Gestamp, a Spanish multinational company that designs, develops and manufactures metal components for the automotive industry, constantly innovates product designs to make safer, lighter, energy efficient and environment-friendly vehicles. Founded in 1997, the company, with 95 plants and 11 more under construction, is a global supplier of new products and technologies. Its hot stamping lines around the world have reduced the weight of a car body in white parts up to 30 percent. In India, Gestamp has three facilities and an R&D centre and is gearing up to provide hot stamping solutions to the domestic automotive industry, Raman Nanda, Country Head & President, Gestamp Services India, told T Murrali in an exclusive interview. Edited excerpts:
Q: As you reduce vehicle weight the customers may want you to reduce the number of parts also; for crash repairs they want the parts to be easily available. In this setting, what are the solutions you plan to provide in the near future?
A: Let me first say that we see a big focus on the body by the customers in the years to come mainly owing to the regulatory changes. New laws are coming in for crash test, fuel emission, efficiency, and NCAP (New Car Assessment Programme) rating, which is going to be notified. It is very clear for us at Gestamp that as a company we can help the automotive manufacturers meet their increasing requirements.
At SIAT we had displayed four technologies. The first and most important one was hot stamping or forming, where we increase the temperature of the blank to 930 degrees C and then form it. This helps to take out the stresses and form the part in many ways that cannot be done by cold forming. As the strength and hardness has gone up so much, we can reduce the thickness of the part and also the weight. For example, a 1.6mm thick sheet can be reduced to 1.3mm. This straightaway reduces the weight of the part and gives you better crash resistance of hot stamped parts.
The second is the technology with patchwork blanks where we can locally strengthen an area at the blank stage before forming. Then we have the tailor-welded blanks with two different thicknesses depending on the need and the duty to be performed. The fourth one is roll forming, where, unlike conventional roll forming of 500-600 MPA (mega pascal), we can do up to 1500 MPA. This throws up fascinating possibilities of giving much higher strength to a part with reduced weight. We are at the right time at the right place, with appropriate technologies that the customers are looking for. We have put up a plant for hot stamping where we can do all the blanks with Gestamp’s portfolio of technologies.
Q: What is in store for the future? Some companies have reduced the number of parts and reduced weight, without compromising on functionality?
A: Let me talk about the future. Today, in Europe and the US, almost 38 percent of the body is made from hot forming. In India it is close to zero at this stage. In the next five to ten years we will make hot stamping well understood and accepted as the technology of the future for India. Based on the geometry of the parts, a huge range of solutions can be found for the customer. We have a bumper that was originally in seven parts – now it is just one piece. We can even design the whole body for the customer and shave off at least 50 to 75 kg (15-20 percent) from the total weight. It is a phenomenal change – a new era in body-making. We are investing in India ahead of the curve and we have the appropriate technologies that will be required by the customers in the next decade. We have the future charted out to a very large extent.
Q: Will all this be done at your existing plants?
A: We have four facilities in India – three are manufacturing and one is engineering and R&D. Gestamp has 12 R&D centres globally and one of them is in Pune; we are connected with all the centres. As the Indian market develops and converges to the global best practices, customers will come to us for full body development.
Q: That makes sense because the time to market is coming down. But there is more variance without much growth in volumes. How do you manage cost? Is there any specific initiative?
A: I shall answer in three different ways. First of all we are already a supplier to programmes like Nissan Micra and Sunny which are very cost-competitive. We also supply to Polo and Vento, Ford EcoSport, Renault Duster and Nissan Terrano. We are present in all the different price points; so we know what the Indian customer wants.
Secondly, in hot stamping, you can reduce thickness, weight and the amount of steel. This saves cost for the customer; each geometrical design will have its own cost and price. When we work in India with these technologies, an eye on cost is already built in. Finally, the OEM and the consumer decide what needs to be incorporated in the car. For example, earlier there was no coated steel, now it has come; there was no ABS, now it is there. The OEM and the customer have to take a call but we believe we are giving real value for money. Globally 38 percent of hot stamping is used; slowly it will come to India. That is why we have invested heavily on this plant.
Q: In India, do you see opportunities for aluminium parts?
A: Yes, in the next three to five years aluminium is going to come because of weight issues; already some customers are talking to us about aluminium. This is something that is going to happen.
Q: Will that call for a specific line in your factory?
A: Yes, we are well equipped to add lines the customer needs.
Q: Globally, people are looking at a multi-material approach where different kinds of materials are fused together. What is Gestamp’s take on this?
A: Aluminium is going to be the next steel. We are also working on carbon fibre (to replace steel) globally, as well as plastics. This is a fascinating field bringing in new materials based on local conditions. We have a range of materials, technologies, processes and relationships with our customers to make it happen.
Q: What are your initiatives to enhance yield ratio?
A: This is something we have to take care of with India being a cost- sensitive market. There are two specific ways in which we do it. The first one is core development. Styling determines how the car looks, but after styling, a lot of inputs from detailed engineering can come from companies like us. We want the customer to look at parts and part design to maximise yield.
The second one is using technologies like roll forming where you have a blank that is very close to the final product. So you can achieve more than 90 percent yield because your starting point is close to the final product – it is only a profile change. It is working closely with the customer using the appropriate technology and bandwidth.
Q: To what extent has the Indian market embraced tailor-welded blanks and where do you see the opportunities?
A: It is picking up, though it is a chicken and egg situation. Technology has to be available and designers have to start using it so that other vehicle makers can see the use; that’s how it spreads. Today I would put the use at three to five percent for the B-pillar and a few other parts.
Q: Have you got opportunities in the door and the roof?
A: Not really, it is B pillar and a few internal parts that go for tailor-welded blanks; the usage is not much as of now; but it will increase.
Q: Your PPM levels have been drastically reducing. I think it is 14 while the customer was expecting 50 or so. How did you achieve it?
A: It is a question of focus for PPMs to be brought down further. It is always a cross functional theme, which helps. Your dies and equipment have to be in top condition with well-trained people backed by quality systems and a positive mentality. We have been working on all fronts to strengthen that culture to avoid missed deliveries. The automotive industry works on credibility and track record. We have to ensure success for our customers by giving them credible options to consider.
Q: Can you tell us about your manufacturing facilities in India?
A: We have three plants in India. The first one in Pune went into mass production in early 2010 and the one in Chennai started production in 2012. A new plant at Talegaon will be operational in May-June this year.
Q: You must have garnered many best practices that you will deploy across your plants. So what kind of production enhancement capability will the Talegaon plant have?
A: Our intention is to make the Talegaon plant the benchmark plant for hot stamping. We are quite clear on that, just like we have worked to make the Chakan plant for cold stamping and Chennai plant for high strength steel (HSS) and end-welding.
At Talegaon we have started well by getting the best equipment and training for our people, introducing the culture of continuous improvement and by being sensitive to the customer requirements.
We will bring in the best practices from our other plants in India which is linked to Indian conditions and the same domain. For example, in the Pune (Chakan) plant we have Gurukul for different segments of work, like press operations, quality control, packing, etc – how the packing should be done for each part is itself a 15-20 page manual. We ensure there is theoretical training and practical training followed by an exam for each person before he is certified to do the job he has been given. This is a best practice that Talegaon is building towards.
Another example, in hot stamping we have almost 80 lines globally; the best practices from there keep filtering to us from a team overseas that works on this.
Q: Is there any lessons for the global plants from India?
A: It is happening. In fact, two years ago, the Gurukul practice was selected as the best practice globally, to be adopted by all the other plants worldwide. I am sure there are many things in India that we can do very well, which our global colleagues will like to emulate.