Hella modular tech for bus lighting

Bus lighting technology is changing in-line with the need for better illumination and safety as speeds rise.

Story by: Bhargav TS

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Hella showcased its Shapeline modular lamp series at the recent IAA Commercial Vehicles Show (2016) at Hanover, Germany. The series is a modular design, and includes tail lights, brake lights, direction indicators and position lights. Available in different designs, the Shapeline modular lamp series is designed to suit different commercial vehicles; of different sizes and nature. Designed to address multi-volt requirements (12-volt and 24-volt), the Shapeline modular lamp series is based on two different design

lines-classic straight line tech and dynamic curved style. In either design line, the micro-optics on the interior and exterior lense make for a homogeneous appearance turned on and when turned off. Reflective of Hella’s emphasis on modular lighting technology, the Shapeline modular lamp series for commercial vehicles open up a new world of design possibilities for bus body designers and manufacturers.

For bus lighting, the modular front lighting system does not just let the customer choose, it offers an array of design and placement possibilities. The system is made up of an auxiliary high beam, fog lamp, bi-xenon low and high beam, and static bend lighting as well as a position light. The modular lighting technology for tail lamps also provides a whole lot of design possibilities. These include themes such as futuristic, dynamic, sporty, elegant and classic. What makes it interesting as a technology is its capability to accommodate either, bulbs or innovative LED lighting. Promoting Hella’s modular lighting technology for commercial vehicles in India is the Indian operation, Hella Indian Lighting (HIL). HIL caters to the needs of diverse lighting system requirements of the automotive industry in India. It specialises in three areas – lighting for OEMs, for the aftermarket and electronics.

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Built around a chip

An interesting bit about Hella’s modular lighting system is that it is built around a chip. Like an electronic gadget that contains an Intel chip inside it as the central architecture around which the other systems are designed and engineered, the modular lighting system of Hella has a chip at its centre. Expresses Ramashankar Pandey, Managing Director, HIL, that the design may vary according to the needs of the customer, the technology inside is the same. He adds, “We are working on a modular concept that is applied in Germany. The concept is slowly catching up, and we are offering it here in India. There’s been no compromise; the technology is the same, the reflector is the same and even the lighting part of it is the same. The output too is the same. It is just that the manufacturing location has changed.” Unlike the head lamp designs currently found in Indian commercial vehicles, and which have the high beam and the low beam in a single reflector made of sheet metal apart from a soda lime lense, the modular lighting system that HIL is promoting has a reflector that contains a die cast aluminium casing. The electronics are integrated and the polycarbonate cover lense is stone impact-resistant. “Functions like high beam, low beam and fog lamp are separate. If the customer needs it as a package, we can semi-customise it,” explains Pandey.

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Modular lighting tech for interior and signature lighting

The modular lighting system is also being extended to interior lighting applications. This is in-line with the LED tech the company is focusing on. For designers and developers to experiment with the light signature of their vehicle and configure their own lighting design for the front, side and rear end with the click of a mouse, Hella has developed an online configurator for the new series. A vehicle silhouette is selected and different LED modules are dragged individually to the preferred position on the vehicle. The configurator automatically takes into account either current European ECE R48 regulations or American SAE regulations. Designers and developers can download the finished configuration as a PDF file or send a request to Hella customer service centre from within the system.

Extending the current 90 mm module by including an additional LED range called the L4060 series, the modular lighting technology has come to cover a wide range of applications. It has come to provide different light functions. The L4060 series is exceptionally tough and can cope with heavy stresses. Capable of converting existing halogen modules to LED modules within the framework of compatible assembly solutions, the ultra-compact design makes for incredible application versatility. Especially in combination with the benefits associated with LED lighting technology like low fuel consumption, low power consumption, reduced CO2 emissions and zero maintenance. LED lighting tech’s passive cooling among other things offers some distinct advantages, including those that are mentioned above.

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Euro tech pilots India

An interesting part about the migration of lighting technology between Hella Europe and HIL is that the European technology pilots India. Strategies are formulated to drive down cost through frugal engineering. Hella, interestingly, has localised many parts except the lense, which is critical to the reliability and functionality of the system. The lense, avers Pandey, requires much investment to manufacture locally. The current volume levels are supportive of such a move. If an OEM is looking for higher technology with a thermal proof lense, the same are imported from Taiwan or China. For city buses and coaches, Hella has developed a visually distinctive stop light function. By using innovative light guide technology, the brake signal is transported from the centre section which is equipped with LEDs to the outermost points of the light which produces a special signal pattern and a striking rear design. The virtually maintenance-free integrated LEDs have a long service life (approximately 15,000 hours).

In order to increase the application versatility, the stop light product is available in two sizes – 446 mm and 638 mm. The LED additional stop lamp with IP 67 degree of protection is designed for horizontal surface mounting, and can be quickly and easily attached without screws using adhesive which forms a reliable bond. About technology evolution and fitment in India, Pandey opines that there are numerous advantages in adapting LED technology. “Filament-based technology emits only eight-per cent of the light. Much energy is wasted in heating up the filament,” he adds. The advent of the LED technology in projector lamp has helped to package five solutions in two modules. Following the modular postulate to arrive at a platform concept, the company, based on the needs of the customer, can mass customise it. Hella is employing the modular postulate to arrive at a platform concept for the bus segment too.

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Platform concept

Platform concept presents design freedom. It is paving the way for use of technology in different ways. The lamp thus takes different shapes despite the source being the same. Points out Pandey, that Hella is the only company, which is investing in developing technology and distributing it. “We also customise it as per the needs of its clients,” he adds. Stressing upon Hella wanting to play in the bespoke zone and render a variety of products that match the needs of the customers, Pandey avers, “The need to perform in a volume market was striked off. It was decided that customers will not be lured by cheap prices. Our competitors will run the show with five or six mega projects. Our manufacturing lines are highly flexible. We have 15 to 20 projects progressing concurrently.”

