Following my recent trip to India to tour a lot of component manufacturers and get to grips with what it’s like as a supply chain base for today’s importers who’re interested in alternatives to China in June 2022, I wrote part 1 of this post about sourcing from India where I focused on key manufacturing trends and what I learnt from visiting suppliers that you can benefit from knowing, too.
On this occasion, I concentrated on two key manufacturing areas in South India, Chennai and Hubli-Dharwad. Our employees local to those cities helped set up the meetings. Here’s what I learnt…
Chennai is the fourth most populous city in India and is best known for its automotive and hardware manufacturing (especially electronics), software, health care, and financial services. Like Detroit, it’s sometimes called India’s motor city due to hosting a large number of auto plants and suppliers. This can be good news for importers not producing automobiles, too, as the supply chain of qualified and competent suppliers for all of the many auto components means that there’s a good depth of talent and capability in Chennai for many in-demand production processes, like plastic injection molding, etc.
The Ambattur district, in particular, counts many factories. It’s basically inside the city, so it’s convenient to go to other local factories, send samples for testing, etc. Note: container trucks are only allowed at night (8 pm to 8 am) in that district.
Some big Contract Manufacturers have already established large facilities in Sri City and Sriperumbudur. To simplify, the local government has set up special economic zones there for products mainly manufactured for export.
Chennai is a huge city, very widespread. Transportation with Uber/Ola is not expensive. There are a couple of modern and clean metro lines, and plenty of Western food meaning visitors will be catered for if they miss home.
Transporting goods from Chennai
The seaport is relatively small, compared to those in China. It’s not on the list of the 50 busiest container ports. The ports of Mumbai and Mundra (North of Mumbai) are larger. Nonetheless, it does have a container port meaning that products or components manufactured here can be shipped out easily enough, or can be received from China if needed. Shipping to Europe often leaves from Western India, so transporting goods from Chennai to, say, Mumbai will take 3-4 days by truck (or will be faster if you book the full truck).
Proximity to Bangalore
It’s also helpful to note that a lot of electronics, telecoms, and aviation industry manufacturing also takes place in Bangalore, which is not very far inland away from Chennai.
Staff costs and qualifications
Rough estimates of production operators’ salary per month are as follows (in CNY, INR & USD):
- Unskilled labor 860 to 1,300 RMB (INR 10,000 to 15,000 / USD $130 to 194).
- Skilled labor: 1,300 to 1,750 RMB (INR 15,000 to 20,000 or more, based on experience / US$194 to 260).
It’s worth mentioning that a lot of people speak good English in Chennai, it’s also home to some of India’s best universities such as the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), so the level of talent for skilled staff should be good.
Hubli (or “Hubballi”) and Dharwad are twin cities about 1 hour by plane from Chennai and are the second-largest municipality of Karnataka state behind Bangalore.
It is, and feels, much smaller than Chennai. It is less polluted. The climate is different to that of Chennai, too. It wasn’t hot when I visited in June and the rainy season comes 2 months earlier. It has a nice feel and it’s considered a relatively nice place to live in India.
There is no Western food, it seems, so visitors who aren’t into Indian cuisine may find it more challenging. But they make their own version of some Chinese dishes, and they cook Southern & Northern Indian dishes, so there is still plenty of variety.
Hubli-Dharwad is located in the middle of Southern India, between the big manufacturing hubs of Bangalore and Chennai, Pune and Mumbai, and, to a lesser extent, Goa.
Several industrial parks have popped up over the past 5 years. It is not a big hub like Bangalore or Chennai, but many common manufacturing processes can be found there.
A contract manufacturer (Equus) paid for this ad that I saw at Hubli’s airport:
It shows three Special Economic Zones for aerospace, toys, and durable goods that have been set up for manufacturing products for export with investment from the local state of Karnataka.
In Hubli specifically, they are investing to make “durable goods” (electrical home appliances, cookware, and similar products) for export and the local market. It will include “injection molding, painting, motor manufacturing, assembly, tool room, and sheet metal capabilities, among others.” Hopefully, this will be a great source of components for importers sometime soon.
In this area, I visited factories that produced plastic injection molding and mold fabrication, forging, aluminum & zinc die casting along with machining and painting, a sheet metal tool shop and mass production, and engines and transformers.
Transporting goods to ports from Hubli-Dharwad
Components and materials made in Hubli-Dharwad take about 48 hours to be delivered to Mumbai or to Chennai (roughly the same distance & time) by truck. Shipping from/to the European side is usually through Mumbai and from/to the Chinese side through Chennai.
Staff costs and qualifications
Rough estimated production operators’ salaries (in Chinese RMB, INR & USD) per month:
- Unskilled labor available at 800 to 1000 RMB (INR 9,300 to 11,600 / US$ 120 to 150).
- Skilled can be from 1500 to 3000 RMB (INR 17,457 to 34,000+ / US $224 to 450) depending on their experience.
As you can see, the costs start a little lower than in Chennai.
There are a number of technical and engineering colleges, and some of them are quite open to collaborating with companies.
Fewer people can speak good English than in Chennai, as more often they seem to speak Hindi rather than English as a second language.
Electronics assembly in Chennai is already pretty common and some leading contract manufacturers are there already, meaning that it can be a good place for importers of some electro-mechanical products to source from and assemble products right now. Electronic and other speciality components coming from East Asia get delivered via the seaport, so that’s convenient. There are plenty of factories in Ambattur, and the city is well-connected with a container port and international airport.
Hubli-Dharwad can be a good source for more general (non-electronic) components and prototyping. For a small city, the level of capabilities is good and, as it’s quite central, any components produced can be transported to any one of India’s larger manufacturing hubs fairly easily and quickly — or transported from any of those large hubs to Hubli-Dharwad for sub-assembly or assembly.
As you’ve hopefully seen over these two posts, India is a credible alternative to China in some cases right now, especially where you’re able to source Indian-made materials and components there with no/little need to rely upon imports from China. The lack of internal component producers was levelled as a common criticism of India until recently, but my visits to numerous component suppliers have shown me that it should be possible to set up a solid supply chain in India right now for many importers.
If you’re thinking of moving some or all of your supply chain out of China, this is food for thought…talk to us if you have any questions about getting set up in India, as we have staff there on the ground right now.
In case you missed it, listen to me discuss sourcing from India recorded live from Chennai in this bonus episode of Sofeast’s podcast:
We have also been writing a number of posts about different component suppliers in India for a while now. Take a look at them here for some hints on how to start sourcing from India.
Our local team in India can provide source new suppliers in India to help you find great components and manufacturers there, too!