Forging is a crucial element for success in industries

  • Articles
  • Jan 29,24
Forging is considered to be an indispensable process in the manufacturing industry due to its ability to offer precision & versatility, meet the stringent demands of various applications, and enhance material properties. These attributes collectively position forging as a crucial element for success in industries that demand high-performance, reliable components, states Vikas Bajaj, President, Association of Indian Forging Industry (AIFI) and MD & CEO, Bajaj Motors. In this interveiew with Rakes
Forging is a crucial element for success in industries

Forging is considered to be an indispensable process in the manufacturing industry due to its ability to offer precision & versatility, meet the stringent demands of various applications, and enhance material properties. These attributes collectively position forging as a crucial element for success in industries that demand high-performance, reliable components, states Vikas Bajaj, President, Association of Indian Forging Industry (AIFI) and MD & CEO, Bajaj Motors. In this interveiew with Rakesh Rao, Vikas Bajaj highlights the performance of the Indian forging industry and factors creating new growth opportunities for the industry players.

What were the key highlights of ForgeTech India 2023 that set it apart from the previous editions?
ForgeTech India, the first edition of which was held in 2016, is essentially a conference and exhibition aiming to unite the forging fraternity. Compared to its previous editions, ForgeTech India 2023 has set a benchmark with 800 plus delegates from the forging industry in India, which made it the largest national gathering of industry leaders and professionals of the forging industry globally. The event featured technical paper presentations by renowned global experts, which showcased industry developments and the exhibition of supplier capabilities, equipment machinery and tooling innovations.

Attendees also had an opportunity to explore emerging technologies, engage with peers and interact with experts from the forging and related industries worldwide.

Given the global turmoil, how was the performance of the Indian forging industry in 2023? What is your expectation for 2024?
The overall performance of the Indian forging industry has been neutral in 2023, but we are now back to the pre-Covid levels and we are expecting the upcoming year to be better. Due to relatively high fuel prices, commodity price increase, and regulatory requirements, the cost of vehicles has gone up. These are acting as growth/sentiment dampeners which are suppressing the demand. 

Fortunately, globally the interest rates hikes have been paused. We should therefore see relative correction in the interest rates in India as well. Once that starts, it will improve sentiment of the buyers. Simultaneously, because of the global slowdown, the commodity prices will also go down, which should bring down the cost of manufacturing. However, the actual positive effect will depend on how much benefit the vehicle manufacturers will pass to the end customers. 

Although, we are back at the pre-Covid levels, the pricing is an important marker which will determine the growth hence forth. Currently, the pricing is on the higher side, but we are expecting that the upcoming fiscal year will be better compared to the current one. 

Also, considering that the advent of electric vehicle (EV) will have a significant impact on the forging industry, the government should focus on creating more opportunities in other industrial verticals to help the sector continue its growth momentum.

Why is forging crucial for the success of the manufacturing industry?
Forging is indispensable to the success of the manufacturing industry due to its unique ability to enhance material properties, provide cost-effective solutions, and meet the stringent demands of various applications.

Firstly, the process of forging significantly improves the strength and durability of materials. Through the application of controlled force, forging refines the grain structure of metals, resulting in components with superior mechanical properties. This includes increased tensile strength, improved fatigue resistance, and enhanced toughness. Such enhanced material characteristics are crucial for industries where structural integrity and reliability are paramount, such as in aerospace, automotive, and energy sectors.

Secondly, forging offers cost-effectiveness over the long term. While the initial setup costs may be higher compared to some alternative manufacturing methods, the overall efficiency of forging becomes apparent in reduced material waste and minimal additional processing. The improved material properties often lead to longer component life, contributing to lower maintenance costs and increased operational efficiency. This cost-effectiveness makes forging a preferred choice for manufacturing components where high performance and durability are essential.

Precision and tolerance control in forging further contribute to its significance. Industries with strict quality standards benefit from the ability to produce components with tight tolerances and high precision. This is crucial for applications where precise fits and specifications are essential.

