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“Like everybody else, I also was quite fascinated to work directly with the biggest company possible – be it in automotive or aerospace. But now, I would say, there’s no need to rush into that. It’s quite an expensive proposition to work directly with OEMs. I would definitely recommend developing your potential as a Tier-2 or Tier-3 for two to five years and then graduating to the next levels,” says Vipul Vachhani, Founder & CEO, Jaivel Aerospace in conversation with Nishant Kashyap during the ToolTalk session organised by TAGMA India.
You seem to have great passion for the aerospace industry. How has been your journey with Jaivel Aerospace so far?
I started the company in 1998 in Rajkot, Gujarat, with the help of “two assistants”– one computer and one machine– and for the first five to six years,that is how we operated in Rajkot. It was challengingin the beginning, as India’s aerospace industry was still at a nascent stage and global aerospace companies were not sourcing parts from India like they presently do. After establishing our company in Rajkot, we began small operations in Mumbai and Bengaluru.However, we realized that if we want to cater to global aerospace giants, we will need to establish a base outside India. So,in December 2004, we set up our operations in the UK.It took us at least two years to get our feet under the table. Over the years, we have earned enough credibility to work directly with renowned companies such as Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and Airbus, among others. That’s how I would describe our journey so far.
In terms of the kind of solutions we provide, our core business has been designing manufacturing processes. It’s a niche service offering and a good proposition, wherein we design the complete manufacturing process for either entire systems or subsystems and also engineer it and roll it out on the customers’ shop floor.For example, when a large OEM or a Tier-1 company wants to manufacture a fuel system or a landing gear system, we come into the picture. When it comes to the process of manufacturing complex products, a lot of jigs fixtures and tooling is required. We design and manufacture those jigs fixtures in our facility in Ahmedabad. We basically provide end-to-end tooling and engineering solutions to our customers.
In recent times, there has been significant development in the Indian aerospace and defence sectors. What emerging trends do you see in the global aerospace industry vs the Indian aerospace industry?
Differentiating the trends between the two can be challenging because the aerospace industry is now globalised. As a nation, we can be viewed as a new entrant or a new contender looking to provide products and services in that arena. But we are catching up.In fact, now there are many players in India, who are already serving the global aerospace industry.
If we look at the scenario before the pandemic, it was predicted that this decade would belong to manufacturing. Between 2005 and 2015-18, the industry was highly focused on ramping up production. In fact, before the pandemic, it was projected that over the next 10 to 15 years, a significant volume of aircraft will be manufactured. Most OEMs and engine manufacturers have an order book of about 15 to 17 years, which is quite robust. The pandemic disrupted everything, but those demands have definitely not gone away. The pandemic slowed down growth.But now, if we look at the trend duringthe last 7-8 months, and the projections that various aircraft companies are showing,it seems like things are returning to the pre-pandemic scenario.
Besides, there has been significant disruption at the supply-chain level in the last 2 to 2.5 years. Several small players have not been able to sustain and it will still take at least two years to get back into a proper rhythm. This is the current scenario. From an Indian aerospace industry perspective, I think all of this presents a significant opportunity because when the situation is steady, it is difficult for new players to come into play. When the scenario is dynamic, it presents an opportunity for new players to come up with solutions, which could be better than the ones being currently used or even far more reasonably priced, or it could be both.
Does this mean that the pandemic didn’t have much of an impact on the growth of the aerospace industry overall?
No, it did not. In fact, the airline traffic over the last 3-5 months has been significantly higher than any airline or airport could handle. This scenario was particularly witnessed in Europe and also in the US.
Recently, many Indian conglomerates have forayed into aerospace and are forging partnerships with global companies. How will these developments impact the Indian aerospace industry and component providers?
I would say there is fantastic news!Let me explain why. I have seen people often compare the opportunities in aerospace with IT. What happened in the IT industry back in the late 90s and 20s led to India gaining a prominent place in the world in the IT sector. When those IT opportunities came into play, the whole world was trying to figure out what to do with this technology.
