Select a supplier who is flexible and transparent, says Arul Shanmugavelu, Chief Executive of L&T Kobelco Machinery Private Limited, in an exclusive interview with Rubber Machinery World. He further adds that in the project situations there are always changes that would crop up. Hence you need suppliers who are ready to listen to the tiny requirements of the customer and be ready to meet the same with open and transparent manner.
Well, Arul knows best being associated with the tire industry for over two decades now.
Soft-spoken and astute, Arul is a credible business leader amongst tire machinery manufacturers and I am happy to present before you his interview in this edition of “Know A Rubber Leader” series.
In this crisp interview, you will find him share his thoughts on the challenges and customer frustrations and some plain advice that could lead to a win-win situation between rubber machinery manufacturers and users.
Here’s is Arul’s complete interview reproduced for you.
- Hello Arul. First of all thank you for accepting an interview with Rubber Machinery World and sharing your thoughts. You have been head of marketing at L&T and now head of L&T Kobelco, which is a JV. What has changed for you? How has your leadership style evolved over the years?
I am associated with the tire Industry for over 2 decades. As you mentioned, I was Head of Marketing in L&T Rubber Processing Machinery unit, before moving over to L&T Kobelco as the Chief Executive. In short almost, everything has changed for me, except the customer segment. Since I am associated with them for many years, I am able to understand them very fast and most of them know me well. This gives me and also the customer a comfort feeling. Now that, I have a full responsibility of the business, I have the opportunity to fulfill the requirement of the customer faster and better, this I enjoy a lot, as I always want to be close to the customers.
- What’s a challenge you spend a lot of time thinking about these days?
One of the challenges that we face is the varying choice of components by the buyers. Each one has their own choice of make (or brand) when deciding bought-out components, be it, RTDs or PLCs, switch gear items, etc. The varying choice of bought-out parts puts limitation on the Machinery manufacturers in terms their flexibility of price and delivery. If the users leave the choice of makes of the elements of the machine to the OEMs, machinery manufacturers will be in a position to provide better returns to end customers in terms of price, delivery and service. Any way the overall guarantee of the machine is given by the rubber machinery manufacturers and hence I feel the choice and responsibility should be left to the manufacturer.
- What is the biggest frustration today for buyers of rubber and tire machinery? How are L&T Kobelco/Kobelco Products and Services addressing this?
Tire making is a complex process and each of the tire companies’ are continuously improving their product through various product design and process improvements. Each time a green field project is conceived, the project engineers are required to validate all their assumptions of the previous project, as they are required to show improvements over the previous execution, in terms of better machines, better productivity, shorter project lead time, etc. This puts lot of pressure on the Project team.
We have often seen that the Project engineers are never able to repeat their specification of equipment between 2 consecutive green field projects, even if the projects are phased by only a years’ time.
Moreover due to the shorter lead-times on the project, they are required to concurrently do machine ordering, layout finalization, civil construction, etc. Sometimes this leads to changes during execution of the project, which becomes tough and expensive.
- How does L&T Kobelco propose to change the rubber and tire industry in the years to come?
Currently L&T Kobelco’s focus is on the BB270, BB310, BB370 & BB430 Mixers and TSR330 & TSR450 Twin Screw Extruders. This product range covers almost the complete requirement of Tire Industry. In this segment, where L&T Kobelco operates, the customers are generally used to one manufacturer and have not experienced any other technology. The resistance to change comes out of the fact that the customers need to undergo the learning curve while using our technology to realize its benefit. Here, we assist our customers with the support of the process expert to stabilize the mixing process and also offer the facility of Trial mixing at Kobelco’s lab in Japan, if required.
- Is the rubber machinery industry leading or lagging behind the customer expectations when it comes to customer’s rubber processing expectations?
I think the Tire Machinery Industry is leading the customer expectations in several segments viz. Mixers, TBMs, automation, etc. We have seen manufacturers from these segments coming with new products which push the quality and the productivity of the customers.
- Can “superior-technology” and “low-cost” ever go hand-in-hand in rubber and tire machinery/equipment?
Certainly superior technology and low(est) cost cannot go together. To manufacture a quality product, we need to have a certain infrastructure i.e. good machines, trained manpower, good sub-suppliers, and good quality control. In addition for a product to sustain in the market there needs to be investment on R&D. All of these cost money. At the same time, if we are able to couple appropriate strengths of different countries, we can come out with best value for money.
India with manufacturing expertise and availability of skilled manpower offers a best platform for making machine at competitive price. When this is coupled with the technology of Kobelco, Japan, I feel this is winning combination.
- Sustainability, Environment and Innovation are the key global themes today. How is Kobelco incorporating this in your business that has a positive impact to your customers?
Who can ignore this? No one. Kobelco in Japan is working on these areas of Sustainability, Environment and Innovations. Though I cannot share what is being done in Japan, I can assure Kobelco takes these as very important and works on these relentlessly.
- What do you think is the awareness levels of customer on advances in machinery and its availability, superior technology and its adoption here as compared to the west and developed nations? Is there a disparity? How is L&T Kobelco working to expand your market on newer technologies here?
Today the world is a single market. In the Tire machinery market, the number of customers and number of machinery manufacturers are small. With the current information technology, I do not think any customer whether he is in India or Europe is lacking any information. In some occasions, I have seen that the customers in India are more knowledgeable in terms of availability of machines than some of the customers in the developed world. This may come out of the fact that they strive hard to beat the competition with the products made by them in India, compared to the products made by the developed countries.
- What do you envision for L&T-Kobelco in the next 10 years?
I feel that L&T Kobelco would have emerged as a major Mixer and allied machinery manufacturer from India catering to both Indian and export markets. L&T Kobelco will play a major role in the overall strategy of Kobelco as a leader in Mixer and allied machinery in the world.
- Great! And one last question, what would you advice on machinery selection to buyers and users of rubber and tire equipment?
My input to the buyers regarding machinery selection would be to evaluate the features that are required by you for your processes. Please do not beef up the product with an intention of having all the features whether required or not. Because every penny counts in the project stage. Whatever money you put in, requires a return to be paid to the owners. We have seen customers who use the bare minimum features for their machines and keep their investment on machine to the minimum and yet be a leading player in the tire business.
Hence making of the functional specification is the most important. Please leave the detailing of the machine to the machinery manufacturers and demand the performance parameters. In some cases the project team starts to specify the design parameters of the machine, which is best left the Machine manufacturer.
Select a supplier who is flexible and transparent. In the project situations there are always changes that would crop up. Hence you need suppliers who are ready to listen to the tiny requirements of the customer and be ready to meet the same with open and transparent manner.
That’s some profound practical approach from Arul Shanmugavelu, I think. What do you think?
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