Racing with machines
Interviewed by Jayashree Mendes
Equipment manufacturers are constantly innovating to stay competitive. What is Schwing Stetter’s philosophy on innovation?
We are one of the few companies in India who regularly bring out new or revamped products. Today, we have more than 60 different products in our range. We set up the company in 1999 and since then have launched around 13 products, which means about four to five products per year.
If you consider the Indian market and its needs, we have some innovative products in the market apt for our conditions.
I can tell you with confidence that most leading overseas construction equipment manufacturers have set up shop in India, either directly or through joint ventures. Therefore, most of the construction equipment used by Indian contractors is state-of-the-art, as is being used elsewhere in the world. We, being a 100% subsidiary of Schwing GmbH, Germany, have access to all the latest developments and innovations of our parent company. Most of the equipment sold or manufactured by us is the same as those used globally. We have not set up a dealer network to sell our machines. We sell directly to the customer and also take care of after-sales.
Internally, how do you work out what machines will suit Indian customers?
Meeting with customers, old and prospective, gives us an opportunity to understand the types of projects and their requirements. We are especially interested when customers ask for customised products. That is what drives us to bring out something new that will exactly meet their requirement. Today, businesses are incorporating plenty of changes within, and the concrete industry is no different. If you take concrete as a product, the very substance is going through upgradations every year. The equipment required for concrete manufacturers or batching plants are different today and the equipment we sold a few years ago would not be applicable.
All this has prepared us for bringing out new products. We have a team in place to listen to the customer and pass on the feedback to us. This is also the reason we have a design and a research department in Germany with whom we work on a real-time basis. Together, we work on all the drawings and design and share our experiences to bring out better products. Since our parent company are technologically advanced, they help us bring in optimum products to India.
Could you tell us something more about your R&D in India?
Currently, we have about 30 persons working in the design and research department. They are responsible for three major products classes like the batching plants, the concrete plant and the mixer. The mixer and the pumps come under the category of equipment, whereas plants are more like a project that involves structural designing. We have formed teams to work on various aspects such as fabrication, structural, hydraulics and electronics and electrical. Altogether we have about 50 persons in India itself. Apart from this, we draw technology inspirations from our two design departments which are in Germany. We constantly train our people on new technologies that area applicable to the department they work in.
What are some of the advancements you are carrying out in existing products besides launching new products?
Let’s us consider a high-rise building construction. Earlier the average building height was 70-100 metres in India. This has now gone up to 200 metres and more.
We have more than 30 projects where we are catering with equipment to match that scale. An increasing height has different pressure requirements and there is no point in having one high capacity pump for all the different heights or one medium capacity pump to meet something in between. It helps to have products that can take care of various heights. So we are launching new products. In November 2013 we came out with the SP3000 and SP1300 and are looking at launch more products for this category of applications. In the case of boom pumps, there should be options of chassis available and the market has several new models. On our part, we should be in a position to launch higher-capacity boom pumps in 2014.
For batching plants, we launched products for the pre-cast industry, which is outside the construction industry. And there are exceptions for customers who want a different configuration. So we are looking into it. But all along our mobile batching plant is doing well. Now we are looking at mobile cement storage silo also. This, however, is under progress.
How do the mobile batching plants function?
Mobile batching plants are an innovative, customised concrete production solution for contractors. The plant requires no foundation and can accommodate aggregates, cement, fly ash, water, etc. It has a foldable design and thus reduces transport cost and shifting time. Moreover, contractors don’t have to hire concrete mixers.
Earlier, the construction period would stretch for four to seven years and contractors would maintain the equipment at the site and this proved to be expensive as they would hire numerous types of equipment. But now with contracts being executed faster, having a mobile batching plant serves the purpose.
Tell us about each of your manufacturing plants and its capacities?
We established our first plant for component manufacturing in 2000 and also began producing all our equipment there. By 2006, we had three plants and began manufacturing batching plants.
In 2011, we put up another plant for fabrication which is now the plant for concrete boom pumps. So now we have four plants all within the vicinity of a kilometre.
We were working near full capacity in 2011 when the market was at its peak. However, last three years the numbers have gone down substantially.
But we are capable of meeting demand for batching plants or concrete trailer pumps of around 1,500 units and truck mixers of around 4,000 units and boom pump another 500 units. In 2011, we installed and modernised our facility with an automated paint shop which includes truck painting, prime-coating and pre-cooling.
What are the technologies you have adapted for manufacturing efficiency?
We frequently invite consultants to offer their suggestions on ways we could improve the plant. We shifted to line production at our production facility four years ago. Simultaneously, we also have adopted the Six Sigma methodology at our manufacturing plants that bagged us several awards for our manufacturing process. Considering that technology has to be constantly updated, we train our employees so that can achieve manufacturing efficiency.
How do you work out the after-sales support for your equipment?
Like I mentioned earlier, we don’t sell through dealers and agents. We go directly to the customers to understand their requirements and suggest the right product for them. We also take care of the after-sales service directly. We have about 26 branches across the country, and close to 250 services engineers across locations in the country, besides nine service centres.
While our service engineers go to the customer site, the service centre is similar to an automobile service centre where construction machinery could be brought to the service centres for repair or maintenance.
As a manufacturer, how do you work out the reduction of the total cost of ownership for your customers?
This is our USP. Our equipment is built with high level of reliability and come with a long service plan. Though we are a tad expensive compared to our competition, the long life of the machinery covers the investment within a couple of years. Our machines are also fuel efficient. This may not apply to most equipment available in the Indian market.
What do you foresee for India in terms of manufacturing for 2015?
Infrastructure growth is the biggest driver for India. Any type of infrastructure growth involves civil construction and concreting is going to be required.
But generally for construction machineries, the demand is going to go further when infrastructure projects get back on the track. For the last three years we have been through some tough times.
Last year our turnover fell to `800 crore, from `1,000 crore earlier. Over the next two years, we want to double it to `1,600 crore.
The slowdown has given us time to reorganise activities within the company and plan and invest on new products, strategies, etc. We are very well prepared to take control of things when the market bounces back.