Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Telematics Steadily Making Inroads in Tractor Space

Telematics has been steadily gaining prominence in the automotive industry globally, going a long way in helping vehicle owners, especially fleet operators to not just improve turnaround time but also ring in a certain degree of accountability in the way the overall operations are run. The tractor space is increasingly looking to adopt telematics in a big way, as it paves the way for heightened productivity and weeds out any scope for argument between the contractor (deployed to operate the tractor) and the tractor owner over payment matters.

It is critical to point out that farmers in India are going through a difficult phase. Increasing fuel costs coupled with rising inputs costs like seed costs and fertilizer costs are resulting in increasing cost of cultivation. What’s more, the minimum support price (MSP) farmers are getting from the government hasn’t increased on desired lines, thus leading to immense pressure on the profitability of farmers. Thus, the bottom line is clear – farmers need to reduce their cost of cultivation and improve their yield.

With this in mind, Pune-based John Deere India – a subsidiary of US-based Deere & Company – has placed high focus on incorporating telematics in the Indian tractor space, rolling out the JD Link technology – a mobile app-based telematics solution through which customers can remotely monitor the health and safety of a tractor on a farmer’s phone. 

It is observed that customers that operate a fleet of tractors in India, often have to grapple with myriad issues such as fuel theft, detailed information of proper utilisation, etc as previously there was no scientific method to measure the acres cultivated that often led to ineffective fleet management . This is where the JD Link technology will come in handy as it not only improves productivity but also augments farmers’ income.

Further, the JD Link also enables customers generate various generate and store it for future use as well as receive automatic alerts in case of any malfunctions.

Algorithms for Autonomous Vehicles Take Decisions Based on Data

There is a great deal of buzz generated over autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars across the automotive industry globally. However, in the Indian context, there are reservations over adoption of autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars. The general line of thought is that autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars would end up eliminating jobs of drivers in a large way and India will not be ready with required infrastructure in years to come. Sharing his perspective on adoption of autonomous vehicles, Prashant Deshpande, Founder & Managing Director, EC-Mobility (a company that offers future mobility solutions in Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Autonomous Driving among others), said autonomous vehicles are no longer considered a futuristic dream and could turn into reality sooner than many among us probably think.

Given the transformations witnessed across the automotive industry, the EC-Mobility’s top official said going forward the industry will be hugely dictated by usage of software and data. Automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers across the globe are working towards achieving Level Four and Level Five automation but how these levels of automation pan out remains to be seen, he noted.

The rapidly-evolving automotive industry will see data emerge as the new ‘oil’ and the onus will be on automotive companies to turn these data into value, Deshpande said. Vehicles in contemporary times need oil to drive but tomorrow it will need data to move.

Autonomous cars typically necessitate the need to perceive a situation or scenario and accordingly plan and act. Deshpande said the most important step is to interpret with precision if the user is launching any driver assistance feature, as it is critical to ensure data interpretation, as distinguishing between perception and interpretation holds the key. For algorithms to understand there is a need to carry out labelling and even that is not enough because algorithms has to take decisions based on data, Deshpande explained. It may be noted that tonnes of data are being generated in the automotive space. For autonomous driving or any driver assistance feature, every care must be taken to ensure data is correctly labelled and prepared for a vehicle’s algorithm to take the right driving decisions, the EC-Mobility MD observed.

In addition to box labelling, 2D semantic segmentation is another key focus area of autonomous vehicles. Deshpande said the vehicle’s algorithm will not be able to define a scenario in isolation unless semantic segmentation of that particular scenario is carried out.

He also threw light on semantic labelling for driver behaviour monitoring. “If a driver is sleepy or not adhering to traffic rules or driving instructions, one needs to look at his eye movements also. Eye tracking can be captured in a video. Interpreted data is valuable data and without data labelling one cannot make interpretations and without interpretations one cannot arrive at logical decisions,” Deshpande quipped.

