Functionality requirements of shock absorbers have extended to variable terrain-specific operational capabilities from their original concept.
Maximising rider comfort in all automobiles is an all-time mantra of automakers to attract buyers globally. Effective and efficient shock absorption is the key. The high-tech developments in this significant area of automotives is only limited by the extent of the designers' imagination.
For obvious reasons, luxury car makers are leaders in innovating this auto component segment. However, such developments quickly find their way into the entire spectrum of automobiles because in addition to rider comfort, effective shock absorption also contributes significantly to increasing safety, extending the life of other important auto elements like engine, transmission, gearboxes, differential, final drives, suspension, chassis, body, tyre life etc. It assures better steerability and even higher productivity!
Indian manufacturers of quality shock absorbers have made significant progress in delivering a wide range of such products suitable for passenger as well as commercial vehicles. Their product range also extends to on- and off-highway trucks.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
Beginning from a simple, single leaf spring, gradually the application of shock absorber has been widely in use and 1920s saw gradual adoption of shock absorbers even early dampers were mostly friction devices. The trend to coil springs arid softer rides encouraged shock absorbers of telescopic form which was evolved during post World War II. These dampers are now used in a wide range of damping applications; everything from automobiles to tanks, locomotives, railway, aviation and even bridges. Most commonly used configuration was twin-tube hydraulic, followed by gas pressurised type. However, now the Indian manufacturers have extended their offerings to meet all the latest requirements of shock absorbers for the entire auto sector comprising passenger vehicles, light and heavy duty commercial vehicles, and on, and off-highway and off-road heavy duty trucks.
Says Manoj Kolhatkar, Managing Director, Gabriel India, "Gabriel India is the flagship company of Anand Group, established in 1961 and is the pioneer of ride control products in India. As the leading manufacturer of shock absorbers in the country, Gabriel India supplies to all key OEMs in India, along with a strong focus on aftermarket and exports." He adds, "With the industry moving ahead at a faster pace, Gabriel expanded its geographies to Pune, Gurgaon, Nashik, Dewas, Parwanoo, and Hosur in the late 1980s and 1990s, where it produced McPherson struts, shock absorber and telescopic front forks."
Advent of Maruti Suzuki and many other Japanese automakers under the Indo-Japanese collaboration agreement propelled the growth of shock absorbers to new dimensions, through their impressive and extensive local vendor development programmes.
Sagar Hemade, Managing Director, Tenneco Automotive India, comments, "We have a strong history of growth of our business in India. We are associated with almost all key OEMs. Tenneco India has expanded its footprint to serve Maruti Suzuki India in 2010 and made significant investments in capacity to serve our expanding customer base. Since 2009, we also started investing in vertical integration for manufacturing key components."
"India has started experiencing shock absorbers since early 1960s. But the progress was not very rapid with vehicles being less. For the last three decades, consumers started realising the importance of shock absorber in a vehicle. Today, we have a wide range of choice in the market. Sabo Hema is an Indo-Italian JV company, where a technology has been evolved to support vehicle with its vast experience to provide an optimum level of ride comfort, control and safety at a very competitive price. Our range of products widely takes care of CV sectors," informs SN Ahmed, CEO, Sabo Hema Automotive.
Industry analysts predict that it is only a matter of time when Indian manufacturers will be able to supply comprehensive shock absorption solutions including the electronics and software required for multimodal functionality for smooth rides under various underfoot and terrain conditions.
SETTING THE TREND
All OEMs, shock absorption solution designers and providers are concentrating on the best in this component segment. There is a renewed focus on weight reduction, smoother ride options for the riders. Says Ahmed, "Presently, this product has managed to find a very serious attention from vehicles, irrespective of any application. There are various activities at global level happening and huge portion of the development budget is being spent. Now it is a vast subject for any engineer involved in improvising the product. Most of the high-end vehicles are being fitted with devices to monitor its performance in line with demand, depending on the road conditions. I think people have understood the difference."
Kolhatkar explains his company's plans. "Gabriel India has plans to exceed the industry growth trends going forward. We have a diversified portfolio of customers and products serving all segments of Indian auto industry. Gabriel India has sharpened the focus on overseas markets to offset slowing domestic sales as well as higher input cost. Looking at future, we are confident of our ability to maintain our leadership position in ride control products. The consistent introduction of new products and product lines will be instrumental in helping us increase our market share in a competitive environment."
"The focus on suspension, ride and handling quality among OEMs are increasing, hence our product design is changing to meet this higher customer expectation in terms of performance and durability. The shock absorber volume is depending on vehicle production. There will be substantial growth in volume. The requirement in passenger car segment will continue to be high when compared to commercial vehicles. Customers are focusing on lean design concept to reduce the weight and cost for small cars, and bring in higher technology products with new features like semi-active suspension for higher segment vehicles," pontificates S Miller, Head - Engineering, Tenneco Automotive India.
On one hand, are the completion challenges while on the other side, green production has become the norms of day. Especially in light of the Make In India programme, attracting global players to set up manufacturing units, adopting green production technology is an additional challenge to the Indian industry. The best part is that most have already transitioned and are committed to green production.
Kolhatkar informs, "In the FY 2014-15, Gabriel has worked on many green and energy efficient projects, which have resulted in reduction of energy consumption per unit by
11 per cent. Gabriel evaluates every new technology from this important aspect as a commitment towards sustainable manufacturing. We have installed solar power plant of the capacity 410 kw from roof top solar part at Pune. This has helped us to reducing substantial amount of carbon footprint."
