Bharat Forge Finding Right CNC Solution

Bharat Forge Finding Right CNC Solution

Passing through the imposing gates of Pune-based Bharat Forge Ltd. (BFL), the roads become smooth and well tended. Immaculate lawn edges and trim hedges border the long driveway leading to the car park, where small cars and scooters form orderly lines.

As a company, BFL has grown from its origins as a humble hammer manufacturer 40 years ago, into one of the largest, most accomplished and technically advanced forging operations in the world. It is the flagship company of the $1.25 billion (US) Kalyani Group, and describes itself asa “full-service supplier” of engine and chassis components.  BFL is also India’s largest exporter of automotive components, and has manufacturing facilities spread across six locations: two in India, three in Germany and one in North America.

India Stories 2012 Part IOver the years, BFL has invested to create stateof- the-art facilities and world-class capabilities, such as fully automated forging and machining lines comparable to the best in the industry. The company’s customer base includes virtually every global automotive OEM and Tier I supplier, including: Daimler Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, GM, Volkswagen, Audi, Renault, Ford, Volvo, Caterpillar, Perkins, Iveco, Arvin Meritor and
Cummins. Annual turnover of the 4,000- employee, publicly traded company is in excess of $600 million.

The turning point for BFL came in the late 1980s, when management at the company (then only selling to the market in India) decided to replace the ageing plant it originally bought second-hand from a U.S. supplier, with modern technology that would be the envy of forging shops the world over. The investment included new presses, new automation and the adoption of new manufacturing techniques, such as 5S and Kaizen. It was a bold strategy designed to make BFL a world leader in forging production.

Mr. B.P. Kalyani – a relative of the company’s chairman – was given the task of implementing the new practices. To tackle the challenge effectively, BFL created a Forge Modernisation Division, and today Mr. Kalyani is its Senior Vice President.

“Our biggest challenge was to absorb the technology,” he says. “It was all very new to us, but somehow we had to learn how to get the most from it – fast.”

Word soon spread about the company’s investment, and new customers sought the company out. One such company was U.S.-based axle assembly manufacturer Arvin Meritor, which duly placed an order for 1,000 forged axle beams per month.

India Stories 2012 Part I“We were able to offer them a product 20 percent cheaper than their previous supplier,” says Mr. Kalyani. “All of a sudden, the hard work and investment began to pay off.”

Over the subsequent decade, the influx of orders accelerated, but despite the success, a problem began to surface: The die machining shop was struggling to keep pace with the forging lines.

“We knew we had to start looking at high-speed CNC machining centres,” explains Mr. Kalyani.
“At first, we only looked at various Japanese, German and Swiss models – the ones we had heard of. But the quotes were very expensive. We thought that must be the going rate, but then we came across Haas.”

Mr. Kalyani admits he had not heard of Haas previously, but says the machine specification-toprice ratio was a real surprise. Only company policy, which demands that benchmarking tests take place between prospective supplier products, prevented him from placing an order immediately.

“We needed to prove that the Haas machines could produce a die within the cycle times and quality requirements we expected,” he says. “At that time, we wanted to machine a connecting rod die from H13 tool steel (50HRc), so we passed the challenge to Haas. The result was really impressive. In fact, it was no different to a set of benchmarking tests we had done on a Japanese machine that cost several times the price.”

That was in 2001. Today, BFL owns 23 Haas machine tools: 16 VF-4 CNC vertical machining centres (the five most recent delivered in September 2005); two VF-7 machining centres; two VF-2 models; one EC-1600 horizontal machining centre; one Toolroom Mill and one Mini Lathe.

All of the Haas machining centres are fitted with 10,000- or 15,000-rpm spindles, as well as through-spindle coolant and high-speed machining options. In fact, BFL claims to have specified all of the available options on every machine it has purchased. The machines even have air conditioning units fitted to the control cabinets to counter exceptionally high in-shop temperatures.

India Stories 2012 Part I“We work the Haas machines very hard – 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Mr. Kalyani. “Temperatures in the factory often can exceed 40°C (104°F). We can’t afford to take any chances, so we use cooling systems. Some of our Japanese and German machines are also cooled, but none cope as well as the Haas machines.”
Working around the clock, the Haas machines, run by five operators, produce a total of approximately 550 dies per month for forgings weighing up to 350 kg. Typical end products include crankshafts, connecting rods, front-axle beams, rocker arms, steering knuckles, transmission parts and hubs. In fact, BFL claims to
be the largest manufacturer of crankshafts in India, and the second largest worldwide, with annual production well in excess of 100,000 units.

“We are immensely pleased with the performance of our Haas machines,” says Associate Vice President Mr. S. Rangan. “Before they were installed, the cycle time for a typical crankshaft die was 40 to 50 hours, now it is 14 to 15 hours.
Similarly, a die for a connecting rod was machined in 40 hours, whereas now it takes just four. Add to this the fact that there is no bench or polishing work, no tool marks or cracks, and it is easy to see why we are so pleased. The days of separate roughing and finishing are also behind us. All of our dies are now machined complete in a single setup on a single machine.” Mr. Rangan states that two further forging lines are planned for next year, which will subsequently require yet more die-machining capacity. The company is also considering the acquisition of two more plants, one in Europe and one in China. He says that this ambition is targeted toward improving “speed to market.” A decade ago, the time taken from receipt of drawing to delivery of a hard-forged sample was around two months. Today, it is a couple of weeks. BFL’s two-year target is to reduce it to just three days!
In the company’s training division, a Haas Toolroom Mill and Mini Lathe are used daily by roughly 30 BFL trainees undertaking one-and-ahalf year apprenticeship programs. “We’ve never been afraid to invest,” says Mr. Kalyani. “From the very beginning, the chairman invested the majority of profits back into the organisation. It’s become a culture at BFL. Every company has the ability to define its own culture, and this is ours.”

Courtesy: Haas Automation India Pvt Ltd


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