Moulding the future of manufacturing

  • Articles
  • Jan 30,24
Despite the global turmoil, the Indian tooling industry performed exceptionally well in 2023. With emerging segments (like electric vehicles, railways, aerospace, etc) opening up new avenues of growth, Indian tool makers are expecting an even more successful 2024, says Rakesh Rao.
Moulding the future of manufacturing

In the last few years, the Indian government has been pushing for electric vehicles (EVs) adoption in the country to reduce pollution and crude oil imports. Results are promising. For example, according to the data released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, EV sales in India reached a record 1.53 million units in 2023, a jump of over 50 per cent year-over-year (YoY) against the million units sold in 2022. EVs accounted for 6.4 per cent of overall automobile sales in 2023.

An increase in sales of electric vehicles is expected to have an impact on the demand for auto components. With the auto industry quickly shifting gears toward the adoption of EVs in India, the development of new engines, battery boxes, and highly precise sheet metal parts is gaining momentum; thereby creating opportunities for tool makers. Tooling includes production of moulds and dies (presses), forging, gauging, jigs & fixtures, and cutting tools for the manufacturing of different components. 

Auto makers are the key customers of tools, consuming over 60 per cent of the tool production in the country. In addition to the automotive industry, other sectors such as railways, aerospace, defense, white goods, consumer durables, medical equipment, etc are also having a positive effect on the tooling business. "The automotive sector has consistently been the predominant consumer of tools globally, contributing over 60 per cent to our business. Nevertheless, we are witnessing a notable surge in various industries such as aerospace, defense, packaging, toy manufacturing, electronics, and home appliances. Anticipating substantial growth, we foresee these diversified sectors playing a significant role in our expansion in the forthcoming years," states Devaraya Manjunath Sheregar, President, Tool & Gauge Manufacturers Association of India (TAGMA India).

Back to basics
Dies and moulds - both tools used for shaping - play crucial role in mass production processes. While dies are used to shape sheet metal and other metal forms (for example, for making automobile body parts), moulds are used in injection moulding (such as with melted resin or casting molten metal). "Dies and moulds are crucial for the success of the manufacturing industry as they are the tools used to shape and form the products (such as automobiles, appliances, electronics, medical devices, etc) that we use every day," says Sheregar.

Vivek Nanivadekar, Executive Director, FIBRO India Precision Products Pvt Ltd, adds, "The die & mould industry is the heart of the manufacturing sector. Automobiles, white goods, defence equipment, etc consist of a lot of interchangeable plastic as well as metal components of various shapes and contours, and they are required in large quantities. These components, which are of high precision and consistent surface finish, are produced from dies & moulds. The designing and manufacturing of dies & moulds is highly specialised field requiring high skills and knowhow. For the safety of the passengers, the use of hot forming components in vehicle is increasing. Indian tooling industry is in a phase of acquiring these skills and technique."

Dies and moulds, which are often produced using CNC machining methods, are made from different materials such as steels with carbon or chromium content die, or high-speed steel and cemented carbide. Using modern techniques one can create micron-order precision dies and moulds, and help in the mass production of products with the similar shape and quality in a wide range of application areas. These tools can be game changer for industries like packaging, plastics, auto components, electronics, electricals, machine tools, etc.

Sheregar explains, "The quality of the tool is directly proportional to the quality of the end product; hence, it is extremely important to have good quality dies and moulds for ensuring accuracy, precision, durability, and efficiency of the products. They can also reduce the cost and time of production. Therefore, dies and moulds are the key factors that determine the competitiveness and profitability of the manufacturing industry."

Market dynamics 
Factors such as automation in the die casting process, aluminum metal injection moulding, high demand from construction activities, 3D printing, casting, and forging techniques are driving the market forward. The global die and mould market is expected to reach $ 95 billion by 2027. The Indian dies and moulds market - estimated at $ 2,535 million in 2017 - is anticipated to increase by $ 1,959 million between 2022 & 2027, growing at a 9.65 per cent CAGR during the period, according to Technavio - a market research firm.

Through initiatives, such as the Make in India, program, the government is encouraging indigenous tooling technologies by providing incentives to domestic tool makers in the form of lower taxes and easier access to finance. 

