Driving expansion with new technologies
Since Vesuvius is relatively a new entrant in India's cement sector, tell us something about your products and services?
Vesuvius is a well-known refractory solutions provider in blast furnace, ladle and tundish areas in iron and steel industry. For the cement industry, we offer specialised solutions like fast repair techniques and special castable. Vesuvius works with cement plants to provide effective long-term solutions to reduce the shutdown time for refractory maintenance activity, with high standards of safety and quality. As it is the last activity during a maintenance shut down, only limited time is available for refractory maintenance. That is why we promote fast repair, which is basically pneumatic application of refractory.
There are two methods. One is Shotcrete, which we call Surshot, and the other is gunning, which we call Surgun. Shotcrete is similar to civil engineering practice of pre-mixing powdered refractory with water and then sending it through a high-capacity pump to different locations of the plant through a pipeline system, which is set up by us. You can take it up to 75 m or more. At the end there is a person holding a nozzle with air connections and special additives, and the material is sprayed. Similarly, in gunning, instead of pre-mix, the material is transported dry to the nozzle with water applied at the tip of the nozzle. This too is done using a pneumatic system.
Have there been any notable upgrades in the technologies that you just mentioned?
The design of the application equipment used has witnessed a lot of advancements, and simultaneously, the material technology has also improved. Similarly, with rising demand for alternate fuels for use in cement kilns, you need materials suited for that purpose. Therefore, the material technology and application equipment have advanced. The skill level of personnel has also improved through training. These improvements have helped make the system more perfect.
Of late, there has been a lot of talk about the new pipeline of infrastructure projects and the likely rebound in the Indian cement space. In this backdrop, what is the potential for your products and services?
There is focus in the cement industry to improve productivity and efficiency and reduce cost as we have seen in the technical deliberations in the NCB seminar. Technologies like ours ultimately lower the overall refractory maintenance cost of the plant. If a job used to take three days earlier, today, with our technology it can be completed in a shorter time safe and efficient manner. As a result, the cost of refractory per tonne of clinker or cement can actually come down in the long run. Since these processes add to the efficiency and productivity of a plant, they will gradually replace conventional methods of application. The new methods of refractory application also meet the stringent safety standards in modern cement plants which are many times not possible to achieve in conventional application methods.
Tell us something about your India presence.
Our company is headquartered in London. Our India operations are more than 20 years old. We have our head office in Kolkata for India and South-East Asia operations. Our manufacturing plants are located in Kolkata, Visakhapatnam and Mehsana, out of which the two plants in Visakhapatnam manufacture monolithic and pre-cast refractories, which go into industries like iron and steel, cement etc. Apart from advanced refractory products, Vesuvius has expertise in special refractory application services with equipment and trained crew with focus on safety, quality and mechanisation. The iron and steel industry is our biggest market in India with our sales teams stationed at all major integrated steel plants in India. We forayed into the country's cement sector five years ago. We are now trying to enhance our presence with specific focus on the two new technologies that I mentioned earlier.
In India, do you also have some R&D happening as far as the cement industry is concerned?
In our Advanced Refractories Division, we have an R&D centre each in the US and UK. Our third global R&D centre is starting operation in Visakhapatnam. As one of the best-in-its-class, it will focus on refractory applications in iron and steel and cement. Our R&D is not just on products, but it is also on application equipment. The products that we supply become finished products only after their successful application. If application is not proper, even a good product can underperform. We strive to work closely with the industry as each plant has different requirements. So, our solutions are highly customised.