Global bearing manufacture, Sweden-headquartered SKF has bearings performing in industrial applications and in almost all automobile segments. Going forward, the company is planning to penetrate more into Life Cycle Management products and to offer cost competitive products with increased life cycle. Harsha Kadam, Director, Automotive Market OE Business, SKF India, told Bhargav TS on the newly developed products and the company’s future plans. Excerpts from the interview:


Q: What is the current scenario in the automotive sector?
Kadam: This year the automotive sector has shown signs of recovery, as compared to last year. The Indian automotive sector has a significant potential for growth. Given that per capita penetration is still at around 9 cars per thousand people, the current scenario though not luring it foreshadows the likelihood of positive evens. Higher purchasing power and disposable income of the middle class augur well for the 2-wheeler and passenger car segments. However, high interest regime can dampen the demand. In the commercial vehicles segment, heavy commercial vehicle (HCV) demand relies on the growth in the core sectors such as mining, steel and cement and infrastructure which are subdued foreseeing favorable policy reforms. The light commercial vehicle (LCV) segment has a positive growth through e-commerce sector.

Q: What products are currently offered as sub assemblies and what are the plans for increasing your product basket?
Kadam: We are currently offering sub-assemblies for the 2-wheelers and the truck segments. The rocker arm assemblies for the 2-wheelers is one such. Mechatronics solutions for 2-wheeler segments and many more solutions for truck segments are available. We are in our plans to move up the value chain there by realise a win-win for both SKF and the Customers.

Q: Automotive bearings are more susceptible to counterfeiting. What efforts have you made to counter this menace?
Kadam: The replacement market in India comprises of a large number of unorganised players. There are varieties of bearings available from which the customers can choose. At SKF, we have introduced through which a customer at any point of time can verify if they have purchased an authentic SKF bearing. They can write to us if they have accidentally purchased a counterfeit or want to anonymously inform about any such activity in a particular area. Basis this, we take further actions so that our customers don’t suffer in future by machinery breakdown, costly production stoppages or injuries to people.

Q: To reduce emission norms, what are all the products you offer?
Kadam: Sustainability has been a focus of SKF for more than 100 years with 100 acres spread approximately which accounts for 60% green cover. We will continue to focus on sustainability through our BeyondZero concept. The first goal of SKF BeyondZero relates to reducing the environmental impact derived from SKF’s operations, such as the carbon dioxide emissions from SKF manufacturing. The second goal recognises that our customers in all segments and industries are increasingly driven to reduce environmental impact from their products, services and processes. We believe in providing products and solutions that use minimal energy, as per the principles ingrained in the SKF BeyondZero philosophy, to ensure global environmental sustainability. We have been concentrating on products which will reduce friction.

The SKF Energy Efficient breakthrough is a new family of performance class bearings that have been specially engineered and manufactured to reduce frictional moment by more than 30%. Because they exhibit ultra low friction, SKF Energy Efficient (E2) bearings offer an excellent way to reduce energy consumption, lubricant usage and potentially extend the life of equipment.

Q: Can you elaborate on Valve Stem Cell. Will it help in containing emissions and its scope for future development?
Kadam: Valve Stem Seals are devices that provide a defined metering rate of oil to the valve stem interface of internal combustion engines to lubricate the valve guide and minimise engine emissions. SKF valve stem seals are available for diesel and gasoline engines with and without boosting. This system is used in the western countries. Moreover, through extensive experience, SKF has become the European market leader, creating the most effective product due to its advantages like consistent oil metering and long life, developed to specific customer requirements or use of standard seals, fully automated production cells with top quality, complete technical service to provide optimal function, long term emissions control and competitive pricing.

While SKF offers several weight and friction-reducing components for 2-wheeler engines none helps reduce emissions more directly than valve stem. Valve stem cells are designed to help cut emissions by providing a defined metering rate of oil to an engine’s valve system interface, the valve stem seals features a flouroelastomer (FKM) material formulated for reciprocating applications. Along with fuel emission reductions, valve stem seals from SKF offer manufacturers design and production benefits.

Q: What is Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) engine seals? Can you elaborate in detail in terms of technology and application?
Kadam: Today’s consumers want more power, higher fuel efficiency and a quiet, comfortable ride from a new car. Also, stringent emissions legislation requires manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, challenging them to make better use of alternate fuels (such as bio diesel and E85) and non-conventional technologies. To meet these demands, SKF offers a wide range of engine seals, providing optimised performance for automotive applications. Our extensive testing capabilities enable us to provide advanced and reliable products. Crankshaft and camshaft seals in PTFE material with low friction design offer high performance and durability.