Ahmed affirms, "The green production is a part of our business strategies. We are a certified practicing industry and meet all the requirements as per ISO 14001 and BS OHSAS 18001. It is not just instituting pollution controls or recycling programmes when manufacturing goods but it is about minimising the harmful impact of the manufacturing processes on the environment at every stage."
Sagar elaborates, "We have installed zero-discharge wastewater treatment plant at our chrome plating site. Zero discharge wastewater treatment plant is equipped with the latest technology failsafe redundant and self-monitoring type systems. This latest technology online monitoring system ensures that treated water is meeting 'GOOD' water quality parameter before it is recycled." Tenneco has also on-site air scrubber to clean the air before fumes generated by chrome plating operation spread into atmosphere. CO2 emission is reduced by substituting renewable source of energy (wind power - third party).
Tenneco's green initiatives extend to Engineered Machine Safety Exposure Control (EMSEC). "We have robust process EMSEC in place to ensure that our equipment is safe for employee and environment-friendly. All welding stations are equipped with fume extraction system which ensures that air is cleaned enough before going in atmosphere again,"
Research and development (R&D) is no longer the prerogative of the OEMs and auto component designers. The component industry is also making significant investments in R&D to enhance their product range, improve on production technologies and product testing
methods to meet the ever-increasing demands of the customers, in line with the evolving standards.
"For the year 2014-15, Gabriel has spent 1.24 per cent of its sales on R&D. The company has pioneered the development, installation and commissioning of a fully robotic assembly line for shock absorbers at the Hosur plant, a new technology centre in Hosur (two and three-wheeler application), R&D facilities for ride control products for four-wheelers (passenger cars, commercial and utility vehicles) at Chakan and for two and three-wheelers at Hosur are being upgraded and expanded with improved capabilities in design, engineering, validation and testing. The company has added bench testing equipment to its R&D facilities with the objective to improve capacity and testing capability," informs Kolhatkar.
"One of the key strengths is our R&D capability in India and we are proud to mention that Maruti Suzuki India recognised Tenneco India as the best supplier with local R&D capabilities in 2013. We have been investing in our engineering for product performance and validation. One of our recent investments is our mobile lab to tune the vehicle at customer site to meet ride and handling targets set by customer," claims Hemade.
Ahmed is proud to comment on his company's R&D initiatives. "We deploy approximately 10-15 per cent of our turnover towards R&D. We have already invested in India in an in-house testing and validation facility in addition to our Italian facilities. We have a dedicated team of qualified engineers working on various aspects under experienced guidance. We will keep investing in improving our intellectual properties as well as our technical skill to support and extend our facilities to our valuable customers," he adds.
HEADWINDS - THE RETARDERS
The future is very challenging and huge for shock absorbers industries. Because of the awareness levels, there is a greater focus on comfort, safety, etc. Since there are various MNCs already ventured in India, the vehicle range has gone up and so as the option to the consumers. The very presence of MNCs, procurement of this part is not only for local uses but also encouraging their global requirements.
The feel good factor of being given a second chance, there are graver reasons that necessitate the country's success in manufacturing this time round. Manufacturing has linkages with all other sectors of the economy. In a scenario wherein skilled Indian labour is as inexpensive as China's in absolute terms, where lies the Indian manufacturing industry's weakness. Besides good infrastructure like electricity distribution, aviation, roads, railways, ports and a new bill for improving India's labour laws including encouraging contract labour, we need to overhaul the overall processes involved in getting a new entity set up, intellectual properties, R&D expenses, a market friendly atmosphere with transparency and focus on e-delivery of services etc. Labour costs are going up because of their higher cost of living. Retention of skilled employees is also a major problem. Various taxes are also financial burden on the product.
Another significant challenge is minimising the import content in the products to enable price competitiveness. Tenneco has reduced the import content in their products from 75 per cent in 2008 to an impressive 8 per cent in 2015. Others have a similar approach.
TAILWINDS - FUELLING GROWTH
According to a survey, the demand of shock absorbers is steadily growing from 200 million units in 2008 and the 2028 projections range hover around 550 million units. Secondly, the trend for increased electronics in damper designs is evident. The Indian suppliers are quite optimistic and are gearing up to meet the increasing demands and securing larger market shares. Further, the percentage of exports will be on the rise and many may set up additional production facilities, outside the country to cater to off shore demands.
"In future, new technology products such as frequency dependent damping, dual mode and semi-active suspension will play major role in suspension system. The focus on suspension, ride and handling quality among OEMs are increasing, hence our product design is changing to meet this higher customer expectation in terms of performance and durability. The shock absorber volume is depending on vehicle production. There will be substantial growth in volume. The requirement in passenger car segment will be continue to be high when compared to commercial vehicles. Customers are focusing on lean design concept to reduce the weight and cost for small cars, and higher technology products with new feature like semi-active suspension for higher segment vehicle," opines Hemade.
Gabriel India has plans to exceed the industry growth trends going forward. It has sharpened the focus on overseas markets to offset slowing domestic sales as well as higher input cost. "Looking at future we are confident of our ability to maintain our leadership position in ride control products. The consistent introduction of new products and product lines will be instrumental in helping us increase our market share in a competitive environment," says Kolhatkar.
Sabo Hema also has aggressive plans as Ahmed explains, "We are already into passenger vehicles and are working very aggressively in this space. We are also looking at non-automotive segment. We will also be catering to off-road vehicles like ATVs, electric cars, harvesters, etc. We are also working with our parent company to develop two-wheeler shocks with an advanced skill for the Indian market."
SMOOTH RIDE AHEAD
A high technology shock absorber helps in smooth riding of the vehicle. And vehicle manufacturers are well aware of the fact that customers are now looking for vehicles which have technically superior shock absorbers. This trend will definitely augment the growth of shock absorber market in future.