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Auto forging: Looking for a technological renaissance



India is lagging behind in terms of innovation and the country is still dependent on foreign machines to manufacture forgings. Again, India stands nowhere close to the grade and the quality of steel which is available in the foreign market. If India as a nation processes its own ore into the best steel in the world, one can only imagine how much it can bolster India’s business by exporting that finished steel to foreign countries, observes Neellohit Banerjee.
 
India is the third largest manufacturer of forgings in the world, after China and the European nations (led by Germany).The forging industry contributes largely to the Indian manufacturing industry. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Indian Forging Industry, the installed capacity has increased from 38.5 lakh MT in 2016-17 to 39.4 lakh MT in 2017-18 with overall production of forgings increased from 23.98 lakh MT to 25.24 lakh MT.
 
Market demand
Driving on the back of the Indian automotive industry, the forging industry opened the year 2018 on a robust note. According to the Association of Indian Forging Industry (AIFI), compared to the usual trend of low production during the April-May in a fiscal year, in 2018-19 the industry witnessed a continued higher demand during the first quarter.
 
The surge in auto sales especially, the commercial vehicle and tractor sales resulted in an improved demand/growth for the Indian forging industry. As per a SIAM report, the CV segment grew by 55.67 per cent during the April-July 2018 over April-July 2017. “Domestic commercial vehicle (CV) sales rose ~20 percent in fiscal 2018 to 8.56 lakh units. The domestic CV sales reached an all-time high in FY18 while domestic MHCV sales reached the highest sales since FY12,” informs Hetal Gandhi, Director, CRISIL Research.
 
Pratik S. Kulkarni, Business Developement Executive, Emkay Forgings, which is into hot forging, cold forging and ferrous & non-ferrous forging says, “We are catering 90 per cent to the auto sector and the auto industry has kept us occupied.” From December, there has been a slack and the business was down. But there is one such quarter every year which is usually down. Last calendar year was performing well, but from December there was a downfall and it has not picked up the way it is supposed to.“We were expecting that business would improve from April but it hasn’t picked up substantially. We majorly supply to Mahindra, and Mahindra as a brand has majority customer base in rural areas. Rural areas only get hit because of bad rainfall and not because of economic conditions. Companies which are supplying in the urban areas, they are facing a lot of competition. One reason being that for a lot of OEMs, only their one or two products are performing well. The rural demands keeps us occupied throughout the year, which helps us and facilitates our expansion programmes,” Kulkarni informs.
 
Closed die forging
In forging, there are mostly two types of setups – one is hammers and the other is presses. Steel forging can produce automotive components that are stronger than a similar cast or machined automotive part. As the steel billet is shaped during the closed die forging process, its internal grain deforms to follow the general shape of the part. As a result, the grain is continuous throughout the part, which produces an automotive part with improved strength and characteristics.
 
Closed die steel forging can be used to create automotive parts made out of almost all steel alloys, including carbon steel, alloy steel and stainless steel. Due to absence of any material limitation, parts can be made which can fit exact needs of automotive applications.
Near net shapes for automotive parts can be produced with the help of closed steel forging method. As a result, these forged automotive components require little or no machining, which becomes a time-saving and cost-efficient factor.
 
Presses are effective machines, compared to an outdated tool such as a hammer. “Press forging is more effective than a hammer. Open forging is useful when the size of the forging part increases, but you will not find open forging for a small part. For effective and fast production, there is no point in having open forging for small parts. For that, it is better to have presses and closed die forging, and it is 
the OEMs who demand closed die forging instead of hammers. Because of closed die, there is maximum production and because 
of presses there is less wastage of raw materials as compared to hammers,” explains Kulkarni.
 
Steel forgings can target a lower total cost for the large demands of automotive components when compared to a casting or fabrication. After evaluating all the costs involved in a product’s lifecycle from procurement, to lead time, to rework, followed by the expenditure of scrap, downtime and further quality issues, it turns out that steel forgings provide long-term benefits compared to the short-term cost savings that castings or fabrications might offer.
 
Challenges and opportunities
The automotive forging industry is not a bed of roses. It faces its own hindrances and obstacles. There is a lack of infrastructure in the small and very small scale sectors such as an inadequate supply of power and increasing power price.
 
There is already a migration towards battery-operated vehicles. It hasn’t been implemented completely and may be it will take another 15-20 years. “If a vehicle is made fully electric, we will be left only with the suspension and small parts of the axle, and our business will rather deplete in those circumstances. However, it is not going to happen round the corner,” says Kulkarni.
 
In terms of opportunities, there are new ways of forging, such as warm and cold forging. “Everything that can be made in hot can definitely be made in warm and up to some extent in cold forging. We are still on hot forging and as a nation haven’t shifted to warm or cold. It is the mindset of the OEMs and if they ask for warm forging, people will only invest in warm forging.”
 
India is largely dependent on foreign machines, whereas countries such as China manufactures its own forging machinery. According to Kulkarni, “This is an area which the nation can explore so that we are not dependent on others. This way the money spent on them will remain in the nation.”Again, India stands nowhere close to the grade and the quality of steel which is available in the foreign market, and they are 20-30 years ahead in terms of quality of raw materials. “The irony is that western countries don’t have the raw materials to make the steel themselves. India’s ore is very good in quality at least in Asia and we export it to Japan, and Japanese grades are one of the good grades. But Japan doesn’t have its own ore for manufacturing and buys from India, Malaysia and other countries. Sadly, we sell our ores but we cannot process it into the best steel in the world,” reveals Kulkarni.
 
If India as a nation processes its own ore into the best steel in the world, one can only imagine how much it can bolster India’s business by exporting that finished steel to foreign countries and the kind of improvement in the quality of India’s steel. Today, the auto industry is fine with the grades that this nation can produce. But if some high-end machines are needed in a high-end vehicle or product, steel is imported from Germany, Japan, America and other countries. “India is extremely rich in resources but we don’t process our resources, and nobody 
is focusing on it. India is among the top five forging producers in the world in terms of capacity but we are light years behind in quality,” informs Kulkarni.China is engaging in a lot in R&D on self-sustenance. China is criticised for its quality of products but they are gradually learning, and after 20-25 years they will be equivalent in quality with the western countries. But where will India stand in this equation, only 
time will tell. “It is all dependent on government policies, which should be stable and goal-oriented,” Kulkarni concludes.

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