In the 1970s, manufacturing of weaving machines was one of the weakest links (even now a little weaker) of the Indian textile industry. To design and manufacture, weaving preparatory machinery namely warping and sizing machines without the helping hand of collaboration, to ultimately enable production of good fabrics single-handedly at that time is no mean achievement!
NK Brahmachari, Managing Partner of Amritlakshmi Machine Works did that and much more! This is not to hint that his team did not work! It is only to reconfirm that it is his personalised approach that brought success to his venture in 1977.
Brahmachari, who learnt hard lessons well before he laid the foundation for his company, knows also the importance of working with passion and staying focused in a venture. In Ahmedabad, 1970 onwards his engineering and marketing skills were under test and he came out in flying colours after selling 100 processing machines in seven years – a veritable record in those days!
The breakthrough came just after three years since inception of Amritlakshmi Machine Works in 1977, when a 100 per cent indigenous sizing machine, production of which solely managed by him, was sold to Mafatlal Group. Building on confidence, Amritlakshmi, led by him, snatched success after success by sheer dint of hard work, and focus on fault-free machine technologies. There was no looking back, the juggernaut of enterprise moved ahead, and Amritlakshmi’s spirit for quality production has never slackened even after 40 years of manufacturing.
Later he was the first to develop and start high-tech sizing machine for Mafatlals again in Mumbai where India’s first 114 airjets were commissioned in 1986 and 97 per cent efficiency was achieved with collective efforts of Mafatlals and Amritlakshmi team!
In an exclusive interview, Brahmachari spoke to Karthik Muthuveeran, Senior Sub-Editor of The ITJ.
The history of Amritlakshmi goes back to nearly 50 years. Let us know about this journey over the years. Thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts regarding Amritlakshmi and our journey in the textile machinery manufacturing industry.
The journey has been very good overall, but frankly I am not happy due to the disconnect between the machinery manufacturers and the users, and lack of support of the then Government. Now over the years, it has not allowed the industry to achieve its potential.A lot needed to be done then and now too.
I started my career in 1970 in Ahmedabad after completing my mechanical engineering in Bangalore where I learnt a lot as I am sure you know in South India, in almost all the states, discipline is a nature and objectives of any business is well established with the fundamental objective being achievement of goals in an organised manner with quality (not money) and satisfaction of the customer of prime importance and this has played a major role in my life and will remain so!
In 1970, I started working as an employee in Ahmedabad for Dhall Enterprises, but my father KC Brahmachari being their agent and also being close to the SR Dhall the proprietor, I had the wonderful opportunity to work under him. He was a brilliant engineer – daring and a perfectionist at all times and to make me learn he placed me under his foreman to slog like a worker that helped shape my career!
I worked there for almost a year as a worker and much later the rest knew who I was and by then I jelled well with the labour and the working-class people over there. At Dhall, I learnt the fundamentals of real engineering design and perfection with hands-on approach.
We sold more than 100 machines over the next seven years, but I will never forget the lesson of my life I learnt from Mr Dhall, in my formative years: “Quality, perfection come first and then awards, rewards and money follows.”
After my stint at Dhall, I shifted to Mumbai where we started selling the same machines. At that time, we had other agencies from Ahmedabad as well.
There were many developments done in those days in Ahmedabad, but unfortunately the approach to a customer by many of them was not to my liking and many would take the order and change the specifications to match the price!
Around 1977, I started Amritlakshmi Machine Works with the aim of designing, manufacturing and marketing all by myself. Everything was done under one roof. I got the name of our company from Lakshmi Machine Works (LMW) of Coimbatore, who are undisputed leaders in the textile industry in India. I always kept LMW as my benchmark – their ethics but mainly their policy to adhere to commitments, quality and reputation at any cost!
During 1977-78, I started developing parts for sizing machines. During those days, we got an order from Shree Ram Mills, Mumbai and I owe it to Pratapbhai Bhogilal for giving me a breakthrough by ordering a SS Roller! Then over a period of 6-7 months, they started giving us repeat orders – from size box to dryers, etc. and the rest is history.
Just then, Mafatlals wanted a sizing machine. For the first time, in India in 1980, I made a full machine. It was completely indigenous and I was proud of the “Made in India” label. That was my first biggest break.