In the area of signature lighting, Hella is ready to serve the needs of the customers. It has essential functions in place to cater to issues like safety. Mentions Pandey that the speed at which buses are currently operated, there is a definitive need for advancement in lighting technology. This is especially necessary to support longer vision, he adds. The increase in wattage power of the bulb will not serve the puropse he feels. He therefore states, that such a measure actually makes the lighting system counterproductive. “It is the module which has to be changed, and which in turn calls for design and reflector change,” he adds. The projector module serves the purpose. The reflector along with the module has a cover lense. There’s another lense inside, which amplifies the light. The technology can be customised for variety of different applications. The design supports safety, especially in front lighting.

LED tail lamps

LED tail lamps add to the safety of the vehicles, and buses are no exception to it. India is yet to warm up to LED tail lamps. Used in buses, it can warn other road users by providing, enough braking distance. A big advantage of LED tail lamps is the very short time they take to light up. LEDs glow instantly, giving close to four metre of braking distance for the vehicle following. Claiming to have worked out the cost equation, the average cost per LED tail lamp, according to Pandey, comes to around Rs. 3000. The lamps are maintenance free, and could be offered with a five year warranty. Replacing the bulb in an normal lamp that costs Rs. 350 takes the cost to Rs. 600 per year The user tends to spend Rs. 950 for five years. The cost would be approximated Rs. 4750. In the longer run, LED light is beneficial, mentions Pandey. He states. “We want to be the supplier of choice for LED signalling, modularisation and projectorisation of front lighting in commercial vehicles. We are commencing our first phase of rear light production by October 2016.” Apart from lighting systems, Hella India is also into switches. “We are capable of supporting interior lighting. Volume-wise, trucks may amount to more, it is buses which are contributing handsomely. This is partly because the rate of technical adaption in buses in more than in trucks,” says Pandey.

In the Bus & Coach segment, Hella is catering to the requirements of almost all the bus manufacturers in India. It also catering to clients abroad. The client list of the company includes Volvo, Scania, Mercedes-Benz, Wright Bus, EvoBus, Vanhool, Yutong, Temsa, Ashok Leyland, Tata Motors, JBM, Solaris, VDL, and others. Serving off-highway equipment segments as well, Hella exports locally made LEDs to USA, Singapore, South Africa, Australia, Germany, UAE, and other markets. As a social responsibility, the company is contributing toward road safety. It is keen to see a 10 per cent reduction in road accident deaths in India by 2020. From its research, says Pandey, the company discovered that an important aspect, which did not catch the attention of most while addressing road deaths involving commercial vehicles is the ability to recognise moving traffic and objects on the road. “Lighting is playing an important role to ensure this crucial element of recognition to avoid fatal road accidents. It is very important ‘to see’ and ‘to be seen’ to avoid road fatality in emergency situations while driving on Indian roads,” avers Pandey. He signs off, “We believe that we should first have proper lighting and signalling system for proper vision and avoid creating millions of accident situations. We can then work on other safety features, which are also critically important when an unavoidable accident situation occurs.”

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ñ LED tail lamps enhance safety by lighting up quickly.

ð Signature lighting is made possible by Hella’s efforts to offer solutions that support greater design freedom.

ð As speeds rise, head lamp technolgy is changing in search of better illumination. Projector lamps could well be the answer.

ò Oue conventional bulbs, LED are cost effective and far more reliable.

Keeping up with the times

Delhi-based Guru Ram Dass Body Builders is expanding its manufacturing capacity with a view of increasing its market share.

Story by: Anirudh Raheja

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With the Bus Code a reality, Guru Ram Dass Body Builders is gearing up to keep up with the times. It is expanding its infrastructure with a hope that the organised market for buses will rise sharply. Established in 1982, the company has been building bus bodies of various types. It has been catering to bus fleet operators in many north Indian states and regions of the country. Part of a automobile body structure market that was largely unorganised for long, and was looked upon as an extension of the massive SME sector, the implementation of Bus Code has brought about a disruptive change. Mayank Kukreja, CEO, Guru Ram Dass Body Builders, is however happy. He opines that the new (Bus Code AIS052) regulations will streamline the bus body building industry. “Bus body code will alter the customer demand as local bus body building will no longer be legal. This will not only benefit us, but also our customers. The entire system as well as the safety levels in the industry will increase,” he mentions. In order to cater to the ever demanding customer, Guru Ram Dass has developed 73 variants of bus prototypes with various combinations of components fitted in a typical bus. It claims to have already got clearance for them from the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) for a hassle-free customer experience. This, says Kukreja, will help them to serve the diverse needs of the customers.

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Tough nut to crack

The Bus Code certification procedure is a tough nut to crack avers Kukreja. He claims that it has already cost his company approximately rupees one-crore, inclusive of the R&D and bus body building costs. “It is good to adhere to the rules rather than to bypass them,” he states. He draws attention to the fact, that every bus made is subject to approval, which essentially translates into each bus being routed through approved certification agencies who would hold the right to alter or dismantle the bus body presented to them for certification and approval. Explains Kukreja, “One will be able to procure buses made from local workmen. However, during approval, the government will ask for the source of manufacture, which would ultimately be routed through approved bus body builders. Confident that the customer will not go to an unapproved bus body builder once he faces a hiccup, Kukreja mentions that except the paint every part fitted in a bus has to be as per the ARAI prescribed standards. Any deviation would mean additional procedures which would extend the time of approval. It could take up to a month more. It will also involve additional costs. “The paint code requires that there should be no corrosion for one year after painting; there should be no oil sagging, and the paint should not affect the bus body adversely,” Kukreja informs.

