‘The cost of automation has become relatively inexpensive’
An interview with Vinod Rai, Associate Director, Bainite Machines Pvt Ltd, and Managing Director, Augasti-raje Engineering Pvt Ltd.
Bainite Machines Pvt Ltd
Rubber processing machinery
How large and competitive is the Indian rubber industry vis-à-vis the global size and scale?
The Indian Rubber Industry is a key sector in the Indian economy. India is the third largest producer and fourth largest consumer of natural rubber in the world and also the fifth largest consumer of natural rubber and synthetic rubber put together. In fact, Asia is the largest source of natural rubber, accounting for around 94% of the total world output. The three largest rubber producing countries are Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, which together account for approx 72% of all natural rubber production.
Coming to competition, almost 60% of the global consumption is by the world’s Tyre Industry and the rest going into non tyre rubber sector serving various industries including transport, construction, health, mining, etc. From the Indian perspective and Indian Automotive Industry at large, the passenger vehicle industry has created history by crossing the 3 million mark in fiscal 2016-17. Indeed a milestone achievement and with this, India has become the fifth largest passenger vehicle market in world after China, US, Japan and Germany. Going forward, research agencies have estimated a CAGR of 9-12% over the next five years and that provides an insight into the significant growth potential.
One of the recurring themes is skills shortage, and not just in the rubber industry. Is this problem being addressed holistically?
I think in this case the present central government is quite serious, and influencing state governments as well, taking concrete steps realising the fact that India is expected to become the most populous nation by 2025. However in the same stream India is poised to become the youngest country by year 2020 with an average age of 29 years and accounting for 28% of the world's workforce much-much younger than China, US and Western Europe workforce.
Reading through some FICCI journal, I understand the development of skills for 500 million Indians in less than 10 years is not only a matter of national urgency; it is astounding in its scale. Thus far, the development of skills has been driven by the requirements of the market; while much progress has been made with considerable help from the private sector, it clearly continued to be a supply driven system. The need to focus complete attention to the industry is now essential. This will make the system demand driven and close the skills mismatch.
What is the present status of the Indian rubber industry in terms of automation?
When we talk about automation, please let me categorise: Automation within processing equipment and Automation beyond the equipment. At a large scale we are still following the West but I think the time has come we need to contribute from the front. Somehow automation is directly proportional to safeties and performance and India is still at midway but constantly at learning and developing stage. Undoubtedly there is significant improvement in the Indian tyre giants and slowly and steadily it is getting translated to mid size players as well, one of the main reasons being they are outsourcing sites for some of the global tyre manufacturing giants and bound to follow almost the same quality and safeties philosophy.
Automation within equipment is also essential and ensures efficiency and performance of the end product. There has been significant work going on green revolution and recycling as well in the industry and it certainly demands well modified, energy efficient, high performance oriented equipment and successful efforts are going on in the Indian machinery manufacturing segment and good milestones are being achieved with the support of Indian engineers as well as software intellects.
Is the industry ready for automation or is still reluctant?
Automation is becoming essential for mainstream manufacturers as well as outsourcing sites to ensure world-class quality and performance especially in the tyre and high performance technical rubber industry. Comparatively even the cost of automation has become relatively inexpensive, as many of the backbone items are being produced in India itself. India is one of the masters in digitising manufacturing equipment and then synchronising with main corporate ERPs.
India has tremendous potential for exports in this sector. What are the steps needed to realise this?
We can see this in two ways – India has been and continually becoming a very lucrative stage for low cost manufacturing with international quality standards, and this move is not only attracting the western manufacturing giants, viz., Michelin, Goodyear, Trelleborg, etc., but also players from far east, viz., Bridgestone, Yokohama – Japan and some from Korea as well and undoubtedly we are emerging as a favourite manufacturing hub for domestic as well as export distribution.
On the other hand, the Indian traditional manufacturers, viz., Apollo, Ceat, JK Tyres, etc., are extending their manufacturing arms in the West and this is indeed a good sign and inspiring.
Bainite Machines has always been a technology driven company. What makes it different?
At Bainite we develop fully automated turnkey based mixing room technologies that need just one or two persons to operate, depending on the choice of downstream mixing equipment, either Twin Screw Roller die or two-Mixing-Mill set up methodology for dumping and sheeting activities respectively. We are in constant consultation and involvement with very high profile rubber technologists and experts, have already covered?many aspects of compounding with the general purpose polymers and given our best to the industry. Furthermore, we constantly keep our research based programs on and alive by experimenting and understanding each polymer characterisation and its respective effect on mixing.
We are developing our mixers, which cater to all kinds of mixing demand, viz., standard compounds, special magnetic rubber based compounds and also components which activate at very high temperature 220°C and beyond. This is very challenging for us because apart from achieving better dispersion, the best properties of each and every component have to be maintained to the fullest. Secondly, with the help of GPC (gel permeation chromatography) sourced from our rubber technologists, we are in a position to determine and understand average molecular weight, molecular weight distribution and degree of branching and accordingly designing and obtaining mixing dynamics. Therefore with our advanced technology offering, we are becoming gradually very popular in Fluoro-elastomer, Silicone elastomer, Polyurethane elastomers, etc., apart from standard Tyre and Technical Rubber Industry.
