View from India: Eventually we all find our bearings

Government-led investment in transport infrastructure is good news for India's producers of industrial bearings.

India’s market for bearings is estimated to be worth over 10,000 crore rupees (£1.2bn). With the national Government giving impetus to infrastructure-led projects across verticals, this sector is expected to grow at 6-7 per cent annually, with strong performance in segments like the railways, heavy trucks and defence.

‘Bolstering Bharat,’ a budget analysis released by research firm Crisil in February 2017, showed that positive total outlay (budgetary allocation + internal and extra budgetary resources or IEBR) for infrastructure increased by 6 per cent, with railways and roads being the biggest beneficiaries by far. This focus on transport infrastructure is expected to boost the construction, engineering, metals, cement, and logistics sectors. Over the longer term it should help reduce logistics costs and improve efficiencies, both of which are critical for the manufacturing sector to be competitive.

Infrastructure is a key driver for improving India’s economy. The bearing industry will be fuelled by the growth in infrastructure. Overall, this makes the business environment conducive for investments in this market. Once infrastructure improves, companies are expected to consolidate their position in advanced bearing technology through investments and acquisitions.

Keen to cash in on the bearing market, Timken India Ltd, a subsidiary of The Timken Company, a world leader in engineered bearings and mechanical power transmission products, has recently announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire ABC Bearings Ltd. through a court-approved amalgamation process. ABC Bearings is a manufacturer of tapered, cylindrical and spherical roller bearings, and slewing rings. “The merger of ABC Bearings Ltd’s business relating to bearings and related products with Timken India Ltd, is a great strategic fit,” said Sanjay Koul, chairman and managing director of Timken India. “This provides Timken with competitive manufacturing footprint to grow business in India and global markets.”

The merger brings additional capacity for cylindrical roller bearings and spherical roller bearing for the Indian market. Recently, Timken India announced US$20m capex towards building capability and capacity catering to India and global demand.

Through this merger, Timken India intends to bring technology and domestic supply pipes to its strategic customers in heavy truck and off-highway industries. “We will make sure that our customers get the milk run supply chains which are possible only if we have created an effective modern supply chains. This is exactly what we will do and change the way these customers are served currently,” added Koul.

Traditionally, bearing manufacturing is geared towards improving quality and mass production, precision performance, and stringent material control. Now, disruptive technologies have made inroads into the sector in order to provide flexibility and lower human errors.  

Timken India is scaling up its R&D efforts towards advanced bearing technology, beginning by leveraging 3D printing. This is still in the research stage, but once it is commercialised, it is expected to give a thrust to low-volume products.

Besides 3D printing, the company is leveraging a suite of technologies like nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, big data and predictive maintenance to give a makeover to the shop floors and service industry. Already changes in measuring the impurity levels in alloy steel has given the company scope to use steel for applications that suit it the best.  The company measures and uses ultra-clean alloy steel for metal and wind industry.

Robotics will be used in the area of services, as complex jobs can now be performed by robots and the cost between the human being and robots is narrowing. All repetitive work that can enhance the levels of services will see less and less human intervention in times to come.

Seen from an industry perspective, aluminium is another metal that is being researched upon, where the focus is on how it can be used right from the monomeric aluminium stage to something which can replace other metals. Tribology has become even more critical as the impact on application for its performance and residual life is enhanced. We can now measure and quantify how a surface is affected on a microscopic level by abrasion, adhesion, scuffing, galling, electro-arcing, fatigue, rolling contact, delamination, spalling, impact, fretting, corrosion or a combination of these types of wear.

With the result, all the data generated is now used to engineer the design and optimise the whole value chain for better precision.

Notwithstanding that, Goods and Services Tax (GST), India’s largest tax reform, has added a new dimension to the industrial services and metallurgy scenario.

The operations that existed during the days of the multiple tax regimes will no longer be same as that of the post GST regime. “As we get used to the new format, we would see cost of transactions going down and efficiencies contributing to enhanced output. Logistics getting better is a major benefit of this. However with this we should prepare ourselves to pass on the benefits to the end customer, bring in our entire supplier base into the GST regime and help build India,” Koul explained.

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