Producing nimbly in India

Features - Manufacturing

Mid-sized manufacturer SuMax has found a niche supplying parts to automakers and off-highway equipment producers by offering fast turnaround times, enabled by its high-tech equipment.

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Small- and medium-sized companies in India are buzzing. The country’s surging population – about 1 billion – has led to a dramatic increase in demand for consumer goods and industrial equipment, and OEMs are taking notice, moving production there and sourcing precision-engineering parts locally.

Rajesh C. Suttatti, a self-taught engineer and managing director of SuMax Enterprises, has been supplying specialist tools and fixtures to the Indian automotive and machine tool sectors for more than 30 years and tells about his company’s experience working with John Deere, Cummins, and other automotive companies.
 

Tell us a little about the origins of SuMax:

My father already had a successful company called Vijay Engineering, which he set up in 1966. It has a good reputation for making high-quality machine tools for other OEMs across India. We started SuMax to supply Vijay with specialist tools and fixtures. However, we quickly found work with other companies, so we have been able to diversify.
 

Why is SuMax in Pune (100 miles from Mumbai)?

For a company indirectly working with large-scale manufacturing companies, location is important. Being in Pune helped us win work with John Deere when the company set up a joint venture nearby in the late ’90s. That got us started making machine components for the automotive sector. It’s purely good fortune that we are next door to the local Haas Factory Outlet (HFO). That’s how we came to buy our first VF-2 vertical machining center. We started out with very few machines, and have increased our capacity slowly each year. We now have a VF-6, two VF-2s, one MDC-500 mill/drill center, and an EC-400 pallet pool.
 

How have you found new business?

Mostly, word of mouth. Originally, John Deere asked us for some sample fixtures, which they liked very much. Then they asked us to make some parts for their tractors. They were building about 150 a month, and each tractor needed two of the parts. It was low volume but steady work. However, the real break came when they recommended us to other companies in the automotive sector. That’s when we started developing turbocharger housings for TATA pick-ups and trucks.
 

What do you do with your Haas machines?

Production development work: proving new parts and designing fixtures. They give us the flexibility and accuracy we need. The controls are excellent, enabling us to work on many different parts quickly and easily. Many of our customers still send us PDFs – drawings, not CAD/CAM data – so we have to work out how to make the parts. That means programming the Haas machines manually.
 

Do you also make parts in production volumes?

Sometimes. Mostly, we provide proof of project, and work out the fixtures, before handing volume production to another company. However, we also have specialist, high-speed machines – including the Haas VF-6 – for making production parts in larger volumes, if needed. For example, SuMax is a Tier-3 supplier for Cummins Turbo Technology. We make 14,000 Cummins parts a month, including a 250mm turbocharger housing.

We developed about 85 of the parts we currently make on the Haas machines, and now produce them in volumes of 200 to 6,000 on our high-speed machines. In fact, we bought the Haas MDC-500 to develop a turbocharger part, but now use it to make the part (requiring 20µm tolerances) at a rate of 160 a day.
 

How many customers do you have? Are you diversified, or do you only supply the automotive sector?

These days, we have just five customers. We used to have many more, but we made very few parts for some of them. Now, we do a lot more for all of them – working three shifts, six-days a week. To minimize our exposure to economic cycles, we have also diversified into different sectors, including automotive turbochargers, PET bottle making machines, hydraulic pumps, John Deere tractors, and motorcycle components.

Trucks do well when the monsoons are good, because agriculture improves; whereas, the PET sector is quite consistent. Even when the economy struggles, people still buy food in containers. If we only served one sector, our customers’ busy periods would coincide.
 

Are many companies, like yours, able to meet the demands of large, international companies?

India is changing very fast. It used to take months to get things done. Now, people won’t accept long lead times. Customers want us to work out processes very quickly. Typically, they might give us, say, 15 days to produce a part (once it is worked out), but only three to four days to develop the processes and fixtures. We rely on our ability to program the Haas machines very quickly. We are also pleased that our HFO can get us new machines when we need them – in less than a month, something that was unheard of when we started the business.
 

What are your biggest operational challenges?

Managing the work is a big challenge. One part may go through four or five development stages before the customer agrees to the final dimensions and features. Minor changes are no problem; they just involve adjustments to the CNC programming. However, a major change to the part means changing the tooling and fixtures, too.

It used to be that a finished part would stay unchanged for several years. These days, no part really stays the same for more than a year. The complete products, such as motor vehicles, are changing very quickly, so the parts are, too.
 

With so many parts in development, it must be difficult to allocate resources.

That’s why we bought the Haas EC-400 pallet pool, because we often develop four or five parts at any one time. Haas designed the EC-400 for high-volume production and unattended operation. It has six stations that we can schedule individually, allowing us to prioritize work efficiently, and develop parts simultaneously. When we’ve worked out the process, we move the fixture and the tooling to the production machines.
 

Is it tempting to take on big, production volumes?

We know where our strengths lie. Whenever we get an inquiry, the first thing we do is check the volumes. If the numbers are in the millions, we simply say, “No, thank you.” If the volumes are 10 to 20,000 per month, we’re interested. That might change as we grow, but we want to grow steadily. I’m not sure we want to start buying large quantities of materials; that can be a very risky business.
 

Are you optimistic about India’s future as a manufacturing nation?

Yes, definitely. Economists predict that India will have the third largest economy in the world by 2030. Our big opportunities come from increased domestic consumption, and the fact that more companies are moving manufacturing to India. We want some of those companies to choose SuMax as their partner. That’s why we will continue investing in Haas machines, and developing our existing sector expertise.

 

Haas Automation Inc.
www.haascnc.com

 

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