In summary, forging's role in manufacturing is multifaceted, encompassing material enhancement, cost-effectiveness, versatility, and precision. These attributes collectively position forging as a crucial element for success in industries that demand high-performance, reliable components.

What kinds of new opportunities can be tapped by the Indian forging industry in different industrial sectors like automotive, defense, railways, renewable energy, etc?
The Indian forging industry stands to gain substantial opportunities across various industrial sectors. In the automotive domain, the demand for lightweight and high-strength components positions forging as a competitive choice, particularly for critical parts like crankshafts and gears.

The defense sector presents a promising outlook due to the "Make in India" initiative and the government's restriction on the import of defense spares. The forging industry's ability to deliver components with superior strength compared to casting makes it instrumental in manufacturing spares for defense forces. Additionally, collaborations with international companies for defense-related orders can enhance technological capabilities and establish Indian forging companies as global players.

In the railways sector, forging companies can contribute significantly by supplying essential components for rail infrastructure, including axles and wheels. The ongoing modernization and expansion of the railway network create a growing demand for high-strength parts. The renewable energy sector offers opportunities for forging in supplying specialised components for wind turbines, solar power equipment, and other renewable energy systems, where durability and strength are crucial.

The positive handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Indian government has bolstered international investor confidence. As a result, international companies are exploring joint ventures with Indian counterparts, particularly in defense-related manufacturing. This not only attracts investments but also facilitates technology transfer and knowledge exchange.

By capitalising on these opportunities, the Indian forging industry can contribute significantly to the country's industrial growth, technological advancement, and global competitiveness.

What are key challenges before the forging industry? Will the growing demand for electric vehicles (EV) and technologies like Additive Manufacturing (AM) affect the demand for forging? 
The forging industry faces several key challenges that may impact its growth and operations:
Raw material costs: Fluctuations in the prices of raw materials, such as steel and alloys, can significantly impact the cost structure of the forging industry. Volatility in material costs can affect profit margins and overall competitiveness.
Energy costs: The forging process requires substantial energy inputs. Escalating energy costs can increase production expenses, putting pressure on the industry's cost-effectiveness.
Environmental regulations: Stringent environmental regulations and concerns may necessitate the adoption of cleaner and more sustainable manufacturing practices. Compliance with environmental standards could require investments in technology and processes to reduce environmental impact.
Skilled labor shortages: The forging industry relies on skilled labor for precision forging operations. Shortages in skilled workers or difficulties in attracting and retaining talent can impede production efficiency and quality.
Technological adaptation: The adoption of advanced technologies, such as automation and digitalization, requires significant investments. The industry may face challenges in implementing these technologies and ensuring a smooth transition without disruptions.

Further, the shift toward electric vehicles presents both challenges and opportunities for the forging industry. Globally, today most of the OEMs are cautious with regard to switch over to EV.  Except for the OEMs in China where they have started making more than 30 per cent of the production as EV (in other countries, the car manufacturers are little bit slowly in moving to EV platform). While the overall demand for traditional forged components in internal combustion engine vehicles may decrease, there is a growing need for forged parts in electric vehicles. For example, components like high-strength chassis parts, electric motor components, and lightweight forged components are essential in EV manufacturing.

The adoption of additive manufacturing can pose a challenge to traditional forging methods, especially for certain low-volume and complex parts. Currently, additive manufacturing is used to make proto type parts and also make low volume spares for critical application like defence & aerospace, while lots of companies are also exploring manufacturing of tools using 3D printers. AM offers design flexibility, reduced material waste, and the ability to produce intricate geometries. However, traditional forging still holds advantages in terms of strength, durability, and cost-effectiveness for high-volume production of certain components. The coexistence of both technologies may depend on specific applications and industry requirements.

In conclusion, while the forging industry faces challenges, it also has opportunities to adapt to emerging trends, including the demand for components in electric vehicles and the coexistence with advanced manufacturing technologies like additive manufacturing. Successful navigation of these challenges will likely require innovation, technological adaptation, and strategic planning within the industry.