Clearly, correct interpretations are critical and that explains why so much of data is captured in various scenarios such as day/night, rainy/snowy conditions and from various sensors like RADAR, LIDAR, Cameras, etc. Deshpande said all scenarios need to be captured in order to provide intelligence to data that will enable users to run algorithms for driver assistance features like lane departure warning, parking assistance, collision detection warning, etc. The machine or algorithm has to learn and such learning happens when learning data is provided to the machine or algorithm. Deshpande said it’s all about offering inputs to the vehicle’s algorithm and the algorithm will come to the conclusion that the pedestrian will cross the road or not based on the data that is available.

Deshpande said whether the vehicle’s sensor is performing correctly or algorithm is performing correctly can be determined by comparing trained and untrained data. In case the vehicle’s algorithm is not performing correctly and data is not labelled, a vehicle user will encounter driving challenges, he added.

Deshpande has no doubts that data is going to be crucial towards make L3, L4 and L5 a reality and this data has to be enriched every time one has new sensors, new cars and new situations. The need for refined data is equally important for autonomous cars. Deshpande said in scenarios where the vehicle has sensor data, there is a need to carry out annotation on the ground truth data and that is the value addition required. A process called ground truth labelling is used to annotate recorded sensor data with the expected state of the automated driving system. The test vehicle needs specialised software tools for labelling, annotation and for various other functionalities, he noted.

Deshpande said it is critical for autonomous cars to ensure control and execution as there is no way one can work in isolation, as one must have a perception where the data will be used and how critical is that aspect. There are tools available where in a guided environment one first does it manually, then perform semi-automation and then achieve automation, in terms of data annotation or data preparation, he noted.

Indian Electric Vehicle Ecosystem Can Leverage Type 2, CCS Charging Standards

The Indian electric vehicle ecosystem is still in its nascent stage and for EVs to thrive across the country, the availability of adequate charging infrastructure is the need of the hour. The talk of charging infrastructure also brings into focus what kind of charging standards the country should embrace if EVs are to be adopted on a large-scale across the country.

It may be worth recalling that in late 2017 the government came out with Bharat EV standards, namely AC-001 for AC charging and DC-001 for DC charging, on the recommendations of a committee constituted by the Department of Heavy Industry, and headed by Prof Ashok Jhunjhunwala. These specifications are meant to cater to the immediate needs of electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers and cars having battery voltage of less than 100 V. However, Bharat EV standards are seen as a more basic charging standard and are only currently adhered to by Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra. The rest of the electric two-wheelers and three-wheelers plying in the country are out of this ambit, as they depend on their plug-in-at-home mechanism to meet their needs.

On the global front, the electric vehicle space is witnessing adoption of different charging standards across geographies. As far as Europe is concerned, Type 2 Connectors are used for AC charging and Combined Charging Systems (CCS) are used for DC charging. The CCS has gained acceptance in the US as well. CHAdeMO charging standards are widely prevalent in Japan, while GB/T charging standards are widely deployed in China. It is important to note that the Combined Charging System is currently used by the Volkswagen Group, Ford Motor Co, Daimler AG and General Motors Ltd in the US and Europe.

So what kind of charging standards would be ideal for the Indian EV market? A senior government official on condition of anonymity said Type 2 Connectors are very much workable for India. “Globally, many countries are using Type 2 Connectors and it would work for the Indian EV space for AC charging. But we need to figure out what standards we want to adopt for DC charging – whether we opt for controlled area network (CAN) or power line communication (PLC). Leveraging CAN means you have to use CHAdeMO or GB/T standards and using PLC means you have to use CSS. Vehicle users in India are familiar with CAN and knowhow to manage this network,” he said.

The senior government official further added that CHAdeMO or CCS standards are essentially designed for highway capable cars. It is too small to fast charge (carry out DC charging) two/three-wheelers or small cars and is too big to fast charge buses. If India has to leverage CHAdeMO or CCS standards for two/three-wheelers, small cars and buses, there is a strong need to adapt to it and maybe rejig if needed, he suggested.

