Manikantan Gopalakrishnan, MD, Multiple Special Steel Pvt. Ltd.

Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Executive Director of EMO Hannover organizer VDW (German machine tool manufacturers association)
Vipul Vachhani, Founder & CEO, Jaivel Aerospace
Vishwas Puttige, Business Head, amace solutions Pvt. Ltd.

“Toolmakers, tool steel providers, and machine manufacturers are all part of the same family. We have to work together to make the most of the emerging trends and reduce imports. Once we fulfill the local demands, we will definitely become a strong player in the global tooling industry,” says Ananthapadmanabhan Kumaraswamy, Managing Director, Multiple Special Steel Pvt. Ltd. in conversation with Nishant Kashyap.  

How would you describe the journey of Multiple Special Steel Pvt. Ltd.?  
Multiple Special Steel Pvt. Ltd. is a 60-year-old company, that deals in all grades of tool steel. We started the company when the Indian manufacturing industry was at a very nascent stage. At that time, there were very few toolmakers. Our company’s founder Mr. N.R.G. Krishnan was a visionary. He foresaw the growth of the Indian manufacturing industry and realised that it would have a positive impact on the tooling industry. Back then, there were very few tool steel providers in India. Sensing an opportunity, he took the plunge and started supplying tool steel to tooling companies.  

Over time, as the industry progressed, toolmakers started demanding special grades of tool steels, which were reliable and durable. To cater to their growing demands, we partnered with Lucchini SA, an Italian giant in tool steel and other railways components. Ever since, we have been supplying Lucchini products to toolmakers in India and today, we serve more than 800 customers.

As you’ve mentioned, Multiple Special SteelPvt. Ltd. has been serving the Indian tooling industry for a long time. What changes would you say have been witnessed in terms of demands?  
In my opinion and experience, I feel that the Indian tooling industry has come a long way. From being a conventionally driven industry, it has evolved into an industry that demands technology in every aspect of its products – be it tool steel, machines, or software to any other general components.  

I also see a change in the perception as well. Earlier, customers’ discussions would mostly revolve around cost. But now, it’s more about ROI. Today, customers are looking for better solutions and the latest technologies.  

Times have changed. Overall, the industry has matured a lot. Many toolmakers are now exporting to developed countries. So, they need to be at par with international standards.

Speaking of being at par with their international counterparts, how capable would you say are Indian toolmakers of making any type of tools?

The following factors will answer this question:

  • India has become a manufacturing hub with a huge number of global manufacturing giants setting up manufacturing units in India.
  • Indian toolmakers are using world-class products to manufacture tools.

The fact that India is serving global manufacturing leaders with the latest technologies, proves it’s capable of making tools of global standards. That’s the only way to become the vendor for these companies. So yes, while we are capable of making any type of tools in India, we lack capacity. Building capacity is something Indian toolmakers need to work on.

Apart from capacity, what are the other challenges Indian toolmakers face?
There are many challenges, but I will essentially discuss two that impact Indian toolmakers the most. They are:

  • Lack of options in terms of finance: The tooling industry is a capital-intensive industry. Toolmakers definitely need help from the government and financial institutions. There’s a need for better financing options and interest rates, etc. Lack of options in terms of finance is one of the reasons why we are not able to attract more toolmakers to the tooling industry.
  • Lack of a collaborative approach: Indian toolmakers are a little conservative when it comes to the collaborative approach. They do not share information about the customers they are serving, the infrastructure they have, and the projects they are carrying out. I believe, if they collaborate on certain projects, they can grab bigger opportunities, which are going to south-eastern countries because of lack of capacity. Also, we don’t have any specific tooling clusters on the lines of China and Taiwan. Such clusters help in the overall development of the ecosystem.

What opportunities do you see in the future of the Indian tooling industry?
With ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ becoming a reality and the emergence of sectors such as aerospace and defence, toy making, white goods, packaging, and home appliances, among others, Indian companies will have a great future.  

As foreign companies increase their manufacturing output in India, they will need more local content in their products. They will certainly look for domestic toolmakers to fulfill their tooling demands.

Also, the government has already received a huge number of investment commitments from Indian and overseas companies owing to the PLI schemes. The success of the PLI schemes will directly impact the Indian toolmakers.

I would like to conclude by saying that toolmakers, tool steel providers, and machine manufacturers are all part of the same family. We have to work together to make the most of the emerging trends and reduce imports. Once we fulfill the local demands, we will definitely become a strong player in the global tooling industry.

The interview was first published in TAGMA Times Newsletter