In conversation with Mr. Harsha Kadam, CEO Schaeffler India & President Industrial business during the International railway equipment exhibition (IREE) 2019 at New Delhi, India. Here are the edited excerpts
What’s the focus on engineering and innovation at Schaeffler India?
Mr. Harsha Kadam: Schaeffler has always been the front runner in terms of understanding market trends and future technologies. We are continuously emphasizing on R&D and localization projects to take advantage of the latest technology trends and develop application-specific solutions to improve their overall efficiency. For us, innovation is a key factor sustaining our competitive advantage. Earlier this year, we set up an Incubator Competency Centre for two-wheelers in our Pune plant along with a new state-of-the-art R&D Centre, which has been approved by DSIR. Our aim is to transform it into a global hub for R&D for mechatronics and software.
Tell us about the recently developed product of your company for Metro Railway?
Mr. Kadam: One of our solutions has been the TAROL Class C bearings going into the metro trains and this is the product that has been utilized with the axle boxes. This is a complete set where the bearing sits inside the axle box and we supply the box to our customers, thereby taking over the responsibility of providing the entire subsystem to our customers.
Another product which we have brought to the market is the Current Insulated Bearings. With more electrification coming in you could realize that any current leakage could damage your bearings. It is here where we bring the capability of supplying bearings which will prevent the current leakage from damaging the bearings. The product is called Insulation coated bearings. Presently, we are the only bearing manufacturers who have the capability today to make these bearings in India. We are already in series production on this product as we launched the product last year and we have been growing the market for this. And this is not just used in the metros but also in the railways.
Having products is one aspect, but to test them to suit the Indian market needs enough time. That’s one challenge a lot of companies face. What’s your view?
Mr. Kadam: The rules of the game in the railway sector is getting redefined. One of the biggest challenges and requirements being set are in terms of product reliability and performance. With Government’s focus towards developing high-speed trains in India, meeting performance, reliability and safety standards of trains are of topmost priority. Schaeffler India is committed to bringing in a lot of value in this regard in India and is constantly working towards investing in new capabilities to develop products and systems which will help modernize the railway sector. Furthermore, by embracing digitalization, Schaeffler India is enhancing its core offering by opening up a lot of opportunities to check the health of the bearings as it is running on the wagons or on the coaches. For instance, we provide axle box bearings integrated with sensors which enable digital feedback where we can monitor the position of the bearings.
Talking about engineering challenges, what was the most challenging part of your journey till now? How did you overcome those challenges?
Mr. Kadam: One of the challenges that we still face is on developing capable suppliers and that’s something we will have to look into. In spite of the Indian supplier industry evolving and coming of age, the lead times that we take to develop the products are still long enough which needs to be reduced. Some of the bearings require special coatings and special treatment facilities which are not available, so there’s a lot of handholding for the supplier community that we will have to look into.
Currently, how many Metro Projects are you serving?
Mr. Kadam: In India, we are already there on the Bangalore and Mumbai metro. We are working to get on the Pune metro, Chennai we have started. Surat and Lucknow metros are coming up, so we will be soon there as well. Outside of India, our Made in India products are already present in the metros in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth (Australia) as well as in Brazil. We are working on Montreal metro for Canada.
Besides, there are a lot of opportunities in the European market as well. A lot of big players of metro trail manufacturing are using India as a hub and we see a lot of opportunities there. Going forward, Schaeffler is committed to growing in the railway’s sector and are continuing to invest in capacities in this regard.
Do you serve any other industry apart from the metro rail?
Mr. Kadam: Yes, our Industrial business is very widespread. Our products cater not only to railways but across a vast number of industries such as Mining, Cement, Textiles, Steel, Power, Wind, Aerospace, Industrial Automation etc. Our Industrial division offers a wide portfolio of bearing solutions, ranging from high-speed and high-precision bearings with small diameters to large-size bearings several meters wide. Our Industry 4.0 solutions are customized to suit the respective applications in drive technology, logistics or machine tool digitalization. Overall, our products and solutions are essentially present across almost every industry that we come across in our daily lives.
What’s your view on Metro Neo and MetroLite?
Mr. Kadam: A light rail-based transit system makes more sense for Indian cities, particularly the non-metro ones. The metro rail system being developed at present is of high capacity which is required for, bigger cities. Metro-Neo, which runs on rubber tyres instead of steel wheel as it is in the case of Metro Rail or Metrolite.
Metrolite is less expensive, but people will get all the comfort of travelling in a Metro in these trains. In addition to less capital cost, the operation and maintenance cost of Metrolite would also be less making the system more viable. In both Metrolite and Metro-Neo systems, you don’t need big stations, rail tracks etc.