Another senior government official said automotive OEMs must shoulder more responsibility in the EV charging space. He said there is reluctance among OEMs to get into the space of designing charging standards themselves. “Everything cannot be provided by the government. The government can facilitate charging stations on highways, but OEMs have to take the lead in designing charging standards themselves,” he said.

Welcoming the Power Ministry’s notification that anyone can set-up charging stations for EVs, the official said the move will work provided it is backed by intelligent and well-networked electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE). “It is a good policy provided you are dealing with a network. However, if it is not a network and many people are tapping into the grid, it becomes difficult to manage the grid. Over the long run, a controlling software will be needed to manage the network,” he noted.

Akshaye Barbuddhe, Business Head, EV Charging Solutions, Delta India, said there is nothing called ‘ideal’ in terms for charging standards for EVs. As per him, all charging standards are ‘complete’ on their own, comprehensive and can work in any geography and demography. The global automotive industry is dictated by four forces – US, Europe, China and Japan and various charging standards have become prevalent in these nations due to certain merits and demerits of these regions, Barbuddhe said.

Elaborating further, Barbuddhe stated that Type 2 and GB/T standards can work to a nicety for AC charging in India. He was of the opinion that combined charging system (CCS) is the best ‘engineered’ and can fulfil most applications, thus paving the way for meeting dynamic business needs. Ideally, any charging solution will work anywhere and has to be the most versatile, most comprehensive, most engineered, most scalable that can make the business sustainable over the long-term.

Further, he advocated different standards for various vehicle segments. “It is a wide and open market and you cannot put everything in one block. There should be choices for end-users and it will be unfortunate if we don’t have a market of choices,” said the Barbuddhe.

The EV ecosystem in the country needs a proactive approach from all stakeholders and in terms of charging standards, government agencies such Niti Aayog, Power Ministry among others must spell out whether the country is looking to leverage the globally prevalent charging standards such as CHAdeMO, CCS and GB/T standards for the Indian charging needs or looking to expand the specifications of Bharat EV standards.

Steel Import Restrictions Could Hamper Automobile Production in India

The Indian automotive industry is going through a stress over the government imposing restrictions on domestic automotive manufacturers over using imported steel. It may be worth recalling that the steel ministry in a bid to promote local manufacturing had in June 2017 mandated Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS)-certified locally produced high-grade steel.

The ministry had set December 17, 2018 as the deadline to meet the new norms but was subsequently extended till February 17, 2019 after automakers were up in arms over the government move. In fact, auto companies sought an extension of the deadline until the end of 2019.

There is a great deal of unease in the Indian automotive industry over restrictions imposed on imported steel as there are apprehensions that the new regulations could disrupt the production of cars, government and industry. Even the automotive industry body - Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) has been vocal about the restrictions on imported steel and has made its displeasure known in public domain.

In fact, Rajan Wadhera, President, Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM), said at a recent event that the import restriction issue needs to be sorted out at the earliest or else automotive production could get hampered.Automotive manufacturers have been voicing their reluctance to source locally produced source high-grade steel citing reservations over the quality and consistency of such locally produced steel. 

It is important to understand that a large chunk of the steel requirements for the Indian automotive industry is catered to by domestic steel producers. Around 90 % of steel sourced for domestic automobile production, is manufactured in India. 

The rest 10 % of high grade steel that is used for meeting safety standards among others, is not manufactured in India and sourced through the import route largely because there is no economy of scale to manufacture these in India.

It remains to be seen whether the steel ministry softens its stand on restrictions on imported steel or else automotive production may come to a standstill.

John Deere India Expects Growth Through Innovative Products, Solutions

John Deere India (JDI) – a subsidiary of US-based Deere & Company – is striving hard to make its presence felt in the highly competitive Indian tractor market. The company recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in India as well its 100,000 tractor production milestone. Auto Tech Review caught up with Satish Nadiger, MD & CEO, John Deere India, on the sidelines of the anniversary function in Pune to know more about the latest tractor trends, its various industry-first technological features among others.