Capacity expansion

Anticipating a sharp rise in demand as the bus body building industry organises itself, and streamlines its processes, Guru Ram Dass is investing nine-crore rupees for expansion. It is doing so at its new facility at Bahalgarh, Sonipat. The company, according to Kukreja, has already pumped seven-crore rupees. A large chunk of the investment has gone into the procurement of 15 new machines. These include a tube cutting lunatic CNC machine, aluminium section cutting machine, hydraulic and pneumatic tube bending machine, reciprocating saw for cutting heavy channels, hydraulic power press for making dies, and for making lower panels seamlessly in order to achieve a high level of accuracy. The company is also aiming at creating a fixture system to improve the overall quality of the bus. “With the new assembly system, the work procedure will be fixture dependent rather than be technician dependent. The number of stages in the work procedure will increase. Work will however get distributed among a larger force; will be streamlined, and will need less time for execution,” states Kukreja. Currently operating with a workforce of 250, Guru Ram Dass is working towards increasing the headcount to 350 once the new plant goes on stream. Work is expected to begin by the end of this year.

From its two plants at Nangloi, Delhi, Guru Ram Dass is rolling out one bus per day on an average. This will double once the new plant at Bahalgarh goes on stream. Among the various northern states and regions, it is Allahabad and Delhi NCR, which lead the race for buses according to Kukreja. These two markets are instrumental in the growth of the company, and account for a changing customer profile as well. Mentions Kukreja, “The customer is very particular about the bus body. He often insists that work should be executed in front of him. He thinks that it presents him with an opportunity to alter the procedure if it is not going the way he thinks it should. This often makes it challenging for us. Even as we aim to serve the customer a high quality product, we make certain that we constantly communicate with him. Our location gives us the advantage of regularly conversing with the client.”

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Building the bus body

It takes up to 45 days, including all the quality checks, to roll out a bus body. To manufacture one, it takes up to a month. The process includes the lining up of the bus chassis in the production line and educating the workforce on the design and other peculiarities pertaining to the respective bus body structure. Production, explains Kukreja, starts 10 days after the chassis rolls in. It takes three days for the workers to bind the structure. The galvanised iron sheet work takes another three days. The aluminium work pertaining to the side panels takes another two days. The interiors, including the fabrication of the dashboard, fascia, roof sheeting, panelling, window cut outs, air-con ducts, etc., takes the rest of the month. Avers Kukreja, “The bus body is bolted to the chassis using chassis clamps and U bolts. Different types of packing are used. The rest of the structure is welded.” The warranty of the chassis is 10 years, and the warranty of the structure is seven years. “After seven years, a new structure is built, which extends the warranty by another seven years. The overall life of the vehicle thus goes beyond 12 years.

Claims Kukreja that the aesthetics of a bus body made by them, and approved by ARAI, can be changed. Any change in the safety feature will however need an ARAI approval, and is by no means an easy task. “All the documentation has to be prepared again and sent in to ARAI for review. Once any changes in the safety features are approved by ARAI, only then do we have the option of making both or any of the two body types approved,” quips Kukreja. He highlights the flammability issue. “The entire bus body building industry has shifted to using FRP (Fibre Reinforcement Plastic) over ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene). ABS is a thermoplastic material and less costly. It is however flammable. FRP, at the other end, is costly but has a superior ability to mould, and is safe,” he mentions. Apart from the suppliers of FRP material, Guru Ram Dass is supported by close to 50 vendors. These range from the supply of seats, steel material, aluminium material, paint material, and vinyl. Up to 600 items are required in the construction of a bus body according to Kukreja.

Technological development

Technological developments is something that keeps the people at Guru Ram Dass on their toes. A lot of technological changes are underway in the industry, avers Kukreja. He even terms them as disruptive. The sleeper coaches that are emerging, states Kukreja, are out of the purview of the CMVR rules. “They get clearances easily at the RTO level. The day the CVMR guidelines are implemented, the market for sleeper coaches will be streamlined,” he adds. Like conventional inter-city buses, sleeper coaches also need permits. Most sleeper coaches operate at night. Their cost of permit per trip is therefore higher than a typical 2×2 seat coach that operates during the day. “Demand for 2×2 coaches and buses is higher. This will however change once the sleeper coaches get clearance from the agencies,” avers Kukreja. He states, “Even though rear engine buses offer higher comfort to both the driver and passengers, they have not seen a surge in demand. In a rear engine bus, the sound of the engine travels backwards. Carrying out repairs in a rear engine bus is easy. However, vehicle life is the same as that of a front engine bus. The seating capacity is the same. Price however is almost double than that of a front engine bus. This is perhaps the reason why rear engine bus demand has not gone up.” Guru Ram Dass has been offering an inter-city bus body built on a Ashok Leyland 12 m long rear engine bus chassis. Kukreja terms it as a unique blend of aesthetics and technical features. The bus comes with 45 2×2 reclining seats, electronic ORVMs, individual air-con vents and ample storage space.

Demand for bus bodies with provision for fitting an air-conditioner is on the rise. The decision of air-conditioner is done at the time of purchasing the chassis. However, a demand for providing the necessary plumbing and other bits, which will make it easy to fit an air-conditioner at a later date are growing according to Kukreja. “Technological updates are particularly asked for,” he adds. The demand for air suspension is also on the rise. A few years back only three to five buses were installed with pneumatic suspension. Today the number has shot up to 20. Comfort is assuming importance as the traveller is ready to pay. Demand for leaf springs is vanning, says Kukreja. The bus industry, he opines, is also progressing towards LED lighting systems. The market is flooding with Chinese LED lamps for buses even though they are not approved. They have to be approved by the ARAI. Concludes Kukreja, “Thankfully awareness in the bus industry is on the rise. Awareness for technology is on the rise. With the Bus Code implemented, and clarity of designs like sleeper coaches expected soon, the future looks promising. That is the reason why we are investing in a new manufacturing infrastructure.”

