Through this interview with Rakesh Rao of IPF, Mohini Kelkar, MD, Grind Master Group, shows how SMEs can also leverage on automation to make a global mark in the highly knowledge-intensive machine tools industry.
Surface finishing is a core process for making many products and requires a certain technological finesse. After making a humble beginning from a garage, Grind Master Machines, based in the Aurangabad (Maharashtra), has made a global impression in the surface finishing arena by offering world class technologies at cost competitive price. In conversation with Rakesh Rao, Mohini Kelkar, the co-Founder and Managing Director of Grind Master Group, narrates the journey of the company and why IoT (Internet of Things) and other cutting-edge technologies are important for small & medium enterprises (SMEs) to make a global mark.
Grind Master Machines today is one of the leading players in surface finishing. How do you see the journey?
The journey of 35 years has been really very exciting. Grind Master was started by me and my husband in 1984 in the garage and today we are across the globe with subsidiaries in France, China and USA. All through this journey, we have developed various kinds of metal finishing and deburring machines, which were not made in India before. To start with our machines were import substitute and then we began selling it outside India. We got good response from our global customers because of our innovative technologies particularly in micro finishing and robotics.
We offer these new technologies which are globally competitive. We typically sell our products on the strength of innovation and technology and not really on the basis of pricing. The key reason for us to emerge as a global player is our determination to sell the best technology at a good price.
Germany and Japan are known for their technological prowess in the capital and engineering goods segments and their machines are considered to be the best in the world. We are proud to sell our machines to Japanese and German firms.
With supply chains becoming very complex, reliability at every stage is very important. Reliability also means that there has to be a traceability and the traceability of any fault or part come only through IoT.
Grind Master started using IoT long time back when we started exporting to China for automobile sector in a big way. Machines are built in such a way that any fault-finding can be done through Cloud sitting here in our Aurangabad facility; we don't have to send our engineers all the way to China to rectify the fault.
Secondly, we can track the tool life using a tool management system, which is implemented on our machines. This helps not only the customer but also allow us to monitor the tool life and intimate customers about the condition of the tool and alert them to take appropriate action. This has been appreciated by them.
To enhance productivity of the plant, machines need to operate at the optimum level. IoT enables the user to collect data from the machines, analyse them and take actions accordingly. Grind Master has created integrated system which helps in data analysis and directs the user to take necessary actions. For this we have developed smart controller, which is very user-friendly.
We believe automation is a key growth ingredient and it will become more relevant in the post COVID scenario.
With the auto and auto component industry in doldrums, what are your mitigation plans?
Machine tool sector is heavily dependent on the automotive industry. We operate in multiple countries and this offers us some cushion against regional vagaries. Though the automotive market is down in India, globally there are markets where demand for automotive is still there, which we are trying to capitalise. Exports has been one of our core strengths and is helping us mitigate some of the challenges we face in the domestic market.
We believe that Indian automotive manufacturers will see a sudden rush in demand, once they restart. Also, there is an anticipation that more factories would shift out of China to other countries once situation normalises post COVID pandemic. This will present a huge opportunity for the country, especially in the component space as Indian automotive component industry is known globally.
As part of de-risking strategy, we have diversified into various other sectors. For example, we have a strong presence in home appliances space. In fact, we started our journey by offering metal polishing solutions to the home appliances companies. We also offer solutions to steel industry. Our specialised deburring solutions are ideally suited for aerospace industry, which will hopefully offer big opportunity when activities in this space start gaining momentum.
What kinds of opportunities are you exploring in the overseas market?
COVID 19 pandemic has put tremendous cost pressures on all the companies across the globe and companies like Grind Master who are more flexible can offer quality technological solutions cost-effectively. There will still be demands coming from auto OEMs and global tier 1 component suppliers, who are looking to source products from the country. They are looking at products on a long-term basis at a reasonable price. This offers a good opportunity for us.
Further, governments of countries like the US, Japan, etc have urged their companies to explore relocation possibility from China; thus, increasing the chance of shifting of manufacturing base to new regions like Southeast Asian countries and India. This disruption in supply chain will lead to new business models and setting up of new facilities to produce new parts or components for automotive or other industries. These plants will need more flexible manufacturing solutions, which an agile company like Grind Master can offer. We are already responding to similar demands from our customers in Japan by offering them quality technology at reasonable price points. By working closely with our customers to provide the right solutions, we can expand our exports kitty further.
Amid COVID 19 crisis, what are your expectations from the government?
The government is urging companies to pay salaries to employees. But if companies do not have any cash, how can they pay the salaries? So, the government should support companies, particularly SMEs, by making cash available to them for running their businesses.
Government should also focus on ease of doing business for local enterprises to attract investment from not just outside, but also within in the country. Changes like labour law reforms, setting up of single window clearance mechanism, etc should be ushered in by the government.
How are you recalibrating your growth plans?
Till January this year, many companies were upbeat about the growth prospect. We also had very big plans to surpass last year’s growth numbers, though we could sense sluggishness in automotive. Then COVID 19 struck the market triggering slowdown across all sectors globally and putting a big question mark on the demand.
Certainly, this is a challenging time and we are charting out a three-step recovery process. In the first step (may be till December 2020), we will be in the survival mode, which will be followed by a revival phase to take the company’s business to the level of what it was last year. The growth may happen only after one and a half years. We will steadfastly follow the three-phase recover plan as we move forward.
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