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GLASS IS THE NEW CONCRETE

India’s connection to Napoleon Bonaparte’s land dates back to the second half of the 17th century when the French East India Company set foot on our country’s soil. They were here until 1954 when their outposts Pondichérry, Yanam, Mahe and Karaikal were transferred to the Indian Union. Forty-two years later, in the closing years of the 20th century, the then 330-year old French glass powerhouse, Saint-Gobain set up a float glass factory at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu. This was the direct result of a commitment made by France to the state of Tamil Nadu. What began as a promise of an investment of Rs 300 crore has over the next 20 plus years snow balled to around Rs 5000 crore.

The choice of Tamil Nadu was unexceptional. The availability of abundant raw material besides good infrastructure in the form of land, sea and air; plus the availability of qualified, skilled manpower tilted the scale in its favour of TN. Of course, the attractive incentives that the state government offered came in handy.
Thus it was that the first MoU was signed in 1997-98, and commercial production began in 2000 for the manufacture of float glass and mirror. The final investment made of Rs 575 crore was Rs 275 crore more than what was initially committed. Within three years, thanks to growing custom, the need for a second float line was felt. It was for the production of both coated glass and automotive glass. Commercial production started in 2005, on the strength of a Rs 1000 crore capital expenditure.
Seven years later, in 2012, a third MoU was signed; this time for the manufacture of refractories and the setting up of a world-class R&D centre. India was now the hub of knowledge and innovation, and it was but natural that a R&D centre should find a place here. Two years later commercial production began following an investment of Rs 450 crore. Taste and volume in India were moving very fast so much so that by 2015 the need for enhancing the production capacity was felt. A fourth MoU was signed. Against the deadline of September 2020, the plant built at an investment of Rs 1000 crore has gone on stream a full 20 months ahead of schedule.
The 65-year old chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Edappadi Palaniswami (aka EPS), is commissioning the new facilities on 28 January 2019.
It’s all happening in Sriperumbudur, 40 kilometers southwest of Chennai, on the National Highway. Once a sleepy village, this place is now a vibrant industrial hub, with global industrial giants jostling for space. Car major Hyundai; computer king Dell, consumer-durable leader Samsung and glass giant Saint-Gobain are among a few big guns that have set up manufacturing facilities here.
In less than two decades Sriperumbudur evolved as the fastest growth centre in India housing a gorgeous cluster of automobile, electronics and communication industries.
Also on that Sriperumbudur belt, spread over 177 acres of land sits Saint-Gobain India Private Ltd., (SGIPL). National pride, with a French connection, it is India’s largest float glass manufacturer, a fully-owned subsidiary of the 354-year-old Saint-Gobain.
But why do we the people of India need glass in our workplaces and in our residences?

WHY GLASS IS COOL

As high-rise buildings begin to dot the urban skyline, concrete is fast going out of fashion. After all, walls add weight, curtail space and restrict creativity. Glass is the new concrete. In a 70-storeyed skyscraper with an area of 90,000 square metres the estimated weight reduction by using glass is 36,900 tonnes! And with its lower envelope thickness glass adds up to 8 per cent of the carpet area.
Glass provides seamless entry to natural light and offers a spacious look. Sunlight generates less heat compared to artificial lighting. It can save 40-60 per cent in power costs. Also, glass as a wall can withstand fire for 120 minutes. It can be toughened to make room partitions, strengthened to face seismic pressures, and provide for excellent acoustics. Unlike concrete buildings that crumble to rubbles during an earthquake, glass buildings suffer just a few minor cracks. These apart, glass is easy to clean and maintain.
As a homebuyer, you must seriously look at the glass. Here’s why.
Homes need sunlight. A standard clear glass brings in good daylight. Specialised glass brings in good daylight, standing guard against the bad ones like infra-red and noise. This means you don’t have to use the heat generating lights that we use in the day time. It also reduces the use of air-conditioners.
Saint-Gobain offers a range of these specialised window glasses under its Sun Ban umbrella that will suit one’s need and budget. These glasses are also star-rated on a scale of 1 to 5. These ratings identify how much amount of heat the glass cuts in from entering the house and how much light it brings in. A glass with higher star rating means a more relaxed place and savings in your electricity bills.