Determined to succeed

Karur’s bus industry is determined to succeed in the face of challenges. Story by:

Bhargav TS

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Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted to have said that ‘change is the only constant in life.’ In case of the bus body building industry of Karur this has been proved right, time and again. Located 371 km to the south west of Chennai, the city’s bus industry has kept up with the changing times. It has displayed much determination in building buses. Tracing its origin to the establishment of L G Balakrishnan & Bros (LGB) in 1956 by G Balakrishnan, the bus industry of Karur has kept growing. Organising itself under the Karur Bus Body Builders Association, and affiliated to the Association of Tamil Nadu Coaach Builders, many bus body builders in the city came into existence in the 1980s. Home to over 50 bus body building enterprises, Karur’s bus industry is estimated to be around Rs.1000 crore per annum. According to P Palani Samy, President, The Association of Tamil Nadu Coaach Builders, over 4000 coaches are manufactured at Karur every year. This number, he mentions, is slated to rise past 7,500 units once the cluster comes into play. The cluster, Karur Bus Body Builders Cluster Private Limited, was incorporated in 2008 as a private entity, and is expected to be operational soon.

Bus body code accreditation

Credited with building most buses in South India, the bus industry of Karur, a part of India’s humongous SME sector, which has received encouragement from the government from time to time for its ability to provide industrial employment to the people of the country and produce indigenously, is facing the toughest challenge in its history almost. The implementation of the Bus Code (AIS052) by the Government of India has put a big question mark on the industry’s ways of functioning. Aimed at streamlining the bus body building industry, and enhancing the safety of buses, according to an industry expert, the Bus Code has made it mandatory for the bus body builders at Karur to obtain an accreditation certificate from Pune-based Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) and Central Institute of Road Transport (CIRT).

Bus Code was formulated in 2001 as the ‘Code of Practice for Bus Body Design and Approval’ by a technical committee set up by the Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways (MoSRT&H) in response to the fact that bus body builders were building bodies on drive-away chassis of poor design, and by using poor quality products. There was found to be no uniformity of construction. The (bus) body structures were thus hardly design optimal and safe; the cabin and seats were cramped, and the people were subjected to extreme heat, vibration, noise, poor comfort and protection. Bus Code accreditation by a bus body builder, it was highlighted, would confirm his ability to adhere to the safety norms prescribed.

The Bus Code implementation for April 01, 2015, was announced in December 2014. The deadline to implement the Bus Code was however extended by six months to August 01. 2015, so that those bus body builders who could not meet it were able to do so. The dimensions implementation took place in April 2016. A regulation is known to have been issued recently that, the bus code will be issued in total on October 01, 2016. According to industry experts, the Bus Code enhances safety features of medium and high capacity buses (Type I), buses for inter-urban transport (Type II), long-distance passenger transport (Type III) and special purpose vehicles — school buses and tourist buses (Type IV). Separate specifications have been provided for non-deluxe, semi-deluxe, deluxe, air-conditioned deluxe buses that come under all four types.

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The challenge

The idea behind the formation of a cluster by the bus body builders of Karur was to create a Common Facility Center (CFC) with a capital outlay of Rs. 9.5 crores. The central government would fund 70 per cent, and the state would fund 15 per cent. The rest of the amount (15 per cent) would be funded by the bus body builders as members. The cluster would require a minimum of 20 members to start with. Claims a Karur bus industry source that more than 20 member have been signed till date. He mentions that with the bus body builders here specialising in building stage carriers for private operators and government transport undertakings prominently, the formation of cluster was thought to be of much use to grow further. States another industry source under the condition of not disclosing his identity, that the situation over the last one year has changed drastically. Hopes of growth are lost, and there’s a growing fear if the industry will survive.

Stating that the bus code’s emphasis on safety is fine, an industry insider at Karur avers, the buses that have been built here are stronger and last longer than branded buses. He draws attention to significant orders for MTC in Chennai for semi-low floor buses executed recently by Karur’s bus industry. He also draws attention to orders executed for key private operators like SRS Travels and Parveen Travels. Expresses Palani Samy, “We are very concerned about passenger safety. Data from the studies on road accidents indicate that the coaches made by the Karur bus body builders are of high standards. Those that met with accidents, it was revealed, did not suffer structural failure. Even the roll-over protection standard was met. We use high quality materials is beyond doubt.”

According to Soundararajan, Director, Maaruthi Coach Builders, most bus body builders at Karur are in the business for more than 30 years. “We have come to learn of the customer’s mindset. Spread as far as Orissa and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, they rely on us for the quality we offer. We are however facing a serious threat. Despite making coaches according to the standards we have been asked to follow the Bus Code, which calls for several design changes. Each part, may it be the seats, electricals, steel channels, and the floor materials, need to be certified. The structure design requires roll over protection. The governing body asked us to prepare a bus that meets all the requirements on behalf of the association. We did it. After spending huge amount of money, they have asked us, each bus body builder, to prepare a bus for validation,” he adds. The challenge, it is clear, is about each bus body builder applying for an accreditation. No cluster or association is entertained, claims an industry source.

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The solution

The attempt to build a bus for bus code accreditation as an association has left the bus body builders of Karur wounded. They feel that their effort to build a bus by forming an association has been a waste. Avers Soundararajan, that such tantalising decisions are costing them dear. “Small players like us are the most affected,” he adds. To abide with the new (Bus Code) standards, Maaruthi Coach Builders has begun working towards developing a bus that will meet the requisite standards. States Soundararajan, “To meet the challenge, we feel the need to become a fully integrated bus maker. The task of building a chassis and a bus will allow us to be competitive. The threat here is from the chassis manufacturers. The government has to step in. It has to make the necessary changes in the regulation. We would otherwise be shutting down our facilities.”

In Karur, 13 bus body builders are known to have secured the accreditation. Many more are on their way to get it. Interestingly, avers an industry source, even STUs must get accreditation. The design aspect of the coach must be validated by the certifying agencies, and only then can a bus or a coach be registered. Mentions a Karur coach builder, that component makers can produce standardised material with the uniform code. This will lead to better efficiency and competent after-sales service. “Most significantly, it will help us to provide comfortable and safe buses which will not only delight passengers but also help to decongest roads and lead to a greener environment,” he adds. He draws attention to the fact that the buses built by Karur coach builders are stronger and last longer than branded buses.

