By T Murrali:
Technology and Innovation form the core of the Mumbai-based MG Group’s growth strategy. The group aims to meet India’s growing demand for transport, automobiles, alternate energy, electronics, healthcare and composites in ways that are economic, environment-friendly and socially responsible. MG Composites, part of the group, has designed and developed a body of advanced composites for an electric three-wheeler. To be hauled by Greaves Cotton’s electric powertrain it is named `E3’.
The prototype will be showcased at the Auto Expo for the vehicle manufacturers operating in the three-wheeler segment, and depending on their need E3 will be manufactured, Anil M Kamat, Managing Director of MG Group, told AutoParts Asia. The logo of E3 (electric three-wheeler) is designed by MG in such a way that when looked at together it appears to be a ‘Butterfly’ signifying nature and clean environment.
Composites are materials made from two or more constituents with significantly different physical or chemical properties that in combination produce an entirely different material that is stronger, lighter and cheaper than metals. The individual properties remain distinct within the finished structure. Similarly, the partners of E3, MG Composites and Greaves, remain distinct for the finished vehicle.
Anil M Kamat, Managing Director, MG Group said, “We are jointly pitching for the market with the concept, which demonstrates Greaves as a driveline system supplier and MG Composites as an application builder and designer. We are giving our customers the option to take either the body or electric powertrain or both. If a customer wants the vehicle as a whole, we can offer. We are yet to take a call on where the integration of the powertrain into the composite shell or the body, will take place. Most probably it will be at our composites plant in Zaheerabad in Telegana State.”
MG Group decided to manufacture a commercial vehicle since “we have been on the lookout for new challenges and opportunities in the industry segment we are present in. Design and composite materials being our core areas we were keen to combine the two to put forward a suitable mobility solution in the commercial vehicle segment. The three-wheeler auto segment being one of the product variants in this segment that MG had never attempted, we felt the time was ripe to unveil E3. It is a bold step to change from the traditional metal body to composites as it may not be easy to infuse it into the market. Several countries, especially in the ASEAN region, have begun to accept vehicles of composites for the last mile connectivity. E3 is an indigenously designed and ‘Made in India’ product, having high performance, low cost of ownership and zero emission. It is also stylish, and futuristic,” Kamat said.
MG Group, India’s largest privately-owned bus building enterprise, has two companies: MG Automotives Private Limited in Zaheerabad, and MG Automotives (Bus & Coach) Private Limited in Belgaum, Karnataka. They have an installed annual capacity of 16,500 buses. Since its entry into this business in 1996, the group has manufactured over one lakh buses, both for the domestic and export markets.
The group has been one of the leading high volume low-cost manufacturers for the bus building requirements of the Indian and multi-national OEMs. The company established West & Deccan in 2001 to strengthen its design and engineering capabilities. It has an experienced team of artists, industrial designers, structural design engineers, and vehicle drive-line integrators. The team gives attention to the design aesthetics, and style vehicles to be viable and efficient. State-of-the-art facilities at West & Deccan besides, hardware and software packages help in detailed styling, design and analysis while representing the real vehicle to the best extent possible.
The design team at West & Deccan has the capabilities for concept and styling of virtual prototypes, manufacturing drawings, non-linear explicit analysis, crash analysis, rollover analysis, structural optimisation, design & analysis of mechanisms, bus code study and analysis, fixture design and support, interior designing and homologation support. The team is being expanded.
The composite industry globally is worth about USD 36 billion while in India it is just USD 450 million. However, it is set to grow at an annual growth rate of 25 percent in the next five years. Advanced composites can take over many areas replacing metal.
Composites play a big role in the automotive industry. With the increasing need for composites in the Indian bus industry, and to be a total bus solutions provider, the group company established MG Composites in 2014. “We started with a composite, commonly known as FRP (fibre reinforced polymers) in a small way meeting some of our requirements. This was a trial to understand the intricacies of designing and manufacturing FRP parts. Over these four years, we have gained knowledge in the art of designing composite parts and their mass manufacturing,” Kamat said.
MG Composites has a dedicated design, pattern and mould-making shop and manufacturing facility. It has leveraged an advanced technology for E3 composite body with lighter yet stronger components that reduce the overall weight of the vehicle. “Vacuum Press Infusion – VPI, a closed moulding infusion technology is the latest and most advanced in composites manufacturing. The VPI process provides all the environmental advantages of a closed mould process for making high quality composite parts with optimised fibre-to-resin ratio giving higher strength and stiffness. Consistent laminate with great process control, less human errors, smooth outer and inner surfaces are its other advantages. It is also environment-friendly as there is no styrene emission,” Kamat said.
“Composites are fast replacing other conventional materials across various industries mainly aerospace, defence, railways, maritime and automotive. MG Composites was established to further build on its advanced composites engineering and manufacturing capabilities. We have recently established a world class R&D and innovation ‘Centre of Excellence’ to strengthen our overall mission and vision to be the leading composites solutions provider in India,” he said.
The Centre of Excellence has advanced equipment for testing properties such as tensile strength, yield, flexural or bend strength, compression, elongation / elasticity, fibre content, density, viscosity and gloss. It has a CNC machining centre to manufacture patterns in precise dimensions and accurate contours, a tool manufacturing facility adhering to latest industry trends, and the arrangement for the first article inspection and sign-off for different types of fabrics, resins and other core materials.