But aerospace is different. Aerospace is an extremely mature industry; the technology, production line, and supply chain are all set. So, entering into it is a little bit more challenging and needs a slightly different mindset. I would compare the journey with the automotive industry. Most Indian toolmakers have been serving the automotive industry from the first Maruti 800 back in the 1980s till today.Handholding from OEMs and also investing their time, effort and money to provide world-class solutions to global automotive players are factors that have helped them develop a good understanding of the tools needed by the automotive industry.
The aerospace industry will also have a similar journey. Aerospace will be slightly tougher because this is a document-heavy industry that requires certain types of certifications and standards. From a quality perspective, many Indian companies are at par with global toolmakers, but from a documentation or traceability point of view, those are the gaps to really focus on.
How would you describe designing and building a mould for the aerospace sector? How is it different from any other industry,like, for instance, automotive?
Quite significantly, comparable to automotive and definitely to medical. Having said that, when I look at it from an aerospace perspective, there is a significant amount of performance requirement and in terms of volume, reliability, and warranty of the mould performance, aerospace is slightly kinder on those topics because volumes are not at the automotive level. Just to give you an idea of the volume,Airbus manufactures close to 55-60 aircraft in a month of different models; same is the case with every other major aircraft manufacturer. So, all the parts are required in that sort of number, but where things differ from automotive is the traceability, documentation, quality standards, and ensuring that every part is meeting the specifications. There is absolutely no margin for error.
In terms of how Indian suppliers should approach the aerospace industry, I would say that if you look at the supply chain tree, OEMs, which manufacture the aircraft, do not buy moulds.So, moulds come from Tier-3 or Tier-4 suppliers. Let’s take the example of the seating system to elaborate on my point.Companies, which provide the seating system, could either buy the plastic components or make them in-house. They are the ones, who will look for moulds.So, the ideal companies for mould makers to approach would be the Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers.
I would also suggest that we need to come out of the notion that we want to serve the best and the biggest. Like everybody else, I also was quite fascinated to work directly with the biggest company possible – be it in automotive or aerospace. But now, I would say, there’s no need to rush into that.It’s quite an expensive proposition to work directly with OEMs. I would definitely recommend developing your potential as a Tier-2 or Tier-3for two to five years and then graduating to the next levels.
What kind of tools does the aerospace industry need? Can you shed light on some details?
The tools and moulds are not very different from the automotive industry. Wherever plastic parts are used in an aircraft, we need tools there. But first, let’s understand where the plastic is on an aircraft. In commercial aircraft, plastic is used in the interiors.That’s where 90% of the demand for plastic moulds comes from. Other plastics are used in relatively simpler applications such as cables, cable racking systems, etc. My understanding is that over the next 10 years, we will not see any metal in a seating system. At the moment, there are metal brackets and metal elements in the interior, but as the material evolves and we get high-strength plastics, it will replace the metal parts as well. Overall, the types of moulds in some cases are not as complex as automotive moulds. For example, the lighting system moulds I have seen in automotive is quite complex piece of tool.
Do you think that Indian die and mould manufacturers are fully equipped to serve the demands of the aerospace industry?
I don’t know the answer to this question. The reason is that it varies from company to company.But I can give you my best judgment. If the Indian tooling industry is so successful in automotive, then I am sure they can do well in aerospace too. In terms of meeting those requirements, whatever is the step up if I were to quantify that the quality or the capability step up would be relatively small. The management system, documentation, traceability, and control of the processes might be a slightly bigger step for the Indian tooling industry to take.
Can you elaborate on what would be the requirements?
The first thing is that every component that goes in an aircraft should be traceable for at least 11 years. This means that if your customer comes 10 years later and asks you to send the inspection report of the part you manufactured 10 years ago, you should be able to respond to the company with full details. That’s one aspect of it.
The second thing is let’s say something has gone wrong and it needs half a day to resolve the problem,you should be prepared to understand what has gone wrong, correct it and make sure it never happens again. First of all, to document why it happened and then prove that it is never going to happen in the future is a time-consuming process, it needs a system and process.
So, how can a company with a decent-sized toolroom equipped with all the necessary machines and software, which has been serving the automotive industry for a long time, venture into the aerospace sector? What kind of skill set and infrastructure will it need?