Addressing sleeper coach demand

Demand for sleeper coaches in India is on the rise. Many bus body builders are responding to this demand. Claims an industry insider at Karur, that sleeper coaches are classified as special purpose buses. They are designed and constructed to let the passengers sleep, he adds. Sleeper coaches are claimed to be placed in the category “Type IV” as per the Bus Code. Opines Soundararajan, “In the case of sleeper buses, we are already following the code. According to the standards we provide the window panes with a sliding movement. We provide separate windows on sides of the bus for upper and lower berths. In sleeper coaches, the berth structures are welded, bolted or interlocked by suitable means so that there won’t be any rattling or dislodging of berths.” Aware of the growing response for sleeper coaches in Tamil Nadu, is Soundararajan informs that they are unable to satisfy the demand. It is because the sleeper coaches at Karur are built to high standards, he adds.

Pointing at the changing requirements of clients, Soundararajan avers that the bus industry is not what it was before. He expresses that another round of change at Karur has begun. Much of this is in part of the requirement to achieve bus code accreditation, he points out. Many bus body builders at Karur are investing in CAD facilities for design and engineering requirements. To develop a bus body design, informs a Karur bus body building company owner, CAD images and various chassis details are required from the respective manufacturers; the same have to be integrated and checked for roll-over protection. The need to buy a design software is adding to the cost of operation. Without getting a design approval, it is not possible to produce. Mentions Soundararajan, “In order to meet the roll-over protection standards we are working on an entirely new design of bus bodies. We are doing so because we do not want our bodies to have any scope for failure.” “The roll-over protection is one of the most important clauses which will rewrite the entire design of bus bodies,” he avers.

The Bus Code is looking like the toughest test the bus body builders of Karur have faced until now. Not to give up, they are investing in the requisite software and other requirements necessary. In an environment where the odds seem to stacked against them, it is clear that not all bus body builders are on the same page. Some are better positioned to invest and upgrade, others are not. Their attempt as an association to get Bus Code accreditation has failed, but their hope for a better tomorrow continues to drive them. If their expectation of government help sounds logical, their ability to keep changing with the times will see them in good stead. The new buses rolling out of Karur are certain to be even better.

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GNA Axles announces IPO

In anticipation of strong growth, GNA Axles Limited has announced its first ever Initial Public Offering. Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

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Jalandhar-based GNA Axles Limited was established in 1993. Specialising in the manufacture of rear axle shafts, splined shafts and spindles, the company has announced its first ever Initial Public Offering (IPO) in anticipation of strong growth. Made up of two business arms – GNA Duraparts (Gears division) and GNA Udyog Limited (Propeller Shafts division), GNA Axles Limited decided upon an IPO to fuel growth. Encouraged perhaps by the good performance of diverse IPOs launched in India in the recent past, the IPO that GNA Axles has announced is worth Rs.130 crore. On Septmebr 14, 2016, the company came out with an issue of 63,00,000 equity shares. Of this, the net public issue comprised of 61,00,000 lakh equity shares. The remaining 2,00,000 equity shares will go to the eligible employees of the company. Expressed Ranbir Singh, President and Chief Executive Officer of GNA Axles Limited, that out of the net proceeds of the issue, Rs.80 crore will be utilised for the purchase of plant and machinery. For the working capital of the company, Rs.35 crore will be allocated. An additional undisclosed sum will be utilised for other miscellaneous corporate expenses. The equity shares of the company will be listed on the BSE and NSE. Claim financial experts, that this move by the company will enhance the value of the brand apart from facilitating an inflow of capital.

Growth from rear axle

Expected to facilitate growth by infusing funds in working capital, corporate expenses and debt reduction exercises, GNA Axles, according to Singh, sees growth in the supply of axles to every second truck in the country. Admitting that this is a large market to quantify, Singh informed that the rear axle shaft segment in India is expected to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13 per cent. “It is here that we want to grow big time,” he mentioned. In FY2015-16, rear axle shafts constituted 81 per cent in terms of volume, and 84 per cent in terms of sales. Expressed Singh, “GNA Axles has a well defined growth strategy. The focus areas include exports, diversification of product portfolio, expansion of customer base, quality and cost reduction.” “Focus will be also on rationalising the investment in new plant and machinery,” he said.

Manufacturing a diverse range of shafts, from 1.5 kg to 65 kgs, GNA Axles has the capability to scale the product portfolio up to 165 kgs. The rear axle flanged shafts the company makes are up to the dimension of 425 mm. In the case of splined shafts, the company caters to a variety of requirements. The hollow spindles find place in heavy-duty CVs where the company caters to OEMs like Volvo. According to Singh, the current capacity utilisation across the two (Hoshiarpur and Kapurthala) plants is 80 per cent. “Production can be scaled up to two million axle shafts annually if needed,” he added. The splined shafts and spindles find use in on-highway and off-highway vehicles. In FY2015-16, spindles contributed approximately seven per cent to the total sales in terms of volume. Apart from spindles and rear axle shafts, the company also manufactures drive shafts, power take-off shafts, hydraulic lift shafts, and transmission shafts according to Singh. These products, he mentioned, contributed 12 per cent to the total sales in terms of volume in FY2015-16. Apart from trucks and buses, GNA Axles caters to the needs of off-highway equipment like tractors, forest and agricultural equipment, construction equipment, electric carts, and mining and defense machinery. Apart from Volvo, OEM clients of the company include Mahindra, John Deere, and TAFE.

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Tractors and off-highway equipment

Close to two third revenue of the company comes from the tractor segment. In FY2015-16, GNA Axles manufactured 5.48 lakh tractor units according to Singh. It is a single source supplier to some tractor OEMs. The company also supplies to Tier 1 suppliers like Automotive Axles Limited, Meritor HVS AB and Dana Limited. In FY 2015-16, the domestic and export sales constituted 45.29 per cent and 54.71 per cent of the revenue according to Singh. Catering to the export markets of USA, Sweden, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Japan, UK, France, China and Australia, Transaxle Manufacturing of America and Kubota Corporation are among the major global customers of the company. Averred Singh, “Exports last year grew exponentially at 54.1 per cent compared to 34 per cent the year before. What started as a production of two components a day has scaled up to three million units per annum for the domestic and exports markets cumulatively. Apart from focusing on production, we are ensuring that we give equal importance to every stage of the entire value chain. From packaging to dispatching the component.”