How are factors like sustainability and automation triggering changes in the forging sector?
Sustainability and automation are pivotal factors catalysing transformative changes in the forging sector. In response to sustainability concerns, the industry is adopting eco-friendly materials and processes, with a focus on recycled alloys and reduced environmental impact during raw material extraction. Energy efficiency initiatives, waste reduction strategies, and compliance with stringent environmental regulations are becoming integral to sustainable forging practices.

Concurrently, automation is revolutionising the forging landscape. Automated systems enhance precision and consistency in manufacturing, reducing variability and improving overall product quality. Automation mitigates challenges related to skilled labour shortages by handling repetitive and labour-intensive tasks. This not only boosts production efficiency but also contributes to a more streamlined and error-resistant manufacturing process.

Furthermore, automation increases productivity by accelerating production cycles. Robots are employed in tasks such as loading and unloading, material handling, and even aspects of the forging process, leading to higher throughput. Real-time data collection through automation enables data-driven decision-making, optimising production and facilitating continuous improvement. Advanced monitoring and quality control measures, including vision systems and sensors, ensure defect detection and the production of high-quality components.

The increased use of water-based coolants in the forging industry also contribute to enhanced sustainability by efficiently dissipating heat during the forging process, reducing energy consumption, and minimising environmental impact compared to traditional coolant options; thus, expanding the sustainability practices within the industry.

The synergy of sustainability and automation marks a significant evolution for the forging sector. Companies are not only embracing environmentally conscious practices but also leveraging automation to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and stay competitive in an evolving global manufacturing landscape. This dual approach reflects a commitment to both ecological responsibility and technological advancement, shaping the forging industry's trajectory toward a more sustainable and technologically sophisticated future.

What are key trends to watch out for in the tooling industry in the coming years?
The tooling industry is poised for notable shifts in the coming years, marked by several key trends. Advanced materials and coatings are expected to play a pivotal role, with a focus on high-performance alloys and innovative coatings to enhance tool durability and performance.

Digitalization and Industry 4.0 concepts are driving the integration of digital technologies, IoT, and data analytics into tooling solutions. Predictive maintenance, facilitated by sensor data, is becoming a standard practice for optimising tool performance and minimizing downtime.

Additive manufacturing is gaining prominence, offering the ability to produce complex and customised tooling components with reduced lead times. Continuous exploration of new materials and processes in additive manufacturing is anticipated for tool production.

Automation and robotics are increasingly being adopted in tool manufacturing processes to achieve higher precision, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. Robotic systems are being deployed for tasks such as tool inspection, polishing, and packaging to streamline production.

The trend towards customisation and personalisation is growing, driven by the demand for tailor-made tooling solutions that cater to specific industry requirements. Design and manufacturing approaches supporting rapid prototyping and customization are gaining traction.

Sustainability initiatives are gaining prominence in tool manufacturing, with a focus on eco-friendly materials, recycling, and energy-efficient processes. There is an emphasis on developing tools with longer lifespans to reduce waste and environmental impact.

Precision machining and micromachining are areas of increasing focus, especially for industries requiring small and intricate components, such as electronics and medical devices. Advances in machining technologies are geared towards achieving higher accuracy and superior surface finishes.

Global supply chain resilience is becoming a priority, with a renewed focus on mitigating risks associated with global disruptions. Strategies to enhance agility and flexibility in responding to changes in market demand and geopolitical factors are gaining importance.

Tool lifecycle management (TLM) is emerging as a critical aspect, with the implementation of comprehensive systems for better tracking, optimization, and control of tooling assets. Integration with other manufacturing systems is a key focus for improved overall process efficiency.

Lastly, recognising the importance of skilled labor, there is an increasing emphasis on training programs and initiatives to address the skills gap and ensure a qualified workforce in the tooling industry. These trends collectively reflect the dynamic evolution of the tooling sector, driven by technological advancements, sustainability considerations, and the pursuit of increased efficiency.

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