Precision farming has gathered pace across the global tractor industry, and John Deere India is doing its bit to tread on that path. The company developed the Auto Track System, which essentially is a vehicle guidance system that enables farmers create specific tracks in straight lines without the involvement of the operator. This technology lets the tractor system take control of the vehicle, while moving in straight rows. It is only at the end of the track that the system disengages itself and the operator takes control and heads to the next row, where it allows the system to take charge after pressing the ‘Resume’ button. This technology has helped farmers not just reduce costs, but increase their yield as well.

Farmers in India, after buying a tractor, generally head to a local village to get the implements. This is not what JDI recommends, because implements of incorrect size adversely impact the performance of a tractor, Nadiger said. This is an area of great opportunity, he said.

Formed in 1998, the company has been consistently coming up with technologically advanced products aimed at offering farmer comfort. It recently rolled out its patented technology PermaClutch that can be specifically used for loader, construction and other agricultural applications, where the clutch usage is high. PermaClutch ensures a clutch life of around five years, said the JDI MD. Dry clutches tend to wear out and maintenance is usually expensive, with customers shelling out about ` 20,000 annually.

PermaClutch, on the contrary, also eliminates the need to adjust the clutch in case of carrying out a replacement, as is the case in a dry clutch. The PermaClutch technology can be deployed in all segments, but its real value lies in above 50 hp segments – construction and agricultural activities happen in above 50 hp segments – where the clutch usage is high. PermaClutch is priced higher than the dry clutch but Nadiger is confident that customers will embrace this technology once they start to understand its value.

JDI currently offers tractors in a wide band of options, starting with 28 hp to 120 hp, after initially starting the Indian journey in the above 50 hp segment. Nadiger strongly believes that JDI has the right product range to make significant inroads in the Indian market.

With a high focus on incorporating telematics in the tractor space, John Deere India rolled out JD Link – a mobile app-based telematics solution that enables customers to remotely monitor various parameters (engine RPM, fuel level, oil temperature, coolant temperature) of a tractor on a farmer’s phone.

It may be pertinent to mention that customers that operate a fleet of tractors in India have been facing issues such as fuel theft over a period of time. Additionally, for the want of scientific methods to measure the acres covered and lack of detailed information of proper utilisation, often resulted in ineffective fleet management. This is where the JD Link will come in handy, in terms of improving productivity and augmenting farmer income. The JD Link technology also helps customers generate various reports and store it for future use as well as receive automatic alerts in case of any machine malfunctions.

Within JD Link, JDI for the first time in India has rolled out the Acreage Metre that helps customers accurately determine how much land is tilled – such a technology rings in more accountability on part of the tractor operator. Nadiger said many farmers in India use tractor for contracting and the Acreage Metre eliminates any scope of argument over payment matters.

However, there are challenges confronting the Indian tractor industry as it braces up to migrate from Trem3A emission norms to Trem4 in 2020. Nadiger said the new emission norms are expected to trigger a surge in tractor prices, but will not significantly impact demand as the Trem4 norms will come into play for tractors powered by more than 50 hp engines. More than 90 % of tractors sold in India are less than 50 hp tractors, he noted.

The journey for JDI thus far has been exceedingly challenging, as it had to compete with powerhouses like Swaraj Tractors, Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE), Sonalika International Tractors, Escorts, etc. Although JDI is tight-lipped about its revenue figures, its market share is estimated to be less than 10 % in India. Nadiger knows that merely rolling out a good product is not enough; the company has to back that up with good channel partners – an area it continues to add to.

With electric vehicles generating a lot of buzz in India, will the tractor industry embrace electric tractors? Nadiger said it won’t be correct to say no, as some amount of development work is happening outside India, although not much is happening in India.

PPAP Automotive Focussed On Building In-House Technical Capabilities

Catering to the needs of the automotive industry since 1985, Noida-based PPAP Automotive Limited has carved its niche in supplying body sealing, interior and exterior parts. Auto Tech Review caught up with Abhishek Jain, CEO & MD, PPAP Automotive Ltd, to know more about the advancements in body sealing, interior and exterior parts among others.