Automation

As part of the growth plan, the company is looking at increasing automation. This, said Singh, will also help with the capacity utilisation. Looking at leveraging its relations to keep growing, both domestically and internationally, GNA Axles is also looking at diversifying the product portfolio. It is working towards integrating its manufacturing setup and enhancing its engineering capabilities. New machinery as per the plan will be in the area of forging, heat treatment and machining according to Singh. He averred, “Going forward, we will focus on increasing automation in forging and machining in order to better utilise the resources and enhance efficiency.

BorgWarner to produce Visctronic fans in India

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BorgWarner is expanding its Chennai facility to manufacture electronically-controlled variable speed Visctronic fan drives for Cvs.

Story & Photoes by:

Bhargav TS

BorgWarner Cooling Systems (India) Private Limited, a subsidiary of US-based BorgWarner Thermal Systems Inc, is expanding its Chennai facility to manufacture electronically-controlled variable speed Visctronic fan drives for commercial vehicles. The Chennai plant will be the fourth manufacturing location to produce Visctronics product technology after US, Europe and China. At present the Chennai plant manufactures viscous fans and fan drives for supply to commercial vehicles and engine manufacturers like Tata Motors, Tata Cummins, Ashok Leyland, Daimler, Mahindra & Mahindra, VECV and others.

BorgWarner chose to manufacture its technically advanced Visctronic fan drives by setting up a line at its Chennai facility because of the accelerating demand for more effective and efficient airflow solutions to deal with stringent emission regulations and higher specific engine outputs. “In order to serve the Indian market the Visctronic drive will be made here with 60-70 per cent local content. The plant will manufacture high volume actuators and other sub-systems. Only a few highly-engineered components and low-volume actuators will be imported. We will commence this operation from first quarter of 2017,” stated G Murali, Director & Plant Head, BorgWarner Cooling Systems (India). He added, “The new line and all the controls and electronics will be similar to those manufactured at the BorgWarner’s European and US facilities.” BorgWarner is making substantial investment for the new line to cater to domestic and specific export market requirements. Some customers, according to G Murali, have rolled out Visctronic fan drives in their trucks. There are others with whom discussions are on for migration to Visctronic from traditional Viscous fan drive technology.

Mirroring assembly

In an effort to employ the best practices that BorgWarner has been following globally at their Chennai plant, the company has brought in certain line-building capabilities and are integrating them into the pre-production planning of the Chennai plant. It has also built a ‘look alike (assembly) line’ by using scrap materials. This miniature line will help the operators to understand how the new line is going to be. Their suggestions are helping to build the actual line. The new line, once comissioned, will be able to meet the rising demand and serve other customers too. Much work has gone into the takt-time and equalisation techniques to maximise productivity.

Many advantages

The Visctronic fan drives have many advantages as they use specially calibrated software to communicate with the engine’s electronic control unit (ECU), constantly responding to the engine’s cooling needs. “Visctronic fan drive operates only when needed. It thus reduces the average fan speed and power consumption. When the engine requires more cooling, the fan drive will automatically engage to provide efficient air cooling at the right time. In this way, Visctronic fan drives deliver improved fuel economy, lower emissions and reduce NVH for increased driving comfort,” averred G Murali.

Apart from improving fuel economy, lowering emissions and NVH, visctronic fan drives, through precise airflow management, enable tighter control of engine temperature. they free up engine power so that the performance of the vehicle is enhanced. Smoother speed transition is made possible. Since a Visctronic fan drive is electronically controlled, vehicle or engine manufacturers have a lot of flexibility in terms of where they want to measure the temperature and how the air flow is to be modified or routed. The measurements are possible from zero to the maximum stipulated RPM of a given engine. Thermal shocks may thus be avoided since uniform gradients of temperature are possible. While the improved temperature control helps extend engine and component life, the self-contained unit is maintenance-free. The system incorporates input and output ports to receive and send signals from the ECU. Therefore the system allows for a possible fuel savings of up to 2.5 per cent.

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Controlled coolant pump

The major trends seen in thermal management, both globally and in India, are in the areas of air flow, coolant flow and electrification. We are adding new innovative products to each vertical with a focus on reducing fuel consumption and emissions in powertrain. In the coolant management systems, G Murali mentioned that the the company is currently working on variable flow coolant pump technology. This technology would soon commence production. Said G Murali, “Due to stringent emission norms that are in the making in India, OEMs are keen to understand how they could increase the efficiency of their engines and also use controlled coolant pump technologies. So we are currently talking to OEMs.” He added, “For select projects we have started working with international OEMs. Our airflow and coolant flow technologies increase engine efficiency for improved fuel economy, while reducing emissions to help satisfy BS IV emission standards.”

Eco-friendly products

Focus at BorgWarner is on eco-friendly products. The BorgWarner Morse Systems India Pvt. Ltd., another business vertical of the BorgWarner Group, manufactures products like engine timing systems, silent chains, roller and bushing chains, tensioners, sprockets, arms and guides. The company has been making inroads into the Indian market for sometime now, and has earned the respect of many OEMs in India. Emphasis as mentioned earlier is on eco-friendly products. BorgWarner Emission Systems, specialising in the emissions technology space, manufactures products for air management and emissions control in passenger vehicles, light trucks and various other types of commercial vehicles. In India it manufactures exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) coolers, tubes, valves and modules.