Here, I assume the toolmaker has all the necessary certifications, such as ISO 9001, etc., to serve the automotive industry. As I said earlier, the aerospace industry requires certifications and documentation. So, I would firstly acquire an AS9100 certificate, which is a must for the aerospace industry. AS9100 is the standard built on ISO 9001 with few additional requirements that suit the aerospace industry.
Secondly, there’s a need to work on training the existing employees. One needs to have people with the right level of honesty, integrity, and skill set. I would work on the skill development of my manpower.
The third is working on USP. So, before approaching the customer, I would work on what could make me different and better. So, probably working on the USP would be better before making that move.
In terms of infrastructure, I don’t see any major changes. Most toolmakers use five-axis CNC machines, CMMs and many other good-quality wire EDM, which are sufficient to serve the aerospace industry as well. What will make a difference is that if there are regularly calibrated machines so that it is reliable throughout.
During an interview with Mr. Vaidya, VP & Business Head, Godrej Aerospace, which happened a few years ago, he had said that the opportunity in the aerospace industry is so immense that if done correctly, it will give you the same amount of business as the automotive industry within a decade. Do you agree with his viewpoint? Why?
I would completely agree with his viewpoint. Having said that, there is quite a significant entry barrier. It takes time to establish a name in the aerospace industry and many give up halfway. However, the opportunity is immense. The aerospace industry is the only industry that will have visibility of 10-15 years. They know exactly what they want in the future, how much they are going to manufacture, and aspects like that. No other industry has that luxury; this is just the nature of the industry. So, once you are an established supplier for a particular product range of any aerospace OEM or Tier-1, they don’t usually change the supplier unless the supplier becomes difficult to deal with. There is a level of reliability with which you can make investments and future plans. That’s one of the biggest attractions from the business perspective.
The book called ‘I Love STEM’ (where STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) mentioned that Elon Musk believes in in-house work. He prefers not to rely on suppliers and wants to control supply chains. By doing that, he can cut costs and make better products. SpaceX manufactures between 80% and 90% of its rocket engines, electronics, and other parts. Many companies in the automotive and aerospace domains also have captive tool rooms. Is it viable to source tools from in-house captive toolrooms or must they continue to source them from commercial toolrooms?
That’s a good question! There are two schools of thought at the top level - vertical integration versus the distributed supply chain. The concept of vertical integration evolved in the early days of the automotive world, where organizations, like Ford, even owned iron ore mines.This was a great example of vertical integration. Eventually, the distributed model evolved and automotive OEMs began to work with many suppliers; they chose to focus on product building and designing.
The aerospace industry, over the last 20-30 years, has worked towards a completely different direction; they want to deal with as few suppliers as possible. An aircraft manufacturer essentially focuses on designing a product, building a product, certifying a product, and operating a product, but the part manufacturing mostly takes place outside the company. I don’t think personally this is a significant challenge, but I believe toolmakers will continue to get a good amount of business from the aerospace industry. As far as Mr. Musk is concerned, he deals with the situation very differently, which sometimes we don’t understand, as it is unconventional.
What does the aerospace industry expect from tooling suppliers? Do you have any suggestions for Indian toolmakers?
In terms of expectations, the aerospace industry does not differentiate the expectations between mould suppliers versus jigs and tooling suppliers versus component suppliers. There are some functional aspects that will vary from product to product. But otherwise, the first thing that will be discussed is your systems and processes. I have seen aerospace companies audit during the introductory session. They don’t even want to take a tour of the factory floor. They first want to see your documentation and systems.If it is not in order, they will not move ahead irrespective of however good your machines, software and capabilities are.
Data is also a high priority. They would like to know how well is the data security managed, how well is the confidentiality rolled out in the organization, how you educate your people and for that how you educate your suppliers and every stakeholder. These are some things that they are interested in. They are completely ok if there are some failures, but how you manage failures is something they are keen to understand. Overall, I see the aerospace industry as a great industry to operate in. The industry is growing rapidly in the country and it would be worth venturing into.
The interview was first published in TAGMA Times Newsletter. All the rights related to content of this interview belong to TAGMA India
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