftermarket. The company grew by 10 % last year and is expected to grow by 15 % this year. Delux aims to double its turnover by 2020 on the back of its soon-to-be rolled out pneumatic actuated clutch release bearings and the untapped PV market.

Public Transportation Should Be The Focus Area For EVs: ARAI Director Rashmi Urdhwareshe

With so much of talk around electromobility, we decided to speak to Rashmi Urdhwareshe, Director, Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) to know her perspective on how the country is geared up to transition from ICEs to EVs, as well as her views on other energy sources. The country’s EV focus should be on public transportation and subsequently on creating public infrastructure for EVs, she said. Excerpts from a freewheeling interview:

Rashmi Urdhwareshe has been consistently the pillar of strength behind the growth and success of the Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) – the country’s apex vehicle testing body. Urdhwareshe, who took charge as ARAI Director in the second half of 2014, has successfully handled a wide gamut of responsibilities over the years, in areas of automotive electronics, instrumentation & controls, quality management, homologation & standardisation, international harmonisation of automotive regulations, vehicle type approval certification, export homologation, laboratory accreditation, etc.

Born in Nagpur to professor parents, Urdhwareshe leads from the front, in terms of taking up challenges at ARAI. Interestingly, she kicked off her professional career as a trainee engineer at ARAI in 1983. Urdhwareshe completed her post-graduation in Electronics Engineering from the Collegwe of Engineering, Pune. She is a former NCC cadet, a state-level bridge champion as well as a trained sitar player.

As the Indian auto industry starts making a transition from ICE to electric vehicles as per the government’s 2030 go-all-electric mandate, how do you assess this transition?

These are indeed challenging times for the industry. I think the government’s direction of going all electric by 2030 has to be interpreted in a right manner. Go-all-electric does not mean that all vehicle categories should go electric – the country’s EV focus should be on public transportation and subsequently we can focus on creating public infrastructure for EVs. The need of the hour is to focus on electric mobility for auto rickshaws, buses and taxis as it is easy to deploy charging infrastructure at auto stands, taxi stands and bus depots. We need to create success stories around these segments and once that happens, the acceptance of EVs will increase. I feel that it is very much achievable because policies are in place and action plans can be certainly drawn. As far as personalised mobility is concerned, I don’t think consumers are ready to absorb EVs.

How do you think the challenges related to electromobility can be overcome?

The Indian auto industry has been vibrant enough to take on challenges and I’m sure the industry will respond to the challenges positively. Engineers love technical challenges! The first and most important thing will be to increase the acceptability as well as commercial viability of EVs on a large scale than just the pilot/ experimental introduction. I can definitely see customer awareness among modern city dwellers be it Delhi, Pune or any other city that want a pollution-free environment. People in these cities are talking about moving to cleaner transportation solutions and these are the areas where acceptability will be very high. There is a need to move in a structured manner towards creating the EV infrastructure as well as bring the ownership cost down. After the current government’s go-electric announcement, cities are coming forward and investing heavily and are willing to create public infrastructure for charging and enabling electrification, which I think will be a major game changer. ICEs will certainly stay because there is no such thing as dominance of one segment over the other

How is ARAI’s E-mobility Centre of Excellence likely to help shape the EV journey across the country?

We perceive that this e-mobility centre of excellence will help in multiple ways in handling technology – ranging from creation of charging infrastructure, developing vehicular technology solutions, knowledge management, providing testing/ validation facility and skill development. ARAI will focus on one more aspect – collaborate research and develop an ecosystem for enabling technology to be made available for quick absorption. We do not have the time to reinvent anything; it is important to adopt technology for Indian-specific requirements and move faster to achieve the national objectives. This centre has all the testing and validation infrastructure at component level, systems level and complete vehicle level.

In addition, it provides R&D for start-ups as well as simulation-based technologies that can be effectively used for fast development. ARAI plans to create a web-link with the Ministry of Heavy Industry (DHI) for inviting collaborative research as well as technology transfer services. There are multiple institutes that are working on development of battery or motor technologies – it will be important to integrate these so that we can achieve our goal of electric mobility.

The battery cost of electric vehicles has always been a big talking point – how do you think a concept like battery swapping is relevant for the Indian market?

It is a worthwhile concept. India should try this out in a controlled manner in small battery packs. Keeping in view environmental and usage duty cycles, operational safety would be a big concern that needs to be addressed. Swapping concept works well with standardised packs and specifications. Two- and three-wheelers could therefore be good candidates for trying out the battery swapping concept.