As a manufacturer of specialised and customised machines, what is the kind of R&D that goes into the products?
For specialised and customised machines, R&D is very relative subject. It is very important that our research-based innovations must reach all segments, viz., small and large sectors of the industry and with our focussed efforts, we have developed very modern and ruggedly designed mixers in both Tangential as well as Intermeshing Mixing methodology and so is the range of our Twin Screw Roller Dies (500 kg/hr to12000 kgs/hr) and Batch-off Systems to match and comply with all these mixer sizes. From these mixer size ranges one can easily observe our contribution and benefits to each and every size of the manufacturer in the industry. Although overheads and time cost of manufacturing a small 25L mixer and large 330L mixer has very minimum difference.
We are using very high-tech based software maximally customised to our needs in which we can well test and ascertain distribution, mixing dynamics and shearing dynamics, etc., well before translating the drawings for actual component manufacturing. In Mixing section, Bainite has the world’s best metallurgy, eHopper+ technology with utmost automation control in Hopper and offering the world's fastest Hydraulic Ram with best minimal Ram up & down time, enabling more productivity, cost effectiveness, ease of operation and longevity (see box).
What are the factors driving automation in the Indian rubber industry?
In India one thing we must admit, we copy and modify better with our limited resources and infrastructure as compared to China and other countries. The technology generation in this region has seen a fair amount of expertise and capability to adapt and present a modified version to domestic as well as international markets. Joint ventures technological acquisitions, etc., are some of the parameters and above all globalisation has led the linking of major economies enabling Indian players to formulate high end strategies and enhance competitiveness in the world markets.
Another important aspect is the emphasis given by top Indian tyre companies and Rubber Board at large to applied research and the setting up of well-equipped in-house R&D centres by the companies, which are operated by experts and experienced technology professionals, have also helped in technology upgradation. I must give some credit to central government bodies as well for imparting feasible financial support and encouraging through some performance based incentives. Compound development and in-process issues have been the core areas of in-house R&D in the Indian Tyre and Rubber Industry.
There is some irony where the industry often laments about skills shortage and blames automation for unemployment. Your take on this?
You see, the skills shortage is a recurring theme which business gurus routinely use to blame unemployment on workers. Nevertheless, as I said before automation leads to better product performance and efficiency and we just cannot escape this route with a matter of fact that we are boosting up ‘Make in India’ proceedings with full thrust. The Indian government is taking adequate majors to boost up skill capabilities through various programs and we must know to chose our path and be a prominent nation builder and grow together with the nation.
Pix1: A fully automated Bainite mixing line.
Pix2: This picture illusrtrates the mixing dynamics and flow in Bainite Intermeshing Series of Mixers.
Pix3: A very special RES=O=LAB Mixer, a complete scale down of a Production Batch Mixer.
RES-O-LAB – The Bainite Lab Mixer
RES-O-LAB is a very important innovation in the BM series Lab Mixers, says Vinod Rai.
The suppliers of various chemicals, fillers, accelerators, etc., keep improving and developing newer chemicals and the Tyre and Technical Rubber companies need to evaluate their effects and behaviour during compounding and also their end product properties. Even the carbon grades and silica grades and other fillers also need to be evaluated with respect to their behaviour and their end properties. In order to achieve and realise these objectives, we have technically modified our Lab Mixers, wherein the compounding is carried out in a smaller scale and also the properties of end product can be evaluated and conveniently translated into bigger scale batch mixers proportionally. The dispersion of the constituents also needs to be evaluated.
The manufacturers of the machine systems carry out continuous improvements, modifications with respect to mechanical systems, component geometry, hydraulics, electronics, automation systems, controls, temperature controls, pressure controls, etc. This very popular RES-O-LAB 1.6L Lab Mixer with eHopper+ technology mixer has a similar simulation factor having the same properties as the large sized Batch Mixers for production. What we manufacture is a Mixer with a hydraulic Ram, hydraulically operated discharge door which operates through a Linear Actuator, Hydraulically operated feeding door and latch cylinder, miniaturised Temperature Control system, PLC Controls and Drives, and the Hydraulic Power Pack. All these components along with the Mixer are enclosed in one box of epoxy powder coated canopy enabling an enhanced aesthetic look as you can see in the picture.
The Laboratory Mixer is equipped with SCADA, which monitors and gives out the reading of the energy consumed, temperature, batch timings, batch weight and also you can feed in different thousands of recipes and based on the recipe you can vary the various factors like Ram pressure, Ram speed, Rotor speeds through the Mixing Cycle, dump temperature, the temperature monitoring through the cycle, etc. All the factors governing the compounding cycle are captured and can be displayed on the monitor. With all these proven data, the Compounding technologist finds convenient to define and fix and proportionate recipe for a particular component.
This high profile Laboratory Mixer also helps the machinery developers to improve existing geometries and develop new geometries and see their effects on the compound chemistry through the compounding cycle. Whatever is simulated through higher end, latest and modern software tools can be ascertained by having the same geometry and arriving at the end results for the development and improvement of the new technology. We are trying to develop a single mixer that can have both Intermeshing as well as Tangential Rotor geometry, be it 2-wing, 4-wing or 6-wing rotors or tip cooled rotors we can assess the effects on the rate of dispersion of various constituents in the rubber chemistry and the speed of mixing and the temperature controls.