Story and photos by Matt Bailey
There are many points of view concerning the perceived threat to Western manufacturers posed by their Eastern counterparts. Perhaps the most commonly aired of which focuses on the apparent cost advantages they appear to enjoy. Mr. Bipin V. Chemburka, co-founder and director of Capiq Engineering, Vadodara, India, is direct and to the point when offering his counter-argument:
“It’s not enough for Indian companies to compete on cost alone,” he states, emphatically. “Those that do so are living in a fool’s paradise.
“If, for example, a U.S. company is doing the same job as us, on the same machines, using the same number of people, we can’t compete. Any economic advantage we have is wiped out by shipping costs and India’s relatively high interest rates.”
In fact, claims Chemburka, the only way we Indian manufacturing companies can compete effectively with the rest of the world is to do a better job.
Mr. Chemburka and a business partner established Capiq in 1991, and have built the company on a cultural bedrock of innovation and hard work. Originally a machine setter and operator for Crompton Greaves, a manufacturer of fans, transformers and motors for domestic products, Chemburka established Capiq as a broker, negotiating manufacturing contracts for others. Shortly after, he discovered a sizeable market for the production and supply of precision components and assemblies, and quickly began manufacturing operations to meet the demand.
Since those early days, Capiq has pursued its stock in trade relentlessly, and with an indefatigable passion for quality. In the process, the company built a strong order book for bespoke, high-value components and assemblies. Thanks in large part to its overseas business, the company is now an ISO9001:2000 accredited, $2 million turnover organisation employing more than 90 people, many of whom are English-speaking skilled engineers, technicians and machinists.
Like many of the manufacturing companies I met during my visit to India, Capiq’s machine shop works 24 hours a day, six-and-a-half days a week. The components it makes range from relatively small metallic parts weighing a few grams, to assemblies weighing up to 25 kilograms.
One way the company has prospered is through maximising the productivity of its available machining capacity. It’s not rocket science, but it’s surprising, says Chemburka, how few companies actually make the most of their existing machine tools.
“We like to mount as many fixtures on a machine as possible,” he says. “It’s not unusual for us to cut several different parts on the machine at the same time.”
To meet growing demand, Capiq has recently invested in several high-quality CNC machine tools, including a Haas SL-10 CNC turning centre with high-pressure coolant system and bar feeder; a Haas VF-2 CNC vertical machining centre; a VF-2SS CNC high-speed VMC; another SL-10 (with Haas servo bar feeder); an SL-30 big-bore CNC turning centre and a Haas TM-1 CNC Toolroom Mill.
The Haas VF-2SS high-speed vertical machining centre has made quite an impression at the company. Capiq uses the machine to produce aluminium medical-assembly components, reducing cycle times by approximately 70 percent over previous methods, and improving surface finish in the process.
“Haas machines are very good value for money, as they are very capable,” Mr. Chemburka says. “By taking care with tooling, fixtures and coolant, we can consistently achieve tolerances as tight as ±2 microns. It just takes a little TLC (tender loving care).”
Capiq’s Haas SL-10 is currently employed producing complex flow valves that control the movement of robotic arms, manufacturing some 15,000 per month for one of the company’s U.S. customers.
The Haas SL-30 turning centre produces leaded-steel valve casings, machining a blank weighing 9.2 kg down to a 2.1 kg, finished component. At present, this is machined in three setups on the SL-30, plus a further setup on another machine. However, the company is currently considering installing a Haas SL-30 with C-axis and live tooling. This would reduce the number of setups to two.
At time of writing, the company was working on a PCB mounting head consisting of a base plate and a piston moving along two parallel pins. The device is used to mount components on PCB boards at very high speeds. The tolerances are extremely tight, as any inaccuracy would cause excessive damage when moving at speeds approaching 30 strokes a second. Early development parts have been machined on the Haas TM-1 Toolroom Mill.
“If the customer, a U.S. company, is happy with the part, the order will be for approximately 18,000 a year.” says Mr. Chemburka. “Typically, U.S. and Chinese competitors are not interested in high volumes accompanied by such strict quality criteria. This is a great niche for us.”
And a lucrative niche it’s proving to be. The company is growing at the rate of 35 percent per year, thanks in large part to the vision and determination of its founder, but also, undoubtedly, to investing in the very best CNC machine tool technology.