With so much EV talk, how do you see the ICE space shape up? Do you think it will play a second fiddle to EVs or replaced completely or can co-exist together with EVs?

ICEs will certainly stay – co-exist is the right word, because there is no such thing as dominance of one segment over the other. Sectors such as construction and mining, commercial agriculture tractors, long haulage trucks, special purpose vehicles, etc, will continue to be dependent on ICEs.

In the future mix of propulsion technologies, what role do you see for hybrids?

Hybrids would have been a natural and logical choice had it not been for the government’s focus on pure EVs. Technically, hybrids are much easier to adopt. I also see a space for retrofitment of vehicles done through hybrids. Such retrofitments would offer dual benefits – increase fuel efficiency as well as reduce emissions. For now, because of the government’s immediate electrification goals, OEMs as well as ARAI have shifted their efforts towards EV development and the focus on hybrids is taking a backseat, but the technology is very much relevant for India. I believe that we should pursue it for after-fitment of vehicles to clean up the existing fleets.

Be it BS VI emission norms, the 2030 all-electric target or safety regulations – the auto industry seems to be under pressure to respond to all these challenges.

The auto industry is certainly under tremendous pressure. It is important for OEMs to reshape their investments and also ready up their Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, as the supplier base for all these technologies is very different. The time available for all these is so short that effectively managing their product portfolios is a big challenge. Similar challenge is there for ARAI as well – our resources and capabilities are also being planned to support the development, validation and final approvals. Nevertheless we have been anticipating the dynamic demand and are able to shift our focus and work towards alternate energies.

ARAI is not just focusing on electric mobility but also on very actively developing alternate energy solutions, where IC engines would continue to play a role if not in pure petrol or diesel mode, but in dual fuel variants working on various blends or combinations of alternate energies. We anticipate that there is immense potential to explore these possibilities in parallel to EVs.

How does ARAI plan to address the enormous challenge of testing the huge number of engines in the country today for BS VI compliance?

ARAI has created additional test centres and is scaling up its operations multi-fold. We have invested heavily with support from our parent ministry as well as from our own research funds in our facilities at Kothrud and Chakan. We have augmented the technical capabilities and skills of our testing and homologation teams. Our teams have undergone extensive training, working on optimisation using simulation technologies as well as working on advanced after-treatment devices and other newer areas involving green fuels. ARAI is focusing on collaborative work; drawing up joint research programmes with fellow institutes to accelerate the speed of technology development. ARAI has also internally created a Technology Group that acts as a think-tank to bring in technology solutions to cater to the industry needs. ARAI is working with most of the OEMs for reengineering their vehicles to migrate to BS VI. This covers the entire range of products – two-wheelers all the way up to buses, trucks and tractors.
We are seeing vehicle manufacturers voluntarily coming forward and seeking to carry out safety tests

There is a lot of talk about India’s own car assessment programme – Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program (BNVSAP). How prepared are we to make this programme a success?

If we look globally, such safety assessment programmes are not regulated by the government or through any mandatory norms. It is usually regulated by insurance and consumer demands – the purpose is to enable the consumer to select the product on the basis of its safety rating. The draft protocol of the Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Programme has already been announced, but the government is yet to announce who will be administering it. As far as ARAI is concerned, we have full testing and certification capability as per this protocol as well as Global NCAP. It is seen that vehicle manufacturers are voluntarily coming forward and seeking to carry out such evaluation tests.

ARAI has lined up its 2020 roadmap that includes a big focus on light weighting of vehicles – how that is shaping up?

ARAI is working closely with the Department of Heavy Industry to develop competencies and techniques for lightweighting through concepts like smart structures, materials & composite development and forging processes. These projects are undertaken through the government’s cess funding. One of the completed projects involves developing an aluminium super structure for buses that will help in electric bus development programmes; light material and lighter structures will help enable electrification to a large extent. This project is close to its successful conclusion and the technology is now available for transfer. We are also working on high strength steel development and material characterisation with various combinations of alloys at the material level. At the manufacturing level, the forging industry is coming forward with research projects related to energy saving and process optimisation and quality improvement.

How do sum up the future of the Indian auto industry?

Given the changing scenario, it is important to ride the right wave. Policies such as ‘Make in India’ are already creating the enablers. The need of the hour is to encash them by developing the complete ecosystem that will be a big advantage for India. India has a large supplier base; we have material development and manpower resources. Given all these, India has a huge potential and I have no hesitation in seeing a bright future for the automotive industry.