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Raining innovations…

Saint-Gobain Research India (SGR India), one of the eight transversal R&D centres for the Saint-Gobain Group, is located within the IIT Madras Research Park at Chennai and is part of a vibrant ecosystem that fosters innovation through collaboration with academia while partnering with start-up companies. Since its foundation, SGR India has delivered over 60 new products, 65 patents and more than 30 internal value added products for different business units including operations and marketing.

For long, there is an urgent need for intensifying research, especially one that is more application-oriented. In southern India, we had commendable efforts in this direction from the Indian Institute of Science, IIT-Madras, Anna University and some of the CSIR labs. In recent times many large corporates have been intensifying R&D activities and SGR India has such impressive results in a short period after inception!

STATE-OF-THE-ART FACILITIES

SGR India has state-of-the-art facilities for research at the IIT-M Research Park. The innovative concept of industry-institute collaboration for application-oriented research received a significant impetus from Saint Gobain when this global research institute was set up at an investment of around Rs 150 crore.
Dr Yeshwanth Narendar, Director, SGR India, explained the imperative: “the R&D centre is about all our researchers having a shared purpose to address India’s challenges of being a fast-growing economy with hot, humid and highly luminous climates, scarcity of resources, infrastructure and power demands that require adaption of existing solution or development of new solutions. To do this, we have a dedicated team of scientists and engineers, drawn from across the globe with backgrounds in different disciplines who are passionately working on transforming core technologies into innovative solutions by working closely with end customers. The solutions developed can also be translated across emerging markets in south-east Asia, the Middle East, South and Central America, Africa that share demographic, climatic and multiple standards commonalities.”
SGR India works with the SG India businesses to identify new value creation opportunities and to develop new technologies that can act as future growth engines for India and rest of the world. Connecting closely with their customers and collaborating cross-functionally across the R&D network and businesses to create value for the Group in India forms the DNA of the organisation. For glass alone, SGR India has delivered so far 25 product launches across multiple business domains. These cover new products, ready to install and ready to use systems, retrofit solutions and, importantly, productivity-enhancing accessories and tools for the vast community of installers.

INNOVATIONS AND APPLICATIONS

For hot, humid and luminous regions one of the focus areas is understandably on the development of performance glazings with enhanced aesthetics and advanced solar controlled properties. Seven such products have been developed by the centre in the last three years. Narendar provided some examples of these developments: a very low internal reflection façade glass that provides a vivid view of the outside; glazings with new colours (including shades of gold, rose); and other products that provide optimised thermal and visual comfort.
Another focus area for the centre is to develop solutions for interior applications and here SGR India’s efforts in combining safety,
aesthetics and fixing solutions assume importance. Narendar explained: “fixing glass in the interior requires the use of a plywood backing that is labour-intensive and time-consuming. We have developed a mechanical fixing solution that allows the installer to fix interior glass on a bare wall directly. We have also developed an entire portfolio of interior fixing solutions ranging from mechanical to adhesive-based, that deskill the installation process significantly thereby saving time and money.”
Also, there is a focus on the development of system solutions. These can range from enabling simple and on-site installation processes, such as the solution developed for retrofitting of facades from inside the buildings for noise control, glare-reduction and improved thermal comfort, to the creation of ready-to-use products, such as the value-addition of mirror systems with multiple functionalities for use for interiors.
Substantial advances have been made in developing digital tools for marketing teams. One such example is a tool for the rendering of facades that are physically realistic. These renders can accurately depict the impact of sun-path, the local environment and help visualise variations in our product aesthetics that allows an architect to make suitable choices for the buildings that are being designed.
Beyond working with end consumer on new products and solutions; the process teams of SGR India do core work on sourcing and processing of raw materials that enable consistent quality and high yields, especially for coatings.

FUTURE PLANS

Talking of future plans, the SGR India Director pointed to the continually changing economy that demands products of enhanced utility and value that are both cost-competitive and match the rising customer expectations required by improved economic growth and living standards. Thus the plans will focus on developing resource-efficient solutions, addressing the need for enhanced productivity, catering to end-users’ interest for increased well-being and emerging innovations for improved sustainability. To achieve these, in addition to understanding the customer more deeply, there will be an increased resort to digitalisation and more agile functioning while continuing with environmental stewardship.
Research efforts will continue to focus on core materials to create products and systems that will have multiple functionalities and next-generation multi-layer coatings for improved energy performance and comfort.
Besides, investments in environmentally responsible processes for sustainability will be a focus area as well. These can range from technologies for reduced emissions and energy consumption to exploration of new coating technologies. Digitalisation will be resorted to tapping advances in sensing, IoT and data processing, that can help improve the efficiency of our processes, address our fragmented market with customisation and creation of new business models with value for our customers.
Narendar referred to the power of combinatorial innovation for new value creation. In this, there will be a focus on combining products across businesses into readily deployable systems. The ability to execute such cross-business synergies has been enhanced by the recent attention of our Group towards creating a new market-oriented organisation for the construction-related business units where broader, and more integrated offerings with enhanced value can be made to customers.
SGR India was formally inaugurated as an anchor unit of the second phase of the IIT-M Research Park on 29 January 2016 with the imaginative lead provided by B Santhanam and the passion and indefatigable efforts of Dr. Anand Tanikella. What a great record in
a short period by Narendar and the SGR India team!

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