Apart from eco-friendly products and solutions, the various business verticals of BorgWarner are working towards enhancing the performance and increasing the fuel efficiency of engines and vehicles. BorgWarner is one of the first companies to bring the newest, and latest technology products to India. BorgWarner entered India in 2002 by establishing a plant at Chennai to manufacture products that were largely mechanical in nature. The manufacture of viscous fan drives and fans marks a distinct shift whereas the manufacture of visctronic fan drives points at a long and successful journey. As the CV industry evolves, and CVs modernise, become efficient, and safe, they owe their success to products like the visctronic fan drives. As hybridisation and electrification sets in, the manufacturer of visctronic fan drives is set to face new challenges. It is in view of the same that it is broadening its product portfolio to help OEMs to meet changing as well as increasingly stringent requirements. The company has come to offer solutions across the entire propulsion spectrum, from vehicles with IC engines to those that are hybrid and electric in nature.

Banking on cardan shafts for growth

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Specialising in the manufacture of cardan shafts, Dullabh Commercials is optimistic about growth.

Story by:

Ashish Bhatia

A cardan shaft is also termed as a propeller shaft. It finds application in various industries where there is a need to transmit power and torque generated by the engine some distance away to where it is applied. In an automobile, a cardan shaft is used to transmit the power generated by the engine to the wheels. The engine is quite often in the front, and the cardan shaft transports the torque to the rear wheels, or to all the wheels if it is a four-wheel drive design. Some four-wheelers may also possess two cardan shafts, each transferring torque from the engine to the respective axle. Commercial vehicles make good candidates for cardan shafts. Even construction equipment and tractors. Specialising in the manufacture of cardan shafts, Mumbai-based Dullabh Commercials is optimistic about growth with the advent of new CVs therefore. The confidence stems from the fact that there are not many cardan shaft manufacturers in India. According to Kishore Mistry, Proprieter of Dullabh Commercials, not only are there fewer cardan shaft manufacturers in India, the highly technical nature of the product makes it tough for new players to enter the field. An early entrant into the manufacture of cardan shafts, Dullabh Commercials was established in 1960. Over the five decades of its existence, the company, a family run enterprise, has grown to post a turnover of Rs.90 lakh. Apart from the OE market, the company also caters to the aftermarket and export markets. Other than cardan shafts, Dullabh Commercials also manufactures associated components like universal joints, tied rods and axle shafts.

Optimistic about growth

Making a modest beginning in 1960 by gauging the growth potential of the auto components sector, Dullabh Commercials decided to tap into products that would offer good returns. Components like universal joints and tie rods, which were associated to a cardan shaft, were identified. A decision to manufacture them was taken. States Kishore, “The big potential in cardan shafts and associated components like yoke could be identified as there were not many manufacturers of these parts then. It was decided that we should tap the potential.” Dullabh Commercials acquired land at Bhavnagar, Gujarat, and set up a forging unit in 1983. From 1960 to 1983, the company was operating out of a small setup at Mumbai. Most manufacturers at that time according to Kishore were turning to a US-based company Spicer for cardan shafts. Spicer entered India in 1979 by inking a technical and financial joint venture (Mahindra Spicer Ltd.) with Mahindra & Mahindra. In 1984, the company became a division of Mahinda & Mahindra. In 1995, it was transferred to a joint venture Mahindra inked with Sona Koyo, and came to be called as Mahindra Sona Limited. Today Mahindra Sona is one of the cardan shaft manufacturers in India.

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Back to Dullabh Commercials, and the demand for complete cardan shaft assemblies started pouring in as the production of associated components rose. The facility at Bhavnagar was expanded to begin the assembly of cardan shafts. The first cardan shaft rolled out in 1985, and was supplied to a Mumbai-based client. Having deployed a 1.5-tonne forging hammer recently (a half-tonne forging hammer was procured in 1983), the company employs 33 people at its plant. An SME, over 800 cardan shafts are manufactured per annum. Over 1000 units of associated components like universal joints and yokes are made per annum. Catering to AMW in the commercial vehicle space according to Kishore, the company, before Mahindra Sona was established, used to supply components to Mahindra & Mahindra. At a distinct advantage because of a captive forging unit (a new unit would cost much more today), Dullabh Commercials, avers Kishore, is laying an amount of thrust on the OE business. The same attention is being paid to the aftermarket and export business as well. The company, Kishore states, is looking at a growth of 10 per cent in the next three years. This fiscal, the company recorded a growth of five per cent by posting a turnover of Rs.90 lakh. In per centage terms, the OE business contributes 10 per cent; the rest is contributed by aftermarket and exports. To cater to the domestic aftermarket the company doesn’t feel the immediate need to appoint dealers or distributors expresses Raj Mistry, Development Manager, Dullabh Commercials. For exports, the company caters to markets like Mauritius, Tanzania, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Exports

Dullabh Commercials started exporting its products in 2005. European and African manufacturers were beginning to lose their confidence in Chinese manufacturers. They began turning their attention to the Indian suppliers. Dullabh Commercials was looking at an opportunity, and found the situation advantageous. It began exporting in earnest. Over 250 units of cardan shafts are exported on an average annually. The slowdown of 2009 saw the exports take a hit. There was an overall slowdown, and the production declined by 50 per cent. The situation has improved quite a bit, says Raj. He stresses upon good response being received from the Middle East markets of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The company is looking at a growth of five to 10 per cent in exports over the next three years. In Mauritius, it has appointed LC Parts and Accessories for the sales and marketing of its products. In Tanzania, it has appointed agents for supply to OEMs.

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Product development

Dullabh Commercials currently produces 36 variants of cardan shafts. It makes an equal variety of associated components. The fast rising vehicle count is calling for a significant rise in investment unlike earlier times. Earlier, says Kishore, only a few dies were needed. “The number of launches even in the commercial vehicle segment having gone up significantly, one has to be well equipped with multiple dies needing huge investment,” he mentions. Each die, according to Raj, costs up to Rs. one lakh. Each cardan shaft requires at least six to seven dies for different components it is made up of. He claims that an investment of Rs. six lakh is needed to procure specific dies to make one type of a cardan shaft assembly. A typical cardan shaft would have two flanges, a female sleeve yoke, a male yoke, and two crosses.

