Shaunak J. Dave
Evolution to revolution: the Indian economy is on the rise and fiber lasers ride with it
Headlines read Foreign Exchange Reserves more than $220 billion, Stock Index reaches an all time high at 20,000 points, gdp growth hits 9.4% and is likely to be continued the next few years, and Foreign Direct Investment is likely to cross $15 billion, and inflation is less than 5%, despite significant increases in oil pricing.
As India celebrates the 60th year of its independence, all indications are that growth will continue to accelerate over the coming years at a buoyant pace. Unquestionably, India is on a growth trajectory, and the country will emerge as a significant power on the global political and economic stage. Global economists refer to the next 40 to 50 years as the coming of age of the two Asian giants-India and China.
In the global economy of the early 21st century, the division of labor between Asia’s giants was distinct. China was the global manufacturing hub and India the world’s back office for business and knowledge process outsourcing. India’s services sector showed vibrant growth, contributing approximately 56% of gdp; but the same couldn’t be said for manufacturing. Approaching 2008, India has not yet begun to play a big role in the global manufacturing industry, but compared to seven years ago, things are improving at a fast pace.
According to economic experts, things have begun to change, driven by the emergence of a vast domestic market and relatively low-paid workers with advanced technical skills. Increasing numbers of multinationals are setting up manufacturing operations, collaborating with Indian firms either for manufacturing outsourcing or setting up plants together. Ford, Hyundai, and Suzuki all export cars from India in significant numbers, and abb, Schneider, Honeywell, and Siemens have set up plants to manufacture electrical and electronic products for domestic and export markets.
Indian industry grew by 11% and manufacturing by 12% in 2006-2007, supporting significant growth in the capital-goods sector, which grew by a healthy 17.7%. While India’s manufacturing renaissance is in its early stages, it’s already clear that it will look very different from China.
China’s world-class infrastructure, with government support smoothing the way for manufacturers, keeps it ahead in global manufacturing. The model for India should focus on competing globally by growing a creative and innovative high-technology manufacturing industry (not toys or consumer items) for relatively higher-value products that demand frequent value additions through continued innovation and creativity. This is the area where laser technology can really become acceptable in materials processing applications, which demand in-depth technical knowledge of application engineering.
Since 1992, Sahajanand Laser Technology (sltl), with 380 employees and a $12 million turnover, has been working on this model, becoming a key player in the Indian diamond industry by introducing high-tech cnc and laser-based technology to help keep India ahead in global gems and jewelry production, where automation and human creativity go hand-in-hand. Now the company is growing with an innovative fiber laser sheet-metal cutting system selling in India and recently introduced internationally.
sltl started building laser cutting machines for sheet-metal fabrication in 1996, installing a number of 2-kW CO2 laser powered systems. However, because of a sluggish manufacturing industry, growth investment in high-cost capital equipment was slow. Also the quality of available sheet metal was not laser grade, so high-quality finishes could not be achieved, and some maintenance problems occurred due to the unavailability of high-purity gases.
In 1998 sltl began research in low-power fiber laser technology, initially for diamond-processing applications, introducing this technology for laser marking/engraving applications in 1999, and then for diamond bruiting (shaping the girdle of the diamond). Encouraged by this success, in 2002 the company began R&D, and in 2003 it introduced a fiber-laser-based product called Brahmastra (Ultimate Weapon) into cutting applications because CO2 laser cutting technology was said to be not cost-effective in the Indian market.
The first system, a pilot installation in 2005, was at M/s Lancer Lasertech Pvt Ltd-a fabrication job shop near Ahmedabad (Western India). This machine has a 1-kW fiber laser with Siemens controller and ball-screw drive table capable of cutting 8-mm mild steel and 6-mm stainless. This company caters to sheet-metal fabrication work from automobile, electrical-panel, textile, pharmaceutical machinery, and construction-equipment manufacturers.
A second machine powered by a 1-kW fiber laser and a 3 × 1.5-m table with dual pallet changer was built in June 2006 for a Chennai-based customer-Sheet N Blanks Pvt. Ltd., a fabrication job shop that is cutting up to 8-mm mild steel and 6-mm stainless for manufacturers of storage systems, switchboards and control panels, ups cabinets, furniture and fixtures, automobile, telecommunications, and so forth. Operation cost and maintenance are two major factors that influenced the company’s decision to order a fiber laser cutting system.
Another 1-kW system with a 3 × 1.5-m table was installed in December 2006 at Acme Lasertech Pvt. Ltd., another job shop in Mumbai that offers laser cutting services to surgical and hospital equipment manufacturers, automobile, retail, and pharmaceutical machinery manufacturers. Cited as key to why the company purchased a fiber laser cutter was that mtbf is more than 100,000 hours. It cuts mild steel up to 10 mm and stainless steel up to 6 mm.
Linear drive models
Last January sltl introduced a 1-kW fiber laser with Siemens 840D C-controller and linear motors for faster cutting and positioning speed. One of these units was installed in M/s. Sakthi Laser Technology (Chennai) in June. This job shop caters to the needs of the automobile industry, electrical-panel builders, and the engineering industry of South India.
The main reason for selecting the fiber laser was the price/performance ratio and least breakdown, low maintenance and electricity consumption, and the fact it could also be upgraded from 1- to 2-kW power in the future. A linear drive unit with a dual pallet changer was installed at M/s Riddhi Siddhi Industry (Mumbai) in September 2007. The company manufactures precision sheet metal components and mainly serves the electrical industry. This was the first laser machine, so the company wanted to have the latest technology and utmost reliability, as well as peace of mind in operation and maintenance. Looking at the prevailing pricing war among laser job shops in Mumbai, it wanted to select a cost-effective system. The sltl fiber laser offered three times more economical operation.
By and large, fiber laser customers in India think that the fiber laser is faster when cutting thin materials, reliable, and low in maintenance and total cost of ownership. At the same time they believe there are opportunities for further improvement when it comes to higher-thickness cutting.
Shaunak J. Dave is general manager (Marketing & Techno-Commercial) with Sahajanand Laser Technology Ltd. and can be contacted at [email protected].