PPAP Automotive has largely been focussing on manufacturing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) sealing systems unlike its competitors, who manufacture rubber-based automotive sealing systems. The company manufactures outer waist seals, inner waist seals, moulding roof, trim door openings & moulding windshields from PVC. PVC was widely used for automotive sealing products in India for which raw material was sourced from Japan & Thailand – it is comparatively cheap, easy to process, highly flexible, water retardant, highly chemical-resistant and design-versatile. Jain said the usage of PVC that had gained large-scale acceptance over the years is gradually reducing owing to halogen content, poor recyclability and high volatile organic compounds (VOC) content, prompting customers to look at thermoplastic elastomers as an option.

The PPAP Automotive MD said thermoplastic elastomers provide a blend of polypropylene (PP) & ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) that carries good aesthetics of a PP compound, good mouldability and has the characteristics of a rubber compound like compression set, formability and sealing qualities.

Jain said there were huge expectations that the Indian automotive industry would shift to thermoplastics elastomers from the prevailing PVC sealing systems, but it did not happen that way as thermoplastic elastomers was considered an expensive compound as compared to PVC. The cost difference at the component level was around 10 %, something customers were reluctant to pay for, he noted.

The PPAP Automotive top official said the arrival of thermoplastic elastomers in the market generated buzz because it is lighter in weight, chemically resistant, have very low water transmission and enhanced long-term performance, is environment-friendly and fully recyclable. The polymer has high degree of stability and a very low shrinkage, said Jain. Thermoplastic elastomers can be compounded to get high hardness and increased mechanical strength. Such materials lead to a reduction in the part cost & part weight as well as ensure easy processability.

Jain said thermoplastic elastomers eliminate the need for carriers like steel, aluminium, etc, which reduces the weight unlike a PVC system, where such carriers are required. However, PVC & thermoplastic elastomers cannot be blended together due to their different chemical structure. The individual use of both the material for different parts is carried out as per the customer requirement, Jain noted.

The automotive industry has moved away from rubber or EPDM-based glass run channels towards Thermoplastic Vulcanisate (TPV) glass run channels. TPV glass run channels are much lighter than a typical rubber run channel, which reduces weight by around 15 %. Jain said the positive thing about TPV is that one can play around with its density & design and is much easier to make, and ensures better production efficiency. Rubber can be a difficult compound to handle, because of factors beyond one’s control. Due to environment or process conditions, a product can turn out to be a different product. TPV is made completely in a factory and is much easier to handle, Jain explains.

Lightweighting of products has been a focus area for automotive component manufacturers and PPAP Automotive is striving for the same with its sealing and injection products. The company had earlier used four materials for extrusion and is now striving to do it in three materials combining the properties of two materials into one material. Jain said such an approach helped it reduce the cross section from 10 mm to 8 mm, while maintaining the same product performance, and also reduce the wall thickness from 2 mm to 1.7 or 1.8 mm.

On the R&D front, PPAP Automotive is focussing on adopting a solution-based approach and offers an integrated print-to-build model. The company has augmented its capabilities and now offers product design, tool design, product & materials validation and mass production in-house. PPAP Automotive is consistently focussing on localising its products. Jain said the import content of its raw materials was around 60 % five years back but it has now whittled down to 27 %.

PPAP Automotive has derived significant technological expertise from its long-drawn technology partnerships with Japanese firms – Tokai Kogyo (it later formed a JV firm with them in 2014) and Nissen Chemitec Corporation. The company’s tie-up with Tokai Kogyo (from 1989 onwards) is for its automotive exterior and sealing products, while its partnership with Nissen Chemitec Corporation (from 2007 onwards) is for its automotive injection moulding interior products. PPAP Automotive is keen to expand its customer base and is now looking beyond OEMs.

Sintercom Is Betting Big On Sintered Components

Pune-based Sintercom India has made its presence felt in manufacturing sintered components in areas such as engine, transmission and chassis. Besides engines and transmissions, sintered components are also used in steering, suspension, door lock parts, brake parts, seat assembly components and alternators, among others. Auto Tech Review met up with Jignesh Raval, Managing Director, Sintercom India, to understand the growing adoption of sintered components in the automotive industry.