MG Composites is a technology company offering complete solutions in engineered composites and composite parts. It has a mass manufacturing facility equipped with pattern and mould making centres and full-fledged tool room for design and manufacture of required tools. The company has a panel of international experts as technical partners: Alan Harper, Founder of Alan Harper Composites, UK, and T K Lim, Founder of Sift Centre, Malaysia.
MG Group companies use CAE (Computer Aided Engineering) that follows advanced Mathematics such as finite element analysis (FEA) to calculate the stresses and deflections in the body structure of a bus. MG Composites in collaboration with its technical partners, has delivered even the most challenging projects for the bus and coach industry.
“In recent years we have co-operated with MAN, Scania, Daimler and more recently with Goldstone BYD, for electric buses. Over the years we have made various applications across platforms for commercial vehicle industries. At West & Deccan we are always on the lookout for new opportunities to flex our design and engineering capabilities and strength,” he said.
The company has an installed production capacity of 5,000 tonne a year with 40 percent additional capacity for new products. “With our current capacity we have the ability to ramp up for 200 composite bodies for E3 per month. In case of further demand from our partners we can ramp up production to meet the market requirements in planned phases,” Kamat said.
MG Composites, envisioning itself to be the largest player in this segment in India, while continuing to cater to its bus business, is in the process of supplying to the aerospace, defence, railways, commercial vehicles and many more industries which need advanced composites. It has been manufacturing basic composites in three mm thickness for buses and commercial vehicles as skin parts to clad the metal structure for a better facia. The company has moved up to ‘advanced composites,’ which has higher tensile strength to be evolved to an integrated design monocoque body like that of E3.
E3 is a concept vehicle for the last mile connectivity for passenger travel, the body and packaging of which is designed by West & Deccan and engineered by MG Composites. The electric powertrain is powered by Greaves Cotton, a leading fuel agnostic power train solutions and services provider in the last mile mobility in India.
When viewed from the rear, the monocoque body of E3 appears to be a compact hatch or a compact SUV. Its distinct wheel arches that appear to be that of a sports car, add glamour to the vehicle. The jelly bean or egg-shaped body has the necessary ingredients to minimise drag and enhance efficiency. The wide opening on both sides allows free wind flow and makes entry and exit easier. Though the exact dimensions are yet to be revealed the vehicle appears to be slightly longer than the passenger version of the three-wheelers manufactured by the OEMs in the country. E3 does not have B-pillar from the design concept, however, there is an option to have it from the partition between the driver and the passenger compartments, till the roof. The base plate for the driver seat and passenger seat are also part of the integrated structure.
Asked why the company zeroed in on E3, Kamat said “transport accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s energy consumption. Replacing the current mobility, that allows CO2 emission, with renewable energy is the sustainable solution for the future of urban transport. The automotive industry is undergoing a major disruption through electrification of vehicles. The current eco-system is radically progressing towards electrification and realisation of the Government’s aggressive approach to electrify all new vehicles by 2030, is pushing all manufacturers in this direction. In India, the three-wheeler segment has a limited last mile connectivity with short haul ranging anywhere between 100 and 120 km on an average per day. E3 fits perfectly in that space. Moreover, the batteries available today have a limited range of operation and hence E3 is a good fit as the three-wheeler operation can be performed in one full charge.”
MG is an application designer and builder with specific expertise in the field of composites. Greaves is an expert and a leading player in the three-wheeler engines segment. “The E3 is a concept which has been developed to demonstrate our respective strengths in these areas of expertise. It is designed to prove our capabilities and for our OEM partners in the electric three-wheeler segment,” Kamat said.
Greaves Cotton Limited is a Rs1,800- crore engineering company in India with core competencies in diesel/ petrol engines, farm equipment, gensets, construction equipment and three-wheelers segment, catering to a few OEMs in India. The company has diesel, petrol, CNG and now electric three-wheeler engines. It is a fuel-agnostic, full range engine solution provider. “Being one of the preferred and the largest suppliers in this segment, it was critical for MG to partner with Greaves in developing the concept of E3,” he said.
“We have completely replaced metal with composites. For three-wheelers, more than the acquisition cost, the cost of ownership determines the business sense for the end-user, often an entrepreneur. Therefore, the idea was to reduce the total cost of ownership by minimising the running cost; being electric-driven, it is the lowest. Made of advanced composites, the body is stronger and lighter, and it increases the distance covered and cuts the operating cost. The tooling cost for composites is far lower than that of the metal body. As the cost of tooling can be recovered in smaller volume, it is possible to give a facelift or change models at short intervals,” he said.
The E3 body is corrosion-proof and amenable to styling due to the flexibility of composites. It operates silently with minimum vibration and harshness. The driver and passengers have many conveniences such as LED saloon light for good visibility and ambience, multifunctional mobile app configuration for a variety of features such as battery life, temperature, navigation, ergonomically designed passenger seats and widescreen road view.
With a focused approach in partnerships and collaborations with its technical partners and skilled engineers, the prototype was built in 45 days. With the state-of-the-art facility and design engineering capabilities the company was able to accelerate the pace of development and achieve maximum precision, quality and conformity during the proto build gates at each phase of the development. “Having the R&D centre at MG Composites was critical to achieving our goals in a very short time. The synergy between the group companies, West & Deccan and MG Composites, was the winning combination to bring E3 to life,” Kamat said.
About the vendors developed for this project and the list of components outsourced, he said, “For the prototype we had vendors only for the most critical parts. We relied on the off-the-shelf accessories and parts available in the market. However, if we decide to produce E3s with an OEM partner we will build the required vendor base.”