Timken Moves With Times To Move India Smoother, Safer

Timken India Limited, subsidiary of Timken Company, a world leader in bearings, with plants in Jamshedpur, Raipur and Chennai, offers friction management solutions that maximise performance, fuel-efficiency and equipment life. Wherever parts move and turn, Timken products and services can make things run a little smoother, safer and more efficiently. In an exclusive interaction, Sanjay Koul, Chairman and Managing Director, Timken India, explained to T Murrali, the various projects and products of Timken India. The excerpts:

Q: With India trying to catch up with BS VI by 2020, the OEMs are looking at various options to compensate fuel efficiency losses on account of the emission compliance. What kind of solutions can Timken offer to OEMs to help offset the frictional losses?

A: Being a global company Timken has been working on the ‘Green’ bearing, the power dense bearings, for ages. While the load and speed remain the same we reduce the envelope dimension of the bearing, eventually helping the OEMs to reduce the size of the hub making the axle lighter, thereby enhancing fuel efficiency. These bearings have been developed for all mobility applications, to reduce the deadweight around.
In addition Timken, which is a 117-year old company, has been focusing on offering bearings with special coatings, advanced profile and engineered surfaces, to create low-friction environment. In addition to power dense bearing, we offer to our customers in India sealed bearings that do not require any service for up to half a million kilometres.
We have also proposed use of compatible lubricants to support the high-end bearings.

Q: What is Timken’s expertise in pre-set hubs for heavy duty commercial vehicles and what is in store for Indian OEMs?

A: Timken has been supplying these kinds of bearings for several years to global customers. With the changing environment in India – the speed going up and the implementation of GST around the corner, the trucks need to have higher uptime; and we support these requirements. We have come up with wheel-end solutions, designed in-house with our global technology that can be used in the new platform as an integrated hub or in the case of old platform as retrofit. It can run up to more than half a million kilometres.

Q: What are your solutions for two /three/ wheelers and passenger /utility vehicles?

A: We have a lot of solutions, however, being a commoditised market, we are not servicing two/three wheelers and passenger cars. As the applications are becoming more heavy duty and demanding, as in the case of SUVs and high-end utility vehicles, we are participating in the programmes.

Q: Automated Manual Transmission (AMT), which calls for high precision actuators, bushes and bearings, has picked up in passenger cars? What has been Timken’s role in this?

A: World over the manual transmission will get phased out and automatics will be sold as standard. We have all the technologies for passenger cars with AMT but we are not participating as of now. We are waiting and watching; if there is a problem for the OEMs and there is a need for high-end solutions, we will pitch in.

Q: AMT is also getting in to commercial vehicle segment. What is Timken’s contribution?

A: As the transmission becomes automatic in the commercial vehicle segment, Timken will obviously step in. We will contribute with our high-end precision machining technology, with which we make our products. These are not limited to bearings and bushes but we can extend support in actuators, though the company is not in this technology now.

Q: EVs and Hybrids are still in nascent stage in India. Timken being a global company, will have solutions ready for these new generation vehicles. Can you briefly explain the specialty bearings for these kinds of vehicles?

A: As the vehicle is becoming more electrical, the need for engine and transmission bearings will come down. However, the EVs need a high-end product due to weight restrictions, etc. Timken is working with several EV manufactures to offer right solutions. Bearings with sensors that can alert on the vibration, temperature etc, are available with Timken. The development work on these new generation bearings is going on continuously to offer customers bearings that can communicate.

Q: Bearings have become a commodity several decades ago; in many cases, there has not been a price revision for the last couple of decades, especially for a few part numbers. What has been Timken’s experience in India and how is it managing the show?

A: Commoditization has happened but almost all of it in general applications and ball bearing space. In the bearings supplied to commercial vehicles, oil and gas and other industrial segments, wherever there is value to be harnessed, we ensure that we are not only selling our product but provide solutions and services thereby reducing end user’s TCO and increasing their efficiency. We provide the value and commercialise this value as well.

Q: The bearing manufacturers have limited options to contain cost as they do not have control on raw material cost and labour cost. How Timken is mitigating these issues to be still competitive?

A: No one can control the cost of raw material; labour will gradually become costlier in India. However, technology, productivity and flexible manufacturing set-up, make us competitive in the market.
Use of the latest technology such as multi-axis grinding and ultra-modern heat treatment keep us ahead of the competition. Besides, an efficient supply chain plays its part as well.

Q: Timken is one of the three companies in the world having its own raw material manufacturing. How is it helping the India operations? Do you have an edge over competition?

A: Timken Steel has become a separate company couple of years ago. However, the knowledge of producing the raw material – high grade alloy steel, lies with us. We have been able to use this effectively across the globe, to help steel makers make clean and better steel, which obviously is the core for making better bearings.