Sintered components are steadily gaining prominence in the automotive industry across the globe. According to data released by the Powder Metallurgy Association of India (PMAI), approximately 17-18 kg of sintered components are being used in a vehicle in the US, whereas around 12 kg of sintered components are used in a vehicle in Europe and Japan. The working depth of the sinter technology is huge in Europe and spans across industries beyond automotive – aerospace, medical industry, consumer goods, etc. Needless to say, the sinter technology has immense potential within the automotive industry, but this technology hasn’t been adequately leveraged in India, where around 4-5 kg of sintered components are used in a current vehicle.

Sensing this huge opportunity, Sintercom forayed into the Indian market to manufacture sintered components. The company’s journey into manufacturing sintered components began developing idler and driven gears through a sintering process for Bajaj Auto – its sintered components were successfully tested on around 100 vehicles of Bajaj Auto.

Raval said 30 % of automotive components have an impact load; these components with impact load cannot be sintered because there is low density than forging. Almost 70 % of automotive components do not have any impact load and these components can be converted into sintered components but there are obvious limitations, in terms of the process itself. Since this process works on a vertical motion and not on a horizontal motion, one cannot produce a thin-wall product or product that has much more cavity on the horizontal side products, he noted.

The automotive industry across the globe is increasingly shifting its focus from forged transmission gears to sintered transmission gears. Over the years, such transmission gears have been aggressively produced from the forging industry and were identified by the European Union as one of the root causes of producing emissions. It is significant to mention that the EU has been urging OEMs to leverage sintered products for future transmissions in a bid to reduce emissions. The EU is determined to encourage manufacturing of sintered transmission gears globally and is willing to invest on R&D – in fact, around 100 vehicles have been deployed in Europe with sintered transmission gears.

Raval said a sintered gear can work in a transmission, save for the first and the second gear. Sintered components cannot come into play for the first and second gears because there is a jerk in the car. However, the EU has been urging OEMs to conduct tests of the third and fourth gears.

With the impending rollout of BS VI standards in the country, many products designed to meet the stringent standards are getting converted from ‘forging’ to ‘sintered’. Raval said these products, such as variable cam drive and variable valve drive, have been added to the engine to control emissions. There are products within the variable cam timing (VCT) and variable valve timing (VVT) that have to be produced through the sintered route owing to the complexities associated with these parts, he noted.

The automotive industry is also focussing on ‘sintering’ of mass balancers. Such mass balancers are produced through forging, but if produced through the sintered route, it can reduce engine weight, resulting in improving fuel economy. Split gears too are generally known to produce more sound because of the gear backlash. Sinter technology has ensured the male and female gears are of the same size, and the assembly job not only ensures zero backlashes but also reduces the sound produced by split gears, Raval explained.

Sintercom also converted the casting bearing caps on the Mahindra Scorpio and Bolero into sintered bearing caps. Leveraging sintered bearings caps resulted in a nine per cent weight reduction, translating into significant fuel savings. Delving deep, Sintercom said it did not change the dimensions while developing the synchro hubs and only inserted some pockets in the hubs that reduced its weight by 4-5 %. Each weight of a synchro hub is 250 to 300 gm, and when one calculates 300 gm over five per cent, around 75 gm of vehicle weight is reduced. This result in 2-3 % weight reduction, he noted.

Electric vehicles are a big buzz despite not much headway being made on the ground. For now, Sintercom does not manufacture any EV products, but it is betting big on manufacturing magnetic planetary gears used in EVs, as these gears are poised to be eventually sintered, Raval said.

Sintercom currently operates its plant at Talegaon, near Pune and has drawn up plans to set-up a plant in Gujarat by 2021. The nascent Indian automotive sintering market is pegged at around Rs 1,200 cr at the end of FY 2018 and based on the expected increase in the passenger vehicle segment, this market has the potential to touch Rs 2,000 cr by 2020, Raval stated. Further, with BS VI emission norms coming into play, there will more demand for sintered components owing to complexities and criticalities involved in the components, he said.