After that, we sold at least 70 machines to National Textile Corporation (NTC). During those days, Amritlakshmi was the only company from India who had these machines 100 per cent indigenous, while only one more company was under collaboration. The first 64 machines were erected all by myself.
It was a proud moment for me when I came to know that the machines sold to Karnataka Handlooms during early 1980s are still operational. As of today, we have sold around 270 machines of cotton to large groups like Mafatlals, Thackerseys, Ruby, Arvind and many more. Over 100 filament plants are working in Surat at Garden, Eagle Group, Balaji and many more large groups. Each machine is always better than the earlier ones as we have been constantly improving and adding new features to our machines year after year.
Good or bad I have a craze for development of new technologies – to make tailor-made machines – I like challenges – risks and I personally strive hard to fulfill my commitments!
From 1988 onwards, other players started coming in making the competition worse as some of them had ordinary fabrication shops and offered machines “similar” to ours and the gullible customers fell for it thinking the same machine was available at 60 per cent of the Amritlakshmi prices!
For me, money was never an objective; it was used more for the development purpose, as each year I came up with new machines or technologies. My main motive was to satisfy customers and fulfill my commitments! I can proudly claim that all these years, not a single machine has ever failed.
Around 1985, we developed our first filament sizing plant based on the principles of Tsudakoma Sizing for Zero Twist Yarn, and with our new development for Surat, it was another breakthrough for all since the textile industry there changed forever and from twisted yarn fabrics they moved to high-end zero twist yarn as they were able to get sized beams from our machines!
In 1992, at India-ITME, Amritlakshmi was the first company in India to bring imported airjet and waterjet looms for high value fabrics as well as technical textiles – glass yarn weaving! But during those days, there was no buyer for my machines. But today, everyone wants to buy that. I think we were too early for the Indian market. Water was the main concern those days. You need to have softening plant to operate waterjet and for airjet high volume of dry air was needed. But now the customers are ready to spend for the utilities.
Early 1990s, we ventured into jute preparatory machines. Our focus has always been on “Concept to Commissioning” projects and not on individual machines. I can proudly say that earlier we had only six projects a year, but had six happy customers. What is success? Some would say number of machines sold is success, but I would say number of happy customers is the real success which gave us repeat orders!
As I said before, I am a mechanical engineer and not from the textile background. I see everything from an engineering angle. This has helped me to develop our machines. I could have made one machine, installed it and made money running it but that’s not my cup of tea!
Amritlakshmi became the pioneer manufacturers of weaving preparatory textile machinery for spun as well as filament yarn by innovating and developing the warping and sizing systems. Most of the players in the industry in which we are in are from Ahmedabad.
In fact, in Ahmedabad, in those days many employees who left the companies after gaining experience opened their own company. That further added to competition. I would blame some of the customers in India for the lack of development of the textile industry. Quality machines and services were not demanded then. In India, people are more cost conscious, which is not wrong but they should accept that “when you pay less you get less” and value should be given to experience and technology not price alone.
Some other players may change the specifications of the machine based on customers’ requirement, but we never change the specifications of our machines. In India, in many cases the approach is money and discussions start with price and not the specs or suitability of the machines for their project!
A lot of changes have been happening over the last few years. If in those days, if we would have got this much support, then the industry would have been at the top than what it is today.
Yes, machines of the textile engineering industry have reached up to the international standards, but many Indian manufacturers are lacking in service, a point of view not given due weight age. Response time by many manufacturers to customer complaints is too long and spare parts are not planned in time anticipating wear & tear.
As far as performance is concerned of machines by TEI, we are slightly better now, but definitely not up to the European standards or even Chinese in some cases for that matter. The approach has to change. The software and techniques are available, but what is lacking is the constant involvement of the owners, and commitment of staff and workers. It has to be a team and each member should be conscious of the commitments made by the management and they should be involved in the decision making!
Amritlakshmi has been one of the leaders in warping and sizing machines. What were your recent offerings to the textile industry and what are their USPs?
As far as Amritlakshmi is concerned, our designs have always been customer-oriented. We don’t have an in-house R&D centre. I believe in what is taught to me by my customer. We change our designs and features according to customer’s requirement. Since 2000, we have shifted more towards automation. Automation means to ease the load of the labour to control the machines accurately and not to reduce labour. I am saving the labour of the labourer.