PTFE seal

PTFE seal

PTFE radial shaft seals utilise a polytetrafluoroethylene wafer for dynamic sealing. SKF offers a range of solutions with a bonded PTFE wafer and optional unitised designs. SKF shaft seals are available for engine crankshafts and camshafts as well as for auxiliary units. The direct benefits that PTFE engine seals will offer to automotive OEMs are reduced shaft wear, lower CO2 and vehicle emissions, optimum performance at high temperatures and speeds, suitable for use in aggressive oils and fluids, no bypass leakage, easier to install, high durability and long service life.

Q: What is the current capacity utilisation and is there any plans for expansion?

Kadam: Over the years we have invested for long term growth and grown from 2 manufacturing plants in the 90s to 6 manufacturing plants today. SKF in India has 6 state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities and a supplier network of over 300 distributors across the country. Our manufacturing footprint is spread evenly covering the entire country to serve the small and large size bearings, seals, housings, lubrication systems for virtually all automotive and industrial applications. SKF has made considerable investments in India in the recent past and continues to invest and will invest in existing facilities for brownfield expansion as needed.

Q: Where does your products find its application?
Kadam: SKF being one of the biggest players in the automotive market, we are present with all the major players. Be it the car segment, truck or tractor or the 2-wheeler segment,with our wide range of product offerings, we are able to increase our footprint in the customers vehicle. In the car segment we are present in the wheel ends, transmissions, steering columns, suspensions. Our products also establish a presence in the vehicle through the Tier 1 suppliers be it the auto electrical products or the chassis and suspension products by way of our bearings and seals.

Q: Going forward, what is SKFs plan? Is there any new products in the pipeline?

Kadam: Over the years, SKF has evolved from a leading bearing manufacturer into an integrated solutions provider, capable to design, mount, seal, lubricate and monitor bearings. Today, we are leveraging SKF knowledge to provide value at every stage of an asset’s life cycle. SKF Life Cycle Management (LCM) is our proven approach to optimising equipment design and operations over its entire service life cycle. We at SKF hope to make further inroads in the LCM portfolio in the coming years and develop products and solutions which cater to this portfolio. SKF will also continue to focus on technology development in the area of energy efficiency and sustainability. Our aim is to positively contribute to the environment and at the same time reduce costs for the customer in the long run.

Valve Stem Seal

Valve Stem Seal

Q: How big is your R&D centre and what kind of research work is happening?
Kadam: SKF has Global Technical Center India (GTCI) in Bangalore which drives innovation by developing products and solutions for local and global customers in a faster and in an effective way. GTCI focuses on testing and providing advanced technical knowledge on design, process and supplier validation. In addition, the centre conducts bearing analysis and has a fully equipped laboratory for metallurgy and chemistry, mechatronics and product investigation centre in order to develop significant critical mass in engineering knowledge where the market is growing both locally and globally. GTCI complements SKF vision by offering innovative solutions which cut across the value chain. One of the key benefits SKF has observed over the years is that it has become an “Innovation driver” for us by means of which SKF develops products and solutions for local and global customers in a faster and effective way. The GTCI serves local customers with quality services and our efforts are directed on making bearings smarter.

Q: What are the major concern areas for you currently and going forward?
Kadam: Bridging the skill gap is pivotal for growth. The manufacturing ecosystem is developing and evolving in India. There are automotive, engineering, and ancillary companies in India which demand for industry-ready labourers. The companies are constantly upgrading themselves and acquiring computerised infrastructure which controls lot of elements and functioning of machines in a single click thereby it becomes imperative that the technicians need to be imparted with the computer knowledge.

One of the key challenges SKF factories face today is the capability to be very agile to the changing customer needs in terms of the ever expanding variants of the products with the shortest span possible at the most competitive cost. Keeping these in mind we initiated 2 important programs viz Youth Empowerment@SKF(YES) & KUSHAL.

As part of our CSR initiative, we have already trained the first batch at our Pune Centre and it will be followed by the launch of Bangalore centre which is expected to be completely operational by the end of this year. We will set up a total of 5 centres in the next 5 years, preparing 5000 skilled youth for jobs in the automotive service market. As part of the program, the beneficiaries will undergo 6 months of rigorous vocational training in automotive 2-wheeler and 4-wheeler repair as per the Modular Employability Skills (MES) course of Ministry of Employment and Training. Further to enhance technical training for employees, we developed own skill and knowledge development centres “KUSHAL” at Pune and Haridwar factory which is a unique initiative within the SKF group.

Q: What is your last year’s turnover and projections for this year?
Kadam: Despite various constraints and challenging environment, we continued to focus on sustainable profitable growth through use of advanced technology provided by SKF group to widen our ability to serve customers. Our performance is a result of our focused customer centric approach amidst the volatility in the current economic environment that re-emphasises our strong business model. These efforts are reflected with the positive trend witnessing the increase in SKF margins which accounts for a net sales of Rs 23,726 million, an increase of 6% over the previous year. The Q1 and Q2 of 2015 registered a growth of 1.5% and 2% respectively on net sales compared to the corresponding quarters of the previous year.


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