Sona BLW enters e-mobility, works on advanced powertrain products
Sona BLW Precision Forgings, a joint venture between Sona Holding and Mitsubishi Materials Corporation, Japan, is expands its Pune facility and is working on advanced powertrain products. The company formed in 1995 and began commercial production in 1996, has 2 facilities in Gurgaon.
“One of our facilities in Gurgaon is focused on machining, which gives us more space to add more forging capacity. We are increasing the capacity to cater to the growing demand in India and for exports to the US. In the other facility, we manufacture differentials and electric axles. We are also expanding in Pune as we witness lot of expansion in the Indian market. In terms of manufacturing perspective, we expanded in Hungary in the beginning of June last year. We see good growth in Europe and in the Indian market. There is a steady growth in the US as well.” Sunjay J Kapur, Group CEO, Sona BLW Precision Forgings Limited, told Auto Components India.
The facilities are being expanded for machining and heattreatment and plans to produce many of the products being outsourced. About the Indian market Kapur said that the commercial vehicles are doing well. Demand from passenger cars also has a steady growth. “In terms of differential gears, we are seeing about 11% global market share. This is just between Europe and India. We hope to increase this by penetrating more into the US market. At present, we are supplying to the US markets from India,” he said.
With the company’s foray into electric axles, it has taken a step to the future of mobility. The component maker is gearing up for e-mobility and is already supplying to the car manufacturers outside India. On the electric drive in the Indian market, Kapur said that this is all demand-driven.
“There are 2 things. One, we are supplying to the electric car manufacturers with our differential. The differential still exists even when a car goes pure electric. So, there are different forms like electric hybrid, mild hybrid, etc. But when
you look into the pure BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle), a battery electric manufacturer is using our differential. In fact a high-end model which requires lot of speed and torque, uses 2 differentials. We have also developed an electric axle which sits today on the three-wheelers in India, in which the size of the motors that determines how much the torque is required for the electric axle. We are also testing it on the larger vehicles like LCV. We don’t make motor controllers in India. We import it. We have made to integrate the axle by putting the motor controllers in it.”
On the raw material side, because of the strength required and the grain flow, the company is using steel and not any composite materials. “We are using steel. We are not converting into any sort of composite because of the fact that when you look into 3D printing, the grain flow is in 1 directions. Our grain flow in terms of forging is in all direction and then they have the strength, which is retained in the product. So today, we don’t see a major shift in raw material from the kind of product we are supplying. There may be small changes in the ratio requirement and some material changes is needed,” Kapur said.
As Sona BLW moves to light weighting, it is planning to increase the strength of the gears. On light weight components, Kapur said that, it is happening and there is no doubt. Strength is coming from the gear, and the casing around it can be of light weight. He said, “In automotive industry, we will see carbon fibre. We will see a lot of composites. Carbon fibre has the strength of aluminum. Currently, I know a lot of companies that are doing lot of joints, clamping out of carbon fibre. In that case, light weighting is not a new trend. We started looking into lot of changes in the automotive industry that was based on safety, fuel and connectivity. When you look at fuel, it’s all about light weighting because that’s where the play comes in. Today there’s lot of electrification and autonomous.”
In India, the company controls a large market share of almost 100% in trucks and tractors. And, in passenger cars, it is about 60%. With the near net shape forging technology, it is lighter, stronger and cheaper. It is not easy to develop a gear tooth or gear face. Sona BLW has expertise in that. It has testing facilities in Germany and in India. The company also manufactures curved gears. In the technology business it is ahead of its competitors. “We are automating a lot with the help of robots. This increases the production efficiency. We have learnt a lot from the German plant. Especially in auto components, there is a lot of move towards Industry 4.0, which is really automation and flexibility. The current level of automation in our company is around 60-70%,” he said.
For the electric differential, Sona BLW has 2 different segments. According to the company, e-rickshaws and e-autos require higher torque of about 3 tonne. The company has 2 reduction gear trains, therefore there will not be much transmission losses.
On the future plans, Kapur said that they are exploring options to penetrate the US market. After dominating the Indian and European markets the next target is the US. E-drive will be a part of it. “In electrification the motor in a controller is important. Today, we do not make controllers, they are imported from from Nidec, a Japanese company.” He feels it would be a great initiative to encourage local manufacturers because there is a lot of foreign exchange fluctuation and there are a lot of other risks as well.
He also thanked Maruthi Suzuki for its push for localisation. “I feel localisation and indigenisation is a great drive. Freedom from foreign exchange fluctuation is a big gain. In our business, making of tools and dyes is our greatest advantage while many others have to import them.” On the challenges for the Indian automotive industry Kapur said that it has become more disrupted and Sona BLW was trying to understand the road map between the component maker and OEMs. “This is what has become a challenge for the component industry like us. There is no clarity on where they are headed to. In Europe there is more clarity because the change is much quicker. Lots of them are driven by customer’s demand. Therefore, to understand where OEMs are going is a challenging task. Technological disruptions will always be there. That is what we do by seeing how we can continuously improve our product. If we are not doing, somebody else will do it. Therefore, we work continuously on in-wheel motor. In-wheel motor may rest on the back wheels and not on the front wheels. That would take the differential out, but it gives us the opportunity with other gears.”
On NVH levels, Kapur said, “NVH is actually coming in from the design. For the normal gears when we design, we keep up the overlap ratio pretty much. Because of this, there is no transmission error with the surface terminologies. For modelling, we use spherical involutes, which gives better overlap and better transmission error than normal one. It is not a conventional design methodology, but the features that we use like spherical involutes is coming and dropping down NVH. So, we have good DB level there. Also, the surface finish is good through forging. For R&D we have 12 to 15 people working across the country. We have registered with DSIR. And, we test in-house any new design, before it reached the customer.”
Sunjay J Kapur, Group CEO, Sona BLW Precision Forgings Limited
Differential axle gears.
Sona BLWs coaxial e-axle with an integrated motor.