Industry experts believe that 2023 was a remarkable year with the Indian tooling industry witnessing good growth. As per the latest Indian Tooling Report of TAGMA India, the estimated market size of Indian tooling industry is approximately Rs 23,600 crore. "There's room for improvement, especially when considering that around 34 per cent of the tooling demand is currently met through imports. Approximately 80 per cent of these imports are from China, South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. We all need to target these areas collectively and reduce the imports," states Sheregar.

Electrifying growth
Growing EV market is likely to result in an increase in sales and profits for the dies and moulds industry, thereby boosting their overall competitiveness. "The shift toward electric vehicles presents both challenges and opportunities for the forging industry. While the overall demand for traditional forged components in internal combustion engine (ICE) 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," opines Vikas Bajaj, President, Association of Indian Forging Industry (AIFI) and MD & CEO, Bajaj Motors.

Increased demand can also open up opportunities for innovation, as tool makers will have to create new products and services to meet the emerging needs of the EV industry. "The emergence of EVs is a significant and welcome development for toolmakers. While it is true that companies focusing on traditional engine and powertrain components may experience an impact, the shift to EVs also brings forth a plethora of opportunities for toolmakers, specifically in the realm of engineering plastics," states Sheregar.

Nanivadekar explains, "EVs will not reduce the tooling requirement; rather the batteries will increase the need of tooling. As the development cycle for EV is smaller than ICE vehicles, more number of new EV models will be introduced with additional features, which would increase the tooling demand. Also, the world has started realising that the India is poised to become the global manufacturing base so the demand for tooling is bound to grow."

Tools and dies required for EV production varies from those used for ICE-driven vehicles as there are differences in the manufacturing processes used for production of components for these two types of vehicles. For example, as higher voltages are used in EVs, special tools and dies are required for accommodating higher electrical components. Additionally, the use of lighter materials in EVs will require different cutting tools and dies to ensure a precise and accurate fit. 

Sheregar elaborates, "As EVs become more prevalent, there is an increasing demand for components made from advanced engineering plastics. This includes a wide array of parts such as interior components, body panels, and various structural elements. Toolmakers are poised to play a crucial role in providing the necessary tools for manufacturing these intricate and precise plastic components. Furthermore, the battery technology integral to EVs presents another avenue for toolmakers. Tools required for the production of battery-related components and housings are expected to witness a surge in demand. This presents a strategic opportunity for toolmakers to diversify their offerings and cater to the evolving needs of the automotive industry."

3D printing: Adding value
To meet higher functional standards in EVs, companies are opting for 3D printing (additive manufacturing) to develop high-precision dies for components with complex geometry. Many toolmakers perceive 3D printing as a significant value addition to the tooling industry. Particularly tasks like designing conformal cooling systems are optimally executed through 3D printing. "This technology offers a unique capability to intricately design and produce complex shapes that traditional manufacturing methods might find challenging. Moreover, 3D printing stands out when there's a requirement for producing parts in small quantities. The flexibility and cost-effectiveness of 3D printing make it a suitable choice for small-batch production, enabling industries to efficiently meet specific demands without the constraints of mass production. This not only streamlines the manufacturing process but also provides a more sustainable and resource-efficient solution, aligning with contemporary industry demands. As technology continues to advance, the role of 3D printing in tooling is likely to expand, bringing about further innovation and efficiency improvements in the industry," observes Sheregar.

According to Vikas Bajaj, the adoption of additive manufacturing (AM) 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," he adds.

Continued resilience
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 minimising downtime," observes Vikas Bajaj.

With additive manufacturing gaining prominence, tool makers are continuously exploring new materials and processes to produce complex and customised tooling components with reduced lead times. Bajaj adds, "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 customisation 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."

The Indian tooling industry performed exceptionally well in 2023, despite the global turmoil. Toolmakers demonstrated their resilience, innovation, and competitiveness by expanding their capacity and on-boarding new customers. The demand for tools came from many new industries such as aerospace, defence, electronics, consumer goods, among others, which opened up new avenues of growth for the industry. As tool makers gear up for the challenges and opportunities in 2024, experts are hopeful for a successful and resilient future for the Indian tooling industry.

Sheregar sums up, "We are optimistic about 2024, as many toolmakers have confirmed good order books and are planning to invest more in the infrastructure. We expect that the latest smart manufacturing solutions, such as Industry 4.0, IoT, AI, etc will find their place in the Indian tool rooms and enhance their productivity, quality, and efficiency. We are confident that the Indian die and mould industry will continue to grow and excel in the global market."

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