ARCHITECT’s delight

Look at the choices for the architect; specialised glass (Sun Ban) beat the heat and brings good sunlight, thus, saving on lighting and cooling costs. When there is a need for heated interiors and the prevention of heat from escaping outside from the cozy interiors, the answer lies in a Low-E glass usage. Low-E glass or a thermal insulation glass, helps prevent thermal heat transfer from hotter to colder areas.
While concrete structures pass the heat to the interiors, a high-performance solar coating on glass helps reduce the heat ingress even as it allows the natural light. In contrast, colder climates require retaining heat within the premises. Glass can achieve this as well if a DGU in combination with a Sun Ban glass and a low emissive coated glass. Thus, the best option is to use glass with high-performance solar control coatings, double-glazed with low-emissive glass to reduce the overall heat gain.
The glass is not just about saving electricity bills; it is also about elevating the living spaces. Lacquered Glass, a specialised product that comes in vibrant colours it is today’s answer to boring painted walls, regular wardrobe cabinet panels, and me-too on kitchen counters.
Before the advent of Saint-Gobain Glass in India in 1998, few would have dreamt of the spectacular changes brought about by this French giant and that too in such quick succession. There have been continuous investments in not just glass manufacturing capabilities but also in a wide range of other building materials like gypsum boards, plaster boards, abrasives… In each one of these, the group not merely reached leadership positions. More important, it set high standards not just for its products but in the whole range of manufacturing processes, energy efficiency, ecology, sustainability and a wide range of HR practices with deep social concerns as also in social amelioration such as women’s education.
We provide snapshots on these. We have elaborated them in the following pages based on discussions with senior executives.

Manufacturing

From a single float line with modest capacity the company has grown to five float lines in well-distributed geographies in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Sriperumbudur, Jhagadia and Bhiwadi are hosts to five plants. At each stage, the size and sophistication expanded. If the Bhiwadi plant incorporated the then state-of-the technology, in 2014, the new float line in Chennai marks a further jump in technology, energy efficiency, size thickness and yields. Special attention has been paid to heat recovery and to solar power as also to harvest rainwater. President Santhanam mentions this float line as the most advanced across the globe.

Logistics

SGIPL continually works on improving handling, packaging and transportation. The continuous refinements have revolutionised these practices. These tasks have been outsourced as well. Half the of glasses of various sizes is today shipped out naked saving precious quantum of wood, plastics and steel. Just imagine!

Apprentice training

SGIPL’s apprentice system is a model worthy of emulation. The four-year course on a learn while you earn model has provided school dropouts coming from disadvantaged socio-economic background, the opportunity to work in a world class organisation and that too with handsome stipend that increases from Rs 5500 to Rs 10,000. Better still, they received education and training in classrooms and the factory, reminiscent of the chartered accounting programme. Upon convocation these boys either stay with the company or are allowed to see greener pastures. Two convocations have happened, a third is on the anvil, and hold your breath, some of the boys, have gone on to become entrepreneurs. Interestingly Santhanam has extended this expertise through CII to the National Skill Development Programme.

Environment and ecology

In our visits to Sriperumbudur, we have been deeply impressed with SGIPL’s focus on climate and ecology. SGIPL started with harvesting rainwater making use of its vast roof areas and storing the water in a well-lined pond with 65,000-litre capacity. As part of the current phase of expansion; one more lake with a capacity of 72,000 litres has been built. Added to the attention paid on economising water in the process, the plant is generating its water requirements to the extent of 50 per cent. This is of great importance to Chennai and its environs not profusely endowed with perenial source of water. In continuation of this ecological concern, SGIPL has created a thick rain forest. This is expected to reduce the mean temperature of the factory site by a couple of degrees.

Cost economies

The strong finance team and the cost-conscious management looks closely on economising costs. Santhanam saw the great benefits in switching to natural gas for its economy compared with furnace oil. He has been campaigning for Tamil Nadu creating a facility for supplying piped gas; this dream is near realization. Indian Oil Pipeline division has constructed a large gas terminal at the Ennore Port and is planning to provide gas through the pipeline. While tanker-ships are expected to unload gas from March 2019, it may take time to lay the pipe. SGIPL is setting up facilities to transport gas through road tankers and switch to gas pretty soon.

Research

Among the most significant contributions of SGIPL, is its setting up the research centre at the IIT Madras Research Park as an anchor partner for the second phase. SGRI is the seventh global research centre focusing on research for hot and humid climates. Set up at the cost of around Rs 150 crore and with an a talent pool of over 100 scientists and engineers, SGRI has in a short time introduced several innovative products, systems and techniques designed to improve on current practices.
Anand Mahajan, CEO-India region referred to rich contribution coming from the IT services of Saint-Gobain. Headquartered in Mumbai these cater to the needs of the group. This is to be expanded further to a digital centre to provide digital IT services to the group’s global operations.
SGIPL’s operations in Tamil Nadu extended from the world-class facility at Sriperumbudur to other locations in Tamil Nadu. Saint-Gobain Sintered and Electro Fused Products (SEFPRO) unit, among the largest global centres, has been set up at Perundurai. The products are for exports.
Investments in Tamil Nadu account for Rs 3800 crores and is half of the total investments made by Saint-Gobian in India. Such investments would continue. Look at the replacements in stages of the old float lines with state-of-the-art larger capacity float lines. For the industry, SGIPL has made rich contributions to setting up the Glass Academy. The expertise available is also lent to the creation of standards for float glass for the Bureau of Indian Standards, development of curriculum for glass introduced in civil engineering and architecture degree courses and in providing rich inputs to the fine-tuning of building codes.
So, you will agree SGIPL is not just glass and mirror. In the space of two decades this multi-national major titan has triggered a French revolution in glass. In this, it has also made an invaluable contribution to social amelioration. May the tribe of such socially conscious corporate citizens rise.

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