We have a very wide range of products in the weaving preparatory range and we can cater to any requirement of preparation machinery that a customer can imagine!
I say this with tremendous confidence as I have learnt it the hard way. I believe “Failure is important for success-better to fall from the lower rung of a ladder than the higher one!” This had helped me in my life a lot and once you make a mistake you learn and correct and move on and never repeat it!
I have the same workers and staff with me since the 80’s and I have given importance to their needs and ambition over the years. We helped when possible and looked after them and they all stood by me all these years. Plus I involve them and discuss the feedback of customers and we jointly decide the corrective action.
This is lacking in many companies and the gap between the workers lives and ours needs to be bridged soon.
The company manufactured the revolutionary Zero Zero Warp Sizer (Continuous Filament Yarn Sizing Machine).Let us know more about this.
The need for an ideal sizing system for filament yarn especially Zero-Twist was felt when Garden came out with Vareli Sarees! With higher speeds of waterjet weaving machines and the all-round desire to produce fabrics of high quality, this need has assumed even greater significance. Until now, many yarn and constructions of certain fabrics were, so to say, “non-weavable” – not due to any inherent deficiency in the weaving machines, but because of the inability of the yarn to bear the stress and strain of high-speed weaving.
How was the response to the recently-concluded India-ITME exhibition?
The mood was down due to the recent impact of demonetisaton. However, we got some good enquiries from quality customers. Even the quality of machines is improving of late, which can see seen clearly during the latest India-ITME exhibition in Mumbai. India-ITME is improving and participation and attendance increasing year by year. The year 2020 will be a great one for the TEI of India.
If in export, which are your major markets? What is the scope in these markets in the near future?
I think, Indian players are making a mistake by committing too much for exports and domestic supplies simultaneously. We don’t have the setup for exports as I believe exports is a specific commitment to another country and unless you are fully equipped we should not venture.
Indicating red dots on the world map does not establish your prowess in the export market! Repeat orders does!
I think we will venture into exports soon as we are establishing a separate setup for it. Amritlakshmi had been exporting to Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Africa before, but after 1995 we stopped, because we didn’t have the proper setup to cater to both exports and domestic orders. According to me, exports means we should get repeat orders from them and not just exporting single machine. Some people in India are happy with one-time sales abroad and they venture into exports only when the domestic market is down!
Currently, we are focused completely on the Indian market. India is importing a lot of machines, which is not really necessary as we have a good stock in India itself and our slogan to customers is “ If you want an Imported machine why not install the machines we export!”
Of all the machines sold by Amritlakshmi, which one is your top selling one?
I would like to put it this way. For the first 10 years, it was spun sizing machine. Then we into filament, which initially became our priority at that time. Then again now we have come back to spun. Development of filament is limited now except we offer speeds up to 450 mpm. We now have a very wide range of machines both for spun and filament and hence our slogan “Any Yarn Any Loom Any width!
The next lot of machine which we will come out will be competing with the world’s best. I want to reach the level of perfection to induce people not to import.
Chinese machines are flooding the Indian market. How do you tackle this competition?
Frankly speaking, Chinese players have learnt faster than us. There is a definite competition between both the countries. They might have copied machines earlier say 10 years ago from Europe Japan, or Korea but their copy was not so perfect then and they failed in aftersales service but now they also design the machine and not just copy as it is. They plan to have post sale services here in India now. This is the main difference. They invest a lot in machines tools and more in-house manufacturing. We have all to learn that.
What makes your product unique from its competitors?
Our machines are not an exact copy. I don’t go by the measurements. We don’t copy imported machines, but [always] there are some ideas borrowed based on Customers feedback. No blind copies.
What is the success of the preparatory machine? If the loom runs successfully and the customer is happy, then that is the success of the Preparatory machine, as long as there is no breakdown. I pride myself to be a “Manufacturer cum Consultant” and not the one who advises and goes away—I see to it that my Customer succeeds!
