Bangalore: Japanese firm Toray Industries Inc., the world’s largest producer of carbon fibre, which is used in aircraft manufacture, among other things, has lifted a 15-month ban on supply to state-owned military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
Also read: Reliance looks to NAL to make carbon fibre
The ban had hit the production of HAL’s flagship Dhruv helicopters. Toray stopped supplies in April 2007 after India tested its nuclear-capable missile Agni 3, citing concerns over potential “dual-use” applications. Dual-use technologies are those that have civil as well as defence applications.
Carbon fibre, produced from polymers, is used to make composites that are as strong as steel, but nearly half its weight. These composites are less prone to corrosion, and are used in products ranging from Formula One cars to pipes that carry petroleum products. It is also used in the manufacture of fighter planes, rockets and missiles.
“The company cannot comment on your questions and neither disclose any information on details of business about our market or customer,” Ichiro Maeda, a spokesman for Toray, said in an email response.
HAL gets the Japanese fibre treated with resins to make the so-called prepegs or composite sheets. “By beginning of next year, delivery of the (composite) prepegs will start,” said M. Fakruddin, director of corporate planning at HAL.
HAL could produce only six of the 24 Dhruv helicopters it had promised to deliver to the army in the fiscal year to March due to the ban. Dhruv is a twin-engine, multi-role helicopter used for both military and civilian transport.
“There is a challenge (for us) to make materials like carbon fibres and aluminium alloys,” HAL chairman Ashok Baweja had told a press conference in April. “(So), when the tap (or imports) shuts, we don’t look down the drain.”
Analysts say as carbon fibre technology is expensive, supplies would only ease when there is economy of scale.
“So far in India, we didn’t have a large market for carbon fibre. The market is still evolving and it will grow,” said Ratan Shrivastava, director for aerospace and defence at the India office of research firm Frost and Sullivan.
On 14 July, Mint had reported that National Aerospace Laboratory, the state-run civil aerospace lab, which has transferred home-grown technology of making carbon fibre to Kemrock Industries Ltd, is in talks with Reliance Industries Ltd to transfer the same technology to Reliance.