Forge Ltd. (BFL), the roads become smooth and well tended.
Immaculate lawn edges and trim hedges border the long
driveway leading to the car park, where small cars and
scooters form orderly lines.
As a company, BFL has grown from its origins as a humble
hammer manufacturer 40 years ago, into one of the largest,
most accomplished and technically advanced forging
operations in the world. It is the flagship company of the $1.25
billion (US) Kalyani Group, and describes itself as a “fullservice
supplier” of engine and chassis components. BFL is
also India’s largest exporter of automotive components, and
has manufacturing facilities spread across six locations: two in
India, three in Germany and one in North America.
Over the years, BFL has invested to create state-of-the-art
facilities and world-class capabilities, such as fully automated
forging and machining lines comparable to the best in the
industry. The company’s customer base includes virtually
every global automotive OEM and Tier I supplier, including:
DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, BMW, GM, Volkswagen, Audi,
Renault, Ford, Volvo, Caterpillar, Perkins, Iveco, Arvin Meritor
and Cummins. Annual turnover of the 4,000-employee,
publicly traded company is in excess of $600 million.
The turning point for BFL came in the late 1980s, when
management at the company (then only selling to the market
in India) decided to replace the ageing plant, which it
originally bought second-hand from a U.S. supplier, with
modern technology that would be the envy of forging shops
the world over. The investment included new presses, new
automation and the adoption of new manufacturing
techniques, such as 5S and Kaizen. It was a bold strategy
designed to make BFL a world leader in forging production.
Mr. B.P. Kalyani – a relative of the company’s chairman –
was given the task of implementing the new practices. To
tackle the challenge effectively, BFL created a Forge
Modernisation Division, and today Mr. Kalyani is its Senior
“Our biggest challenge was to absorb the technology,” he
says. “It was all very new to us, but somehow we had to learn
how to get the most from it – fast.”
Word soon spread about the company’s investment, and
new customers sought out the company. One such customer
was U.S.-based axle-assembly manufacturer Arvin Meritor,
which duly placed an order for 1,000 forged axle beams
“We were able to offer them a product 20 percent cheaper
than their previous supplier,” says Mr. Kalyani. “Suddenly,
the hard work and investment began to pay off.”
Over the subsequent decade, the influx of orders
accelerated, but despite the success, a problem began to
surface: The die machining shop was struggling to keep pace
with the forging lines.
“We knew we had to start looking at high-speed CNC
machining centres,” explains Mr. Kalyani. “At first, we only
looked at various Japanese, German and Swiss models – the ones
we had heard of. But the quotes were very expensive. We thought
that must be the going rate, but then we came across Haas.”
Mr. Kalyani admits he had not heard of Haas previously,
but says the machine specification-to-price ratio was a real
surprise. Only company policy, which demands that
benchmarking tests take place between prospective supplier
products, prevented him from placing an order immediately.
“We needed to prove that the Haas machines could
produce a die within the cycle times and quality requirements
we expected,” he says. “At that time, we wanted to machine
a connecting rod die from H13 tool steel (50HRc), so we
passed the challenge to Haas. The result was really
impressive. In fact, the results were no different than a set of
benchmarking tests we had done on a Japanese machine that
cost several times the price.”
That was in 2001. Today, BFL owns 23 Haas machine
tools: 16 VF-4 CNC vertical machining centres (the five most
recent delivered in September 2005), two VF-7 machining
centres, two VF-2 models, one EC-1600 horizontal machining
centre, one Toolroom Mill and one Toolroom Lathe.
All of the Haas machining centres are fitted with 10,000-
or 15,000-rpm spindles, as well as through-spindle coolant
and high-speed machining options. In fact, BFL claims to
have specified every available option on each of the machines
it has purchased.
“We work the Haas machines very hard – 24 hours a day,
seven days a week,” says Mr. Kalyani. “Temperatures in the
factory often can exceed 40°C (104°F), but none of our
machines cope as well as the Haas machines.”
Working around the clock, the Haas machines, run by
five operators, produce a total of approximately 550 dies per
month for forgings weighing up to 350 kg. Typical end
products include crankshafts, connecting rods, front-axle
beams, rocker arms, steering knuckles, transmission parts
and hubs. In fact, BFL claims to be the largest manufacturer of
crankshafts in India, and the second largest worldwide, with
annual production well in excess of 100,000 units.
“We are immensely pleased with the performance of our
Haas machines,” says Associate Vice President Mr. S. Rangan.
“Before they were installed, the cycle time for a typical
crankshaft die was 40 to 50 hours, now it is 14 to 15 hours.
Similarly, a die for a connecting rod previously was machined in
40 hours, whereas now it takes just four. Add to this the fact that
there is no bench or polishing work, no tool marks or cracks, and
it is easy to see why we are so pleased. The days of separate
roughing and finishing are also behind us. All of our dies are
now machined complete in a single setup on a single machine.”
Mr. Rangan states that two additional forging lines are
planned for 2006, which will subsequently require yet
more die-machining capacity. The company is also
considering the acquisition of two more plants, one in
Europe and one in China. He says that this ambition is
targeted toward improving “speed to market.” A decade
ago, the time taken from receipt of a drawing to delivery of
a hard-forged sample was around two months. Today, it is
a couple of weeks. BFL’s two-year target is to reduce it to
just three days!
In the company’s training division, a Haas Toolroom Mill
and Toolroom Lathe are used daily by roughly 30 BFL trainees
undertaking one-and-a-half year apprenticeship programs.
“We’ve never been afraid to invest,” says Mr. Kalyani.
“From the very beginning, the chairman invested the
majority of profits back into the organisation. It’s become a
culture at BFL. Every company has the ability to define its
own culture, and this is ours.”