High level preparatory machines provide minimum 95 per cent efficiency on weaving machines. Our machines performance is as efficient or in some cases better as our design approach is more focused. European engineering is [undoubtedly] far better because we don’t have these facilities in India. Then why spend extra Rs 2-3 crore for imported machines. This is where the government and banks should come in. The Government has already started helping indirectly if not directly. They have started providing new courses, finance to buy new technology. Slowly but steadily things are happening now.
We are now making machines to suit airjet or rapiers and of course plain looms on the same machine. There are many players in the market today, but I don’t think any of the players provide the technology, the system of working, and the focus on the performance on looms. Only a few provide it and we are one of them. You have to take the responsibility of the loom and the not the sizing machine alone.
As your said, labour is one of the major issues in India. What are the other challenges faced?
Bank finance is the major challenge faced in the textile industry. What happens is bank doesn’t provide finance for anything that is not tangible. Which means if I mortgage my factory or office, they will finance. But if I ask for finance for R&D and explain the software or technology, they will not finance. IT sector has better financing by banks or venture capitalists even though the failure rates of the start-ups are very high. You will not find that a textile machinery manufacturer has wound up! But again now some banks are changing. They have started approaching companies themselves.
I think, there should be a special finance for R&D, for improvement of machines, for advertising and promoting the new technologies, etc. We should be allowed to use the funds as we want and the banks should be there to help you out. Every bank should have a technical team, who can at least understand the industry.
How do you look at the market for textile machinery in India?
I think, overall it is pretty good. However, it is expected to grow even faster than what it is today. Foreigners will come and setup their businesses here, but some time back they were setting up their businesses in China because the work culture is better there. We have the language advantage, but that is not the advantage we should bask in. The Chinese have started to learn English and are bringing a lot of latest developments for the textile industry. Surat is importing a lot. They have the right direction. I think we are slow and don’t think we have the funding to take the right direction for the textile industry and a lot needs to be done collectively.
Any suggestions for the government for the betterment of textile industry.
The Government specifically the Ministry of Heavy Industry has started taking a lot of interest for the betterment of textile engineering industry. The present Textile Minister is surely concerned about the R&D efforts of the TEI and even the present Textile Commissioner is very pro-active and is well aware of the needs of the TEI. So far, their main focus was on textile fabrics. However, still there is an imbalance. Developing modern machines should be the objective and the Government can assist. They have realised that policies cannot be done simply by themselves, so they have now started involving associations like TMMA, ITAMMA, CITI, FICCI, SIMA, TAI, etc., who are working relentlessly to give a right direction to the government. Associations have to play a major role in bridging the gap between the industry and government. There should be a specific plan but the focus should be more on the design and engineering for the textile industry and not fabrics alone!
I think, there should be a specific plan within the industry – be it spinning, processing or weaving. You import second-hand machinery and call it technology upgradation. We lost more than a decade by way of development with this step and making the weaving machines in India is far away. In my opinion, we have to be very clear about the direction and plan for 10 years and involve smaller players in decision making who have hands on experience in their respective industries!
Manufacturing rapier looms here has commenced but not in a big way and development of airjets and water should be the aim. Hence everyone is importing looms. Why is the Government not getting involved at a faster level?
Minimum setup condition has to come by the Government. The Department of Heavy Industries has been doing a lot for skill development. But India is very poor in infrastructure.
In India, spinning and processing sectors are developed, then why only the weaving industry is behind. Europe is developing a range of geo textiles.We too can develop it too in a big way? Baby steps are not enough. We have a very good scope for technical textiles. Geo textiles will help save a lot of money for our country too.
I think, we should do a lot of surveys for the textile engineering industry. We should find out what is that we are lacking.
What about your plans?
As far as machines are concerned, we want to improve very fast. We have improved our infrastructure in last two years. Hopefully 2017 be the second taking-off point for our company. We want to compete with the European or Chinese machines and give something that nobody has given. We will be ready by the next GTTES and the India-ITME exhibition. I don’t want to be a copy engineer. If I do something, it will be different from everybody else and better too.
Would you like to add anything else?
I would like to add that I like taking risks to develop something new. I would like to go where nobody has gone. Swami Vivekananda had written, “Take risk in life. If you win you can lead, if you lose, you can guide.” I think, whenever I’ve lost or whenever I’ve made a mistake, I tell people I have travelled that path but you don’t. Everything that I do is my passion and I am happy where I am right now.