Custom projects

Acknowledging Dullabh Commercials’ expertise and knowledge, vehicle customisation specialists like DC Design have contracted them with work claims Raj. Adds Kishore, “It was our skill of welding that helped us to earn repeated orders. The welding is done such that it guarantees proper alignment of the shaft.” Kishore credits the Premiere 118NE’s coupling for the success of his company. “Subjected to tear and wear, the cardan shaft coupling of the 118NE failed, and was difficult to restore. This prompted us to do away with the mounting completely and fabricate a one-piece shaft. This shaft proved to be highly successful. It also established us as a serious player in the market,” he explains. He adds, “We started getting work from commercial vehicle manufacturers too.”

Future trends

With the industry leaning towards electrification of vehicles owing to a tighter regulatory environment, Dullabh Commercial is well aware of the trends. Its R&D team is already at a nascent stage of developing a technology that involves using light-weight components; composite drive especially shafts. “Composite drive shafts is one such growing phenomenon, mainly in export markets”, avers Raj. “A 50 per cent weight reduction loosely translates to a 50 per cent higher cost in such a composite cardan shaft which the company is looking at but only in the long term,” he states. The current range of cardan shafts that Dullabh commercials offers is capable of transferring torques from 250 Nm to 355000 Nm. With a keen attention towards new automotive developments, Dullabh Commercials, for now, is keen to tap growth opportunities and increase its share in the commercial vehicle segment.

FAME workshop calls for a collaborative effort

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The second FAME workshop at Delhi highlighted the need for electric and hybrid vehicles, made sustainable through a collaborative effort.

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) and Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) joined hands with Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises to organise the second national workshop on FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles) at Delhi recently. Aiming to elucidate the roadmap for the auto fraternity to move towards electric mobility, the event saw various stakeholders of the industry discuss about the accomplishments and challenges faced by them. Touching upon the rising pollution levels in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore, the workshop highlighted the work being done by the government proactively to ensure an improvement in the air quality. Emphasising the need for hybrid and electric vehicles to improve the air quality, the speakers at the workshop pointed out the challenge of high costs. In his speech, Girish Shankar, Secretary, Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, expressed that over the next 10 years, the industry will witness disruptive changes. “There has to be a collaborative effort to make such (electric) technologies more affordable and create awareness simultaneously,” he mentioned. He opined that there is a need for serious planning on the part of OEMs to address system complexities.

A panel discussion as part of the workshop delved upon the building of a robust electric vehicle supply in the country. The many routes that the government is willing to implement to achieve the same was also highlighted upon during the panel discussion. The panelists called upon the automotive component manufacturers to come up with advanced products. They seemed to be of the opinion collectively that the auto industry should study foreign markets and their successful endeavours to arrive at advanced products. Expressed a panelist that there is a need for technology to move quickly towards a greener future. Senior general manager at Mahindra Reva, Pawan Sachdeva expressed that in China almost 50 per cent of the cost of green vehicles is accounted against the incentives given by the government.

An exhibition organised during the course of the workshop saw auto component manufacturers showcase their capabilities pertaining to electric mobility and highlight the opportunities for localisation. JBM Solaris displayed its low floor nine-metre ECOlife bus, making it clear once again that it intends to manufacture it locally. The Schaeffler Group displayed components that it manufactures, and which find use in electric axles and hybrid modules aimed at the Indian market. Green Fuel Energy showcased a Lithium-ion battery system that it has developed. It can be customised as per the requirement of the user.

Launched last year under the Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMP) to offer incentives to manufacturers who undertake the task of manufacturing electric and hybrid vehicles, FAME has been instrumental in garnering a positive opinion about such vehicles. This has led to an increase in the acceptance of hybrid and electric models in a manner similar to their rising acceptance in other parts of the world. Experts at the workshop expressed a need for an ecosystem that would fully support the development of a robust infrastructure. To ensure this, a syndicate, xEV One, has been formed. It comprises of ARAI, SIAM, Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors, Mahindra and Mahindra, Ford India and Mahindra Reva. Drawing attention to the government allocation of Rs.795 crore over the last two financial years, FY16 and FY17, marking phase one, an industry expert claimed that the second phase would focus on four basic functions – pilot projects, demand creation, technological development and supporting charging infrastructure. Expressed Kavan Mukhtyar, Partner, PwC India, that partnership with research institutions and academia like ARAI and IIT can facilitate experimentation and access to technology.” “It is important to get the right business model and strategies since the adoption of electric vehicles is a challenge. Not just technically, but also economically,” he added. Stressing upon economic feasibility because of low volumes, Muthtyar mentioned, “If we can localise Lithium-ion cell manufacturing it can prove to be a real driving force for the industry to take it to the next level.” Sohinder Gill, Director, Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles, pointed out during his speech that there are certain challenges when it comes to lead acid batteries. “Their charge range goes down in propertion to their use,” he mentioned. Emphasising on the need to develop advanced products locally, Gill opined, “Neither the industry has turned up with better products, nor have we seen much progress in the financing of such vehicles.”

Under the FAME initiative, the total xEV sales are expected to reach a level of seven million units per annum by 2020. This, feel industry experts, would lead to a cummulative saving of about 9500 million litres of fuel and reduction of green house gases by nearly two million tonnes. Expressed a representative of the Department of Heavy Industries, that they are already in talks with oil companies, state governments and municipal corporations for the provision of charging infrastructure. The response has been positive, and standards would soon be set. Apart from setting up of the standards, over 25 hybrid buses are set to find their way to MMRDA in Mumbai. Five hybrid buses are set to find their way to Navi Mumbai. Over 25 fully electric buses are set to find their way to Himachal Pradesh. Another 50 (five-to-six seater) vehicles are set to find their way to HP government. These have been sanctioned by Department of Heavy Industries under various projects. There’s a long way to go yet, and this was aptly highlighted across various discussions during the workshop. A demand for tax reduction for zero-emission fleet also attracted attention. The workshop also highlighted the fact that the benefits from the states to support electric infrastructure are growing.