Q: Process once established has to run. The robustness of the process depends on the way the lines are commissioned. Where do you see the challenges because the varieties are large and SKUs in the aftermarket is concerned, is huge? How do you address each issue?

A: Every machine on our shopfloor is an SPM – special purpose machine. We do not procure machines that are standard and available off the shelf. Secondly, Timken, over the period of time, was able to design and modify its own machines. Our machines will be very different from those of the peer groups. The process robustness is paramount for us; this is the reason for most of our plants to have equipped to rebuild their assets, so that the process capabilities are always way ahead. Over the years the process has been refined that we get the best out of those SPM.

Q: What percentage of the process is automated?

A: We are in between semi-automated and completely automated, across our plants.

Q: At what ppm levels do you supply to your customers now and what is the target?

A: Across the globe and in India, for over the last decade, we supply our products at zero ppm.

Q: How do you contain rejections?

A: We continuously work on process and machine capabilities, besides, training our associates. We bank on high-end gauging systems to ensure flawless production. We always engage on first pass yield, which is always about 99 percent, way ahead industry average. This makes us contain rejections to the lowest levels. It is not about not generating scrap at the end of the line; our concept is based on making first time right. We invest lot of time, energy and engineering skills to make the process very predictable and repeatable. We do have rejections but with first pass yield of 99 percent, we are able to contain significantly.

Q: Despite having robust manufacturing process, there are rejections, due to the human element as well. Tell us about training to keep the workforce motivated to product flawless products?

A: The operators that we appointed at our Jamshedpur plant when we commenced operations in 1990s, have become global operators. They go to different plants across the globe to de-bug the machines. All these were possible due to continuous training and motivation – not only the workers but also their families. Many of the children of our workers, who were just from ITI, are graduates from IITs and masters from world renowned Universities. We strongly believe that happy employees produce less scrap.

Q: Tell briefly about the three manufacturing plants – what is made in each plant, their capacity etc.

A: We have three plants; Jamshedpur (caters to commercial vehicles and railways) and Chennai (medium to heavy industrial applications) facilities are dedicated to make bearings, while the third one in Raipur makes specialty gearbox.
The capacity of the plant depends on the size of bearings manufactured. Jamshedpur and Chennai plants put together can make about three million units a month.

Q: About aftermarket: how many distributors do you have and how do you manage inventory?

A: We have about 150 distributors in India, covering both automotive and industrial segments. We are in the process of increasing our footprint further, since the business have moved to Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and towns. Globally, Timken has several distributors working for more than three generations.

Q: How do you tackle spurious parts manufacturers?

A: It is an evil which has to be overcome. We work with the industry body collectively to address the issues relating to spurious parts that are made in the country or imported.

Q: Can you update on Timken Engineering and Research India (TERI)?

A: TERI is part of nine engineering and research centres of Timken globally. It is the second largest, next to the one in the headquarters in Canton, Ohio. It takes up all kinds of assignments including those relating to global engineering on product technology for all user segments. It is designing bearings in collaboration with its principles in North America. It is also taking up application / customer service engineering etc. Apart from product technology, Timken has a very strong team at TERI for manufacturing advancements technology such as additive manufacturing etc. Besides, it has metallurgy team working with steel makers in India and abroad.

Q: What is the driving force for Timken globally and in India to innovate?

A: Only innovation will keep us in business and ahead of business. This is becoming important with global launches of vehicles taking place in India. With new sectors opening up, we have started working with defence, ISRO, and HAL in helping them support their requirements in manufacturing crafts or missiles.

Q: The efficiency of any bearing depends upon design and the manufacturing process. What are the contributions of TERI in enhancing the efficiency for customers in India and for the globe?

A: We have been working on product and manufacturing technologies. We have about 100 people working on this aspect, to help our customers enhance reliability and performance. For instance, they work on projects that will help the end user of the commercial vehicle to minimise greasing cycle etc. We work with our customers on their applications, their duty cycles, understand their pain points and develop solutions that are more local in nature.

Q: Is TERI a centre of excellence for any of the aspects of design?

A: Yes, it is a centre of excellence for ball bearings for Timken globally. It is one of the major centres to work on bearings for wind turbines.

Q: Short term / long term plans for manufacturing and R&D?

A: Timken has been in India for over 25 years in manufacturing and more than 15 years in R&D. Our manufacturing footprint will grow with the market. During the last 18 months we have doubled the capacity of our Jamshedpur plant. As the market grows, we will bring more manufacturing not only for India but also for exports. Currently 35 percent of products manufactured in Jamshedpur and and 65 percent in Chennai facilities are exported.