Banking on engineering solutions

With a focus on automotive electronics, RLE International is keen to provide end-to-end engineering solutions to the Indian auto industry.

Story by: Bhargav TS

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Overath (Germany)-based RLE International GmbH set up a fully owned subsidiary in India, RLE India Private Limited., in 2005 at Bangalore to act as an offshore delivery center for the Group’s global projects, and to offer the Group’s global competencies in a best value model to the Indian OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers. Offering automotive development and industry specific engineering services apart from consultation, RLE, in India, is banking upon its ability to help optimise cost through end-to-end engineering solutions that leverage the global capabilities of the Group it belongs to. With an experience spanning over three decades, the company is stressing upon showcasing its design expertise in the automotive field.

Value for money proposition

Highlighting the prospect of ‘local cost’, the company, with offices at Bangalore and Chennai, specalises in Body in White (BIW), interior, exterior, system integration, powertrain and chassis, Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) and data migration. Keen to expand its business in India by entering into new avenue streams, the company is setting up Centers of Excellence (CoE) in core automotive engineering fields. According to Robert P Rupa, Managing Director and COO, RLE International, the vertical integration of commodities have many challenges to deal with. “There are certain complexities at one end and deliverables at the other, “ he adds. Sticking to the deliverables by employing attributes like light weighting, the company, which caters to CV clients among others, is leveraging the platforms that it has developed for India to drive its global aspirations. Hinting at frugal engineering, Rupa avers, that cost consciousness in all areas of technical inputs does not make sense since it does not work up to the desired level. He adds, “We lay emphasis on leveraging cost but only in certain niche areas. What we deliver, highlights our ability to provide value for money and best-in-class engineering excellence. The products that we engineer, our clients use them globally. To be precise, our engineering inputs find a way into the global markets.”

Driving growth

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Strengthening its business relations with key Indian OEMs and tier suppliers, RLE is looking at 30 per cent growth year-on-year. Keen to scale up the business, the company, according to Darren Gowland, Group Vice President International Operations, RLE International, is aiming at becoming a leading player in two-to-three niche segments in India. “The aim is to be one of the top three players in the transportation segment by adding more OEM and Tier 1 customers. Considering the global standards, we have already added new service lines like automotive electronics, BIW and design using lightweight material to support the changing needs of our customers. Our goal is to grow further in India,” he adds.

Currently working on infotainment and driver assistance systems, RLE is confident that its clients will realise the benefits in the next two-to-three years. Superior to what is being currently offered, the company is confident that its infotainment and driver assistance technologies will attract the attention of OEMs. Says Gowland, that the government’s initiative on infrastructure should be lauded. “It will help towards an effective initiation of electronic feed to Indian vehicles,” he adds. Gowland is well aware of the rising electronic content in automobiles, and CVs especially. He opines, “Electronics is not the core area of RLE. It however amounts to a segment, which accounts for 10 per cent of the engineering work we do. In areas like powertrain ornamentation.” Pointing at the rising use of alternate fuel propulsion mediums, Robert expresses that markets have began seeking hybrid and electric vehicles. The need therefore is to keep redefining the strategy and bank on different approaches, he mentions.

With automotive OEMs the world over showing interest in the burgeoning Indian market, which apart from China, is the most promising in Asia, RLE is confident of growing. It is identifying the needs of OEMs and tier 1 suppliers. States Robert, “India is a very big market along-side China and OEMs are showing much inclination towards investing in this market. The technology usage in Europe and US has already reached a point where any new technology gets easily embraced. It is in India that electronics hasn’t penetrated to such an extent yet. There is thus a huge opportunity.” Even as the company looks at newer areas in the automotive field to seek growth as well as make a mark, the area where it has already made a mark is in body engineering. RLE does major work with automotive OEMs in body engineering. This involves engineering of body structure, doors, other exterior parts, interior parts, ergonomic engineering, and chassis work. There is a bit of powertrain integration into it too, says Robert. Employing aluminium and fibre composites in the body structure, plastics in the interior have become a standard. From concept to design, the company works with OEMs. It prototypes components. It is with minimum iterations that they pass through the testing phase, avers Gowland. In India, the company, it is clear, is keen to leverage its capabilities from the world over to achieve an edge over its competitors. Tapping into expertise across geographies, simulation is one area where the company does a good deal of work. It plays a vital role in engineering output.

Planning to make significant investment on skill development, and to set up several Centers of Excellence (CoE) in the next five years in India, RLE, says Robert, is well aware of varying technical inputs that are sought compared to the inputs sought in Europe, US and other advanced markets. “Both, the trends and regulations, have to be monitored. They form the basis for technical inputs. We contemplate much and develop vehicle design such that it will address the future needs of the Indian market,” adds Robert. In India, RLE is creating two growth engines in the form of product engineering and manufacturing engineering. The company is also planning to invest 10 per cent of its revenues annually towards expanding its business portfolio. The focus of the company in India is on building innovative solutions. Keen to work in areas like lean engineering, manufacturing engineering, automotive electronics, lightweight materials and vehicle safety, RLE, according to Gowland, is looking at supporting the R&D needs of OEMs and tier 1 suppliers. “Though OEMs have their R&D centres, it may not be possible to attend to all the intricates. Some tasks, including those that of re-engineering components, have to be outsourced. Companies like us have a role to play. With our design inputs and prototype success, OEMs could work on manufacturing and product development. We would work on aluminium and fibre composites to realise weight reduction in automobiles, and help to restructure vehicles that meet the often contradictory needs”, adds Gowland. RLE, mentions Robert, is working closely with suppliers and OEMs as they look at making inroads into India. He adds, “The talent pool in India supersedes that of other countries. When we entered India, the aim was to merely to be an offshore delivery centre catering to some of our global customers. Over the years, the market has proven itself to be much more promising than we had expected it to be. It is one of the high-performing markets today, which caters to the best customers. For our global customers we develop and manage commodities and total vehicle projects. Right from the design stage to production stage. We are on our way to becominge one of the market leaders in India within the next five to eight years. The market is challenging but we have the right expertise, the right experience and the right investment strategy to grow further.”

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Global expertise tailored for India

Bringing global expertise, RLE, in India, offers its clients an ability to support them through ‘managed staffing solution’. This was specifically engineered to support the client’s in-house engineering requirements, and ensures low Total-Cost-of-Ownership (TCO). With facelifts, revisions and new models expected to be out at shorter intervals, RLE is expanding its service portfolio to address the changing needs of the clients. According to Vijay Machigad, Managing Director, RLE India, the company, in the next few years, is aiming to grow multifold in terms of revenue as well as in terms of service portfolio, business footprint and customer relations.” RLE has planned an investment of Euro 100 million towards skill development and acquisition of future capabilities. This is expected to provide a shot in the arm for company’s quality enhancement initiatives. Concludes Machigad, “RLE India’s key focus is on quality. The highly cost competitive Indian market poses a huge challenge. We are therefore keen to employ strategies that have helped us to build a strong relationship with our clients the world over in India. This will also help us to deliver higher value.”