Saint-Gobain Research India located within the research park of the IIT-M campus welcomes you into an imposing 8-metre high ground floor. Sophisticated pilot level equipments are positioned here to aid research in a wide range of building materials. It also houses an Experience Centre where the vast range of products of the Saint-Gobain Group is showcased. Some four floors above, spread over 120,000 sq ft of space, SGRI has a number of functional laboratories with sophisticated state-of-the art equipments and workstations for scientists and engineers who work on fundamental and application oriented research.
SGRI is part of the global building-materials major Saint-Gobain that recently celebrated its 350th anniversary. It is the seventh global research centre of Saint-Gobain and will focus on research related to building materials and manufacturing processes in countries that have hot and humid climate.
Dr. Anand Tanikella, Director SGRI, has been with Saint-Gobain Research for over two decades and talks of the close interaction between SGRI and academic institutions. “This interaction,” he says, “has lead to the prospects of joint research by scientists and engineers of SGRI along with professors and research scholars. Such a model where industry and academia collaborate facilitates the seamless transition of the fruits of laboratory work and fundamental research to usable business solutions.”
A technology agreement was signed in 2012 with IIT-M for a period of forty years. Over the last three years SGRI has been working on several research projects from out of a temporary facility on the Old Mahabalipuram Road. During this period, it built a talent pool of close to hundred, drawing experts from diverse disciplines cutting across the globe. Also, worldclass competencies have been built within the R&D Centre in areas pertaining to thin films and coatings, advanced engineering and design, grinding technologies, and building sciences.
An outlay of about Rs 200 crore has been envisaged for SGRI. It is by far the largest spending on R&D for providing sustainable solutions for hot and humid climate. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister, J Jayalalithaa, will inaugurate the R&D Center on 29 January 2016. The Union Minister of State for Science and Technology, Y S Chowdary, will be the guest of honour. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Campagnie de Saint-Gobain, Pierre-André de Chalender, along with Deputy Director, R&D - Saint-Gobain Innovative Materials, Catherine Langlais, will grace the occasion. Also present will be senior directors and research scientists from other global research centres of Saint-Gobain, and from the Group’s manufacturing and service companies.
At Phase II of the IIT-M Research Park, SGRI is the anchor client. With the well-established reputation of Saint-Gobain for innovating and with a large number of both product and process patents to its credit, the advent of SGRI to Chennai is a watershed event for the nation.
Abundance of day light ... proof against noise
At this new state-of-the-art research facility, excellent use of the wide range of building materials produced by Saint-Gobain has been made. From the design of a wide staircase to the laying out of the workstations amidst spacious laboratories, the SGRI’s yen for openness, transparency and natural lighting has been given full play. The laboratories are so spacious that the square feet per researcher is quite high. Further, the ambience lends itself to innovation.
The Centre is designed for energy efficiency and multi-comfort: thermal, acoustics, visual and indoor-air-quality. Listen to what top architect C N Raghavendran has to say. “We spent a lot of time interacting with the clients to understand their individual needs. We focused on laying out the primary functionalities. The research in abrasives and ceramics will require grinding materials that would create a lot of noise. We ensured hundred per cent sound proofing. We positioned the staircase and laid it in such a way that one could see light streaming from the third floor down to the ground.”
The open office seating utilizes Saint-Gobain’s Ecophon tiles that help in providing acoustic comfort to the scientists. Advanced solar control glazings have been used as part of the external facade to improve the energy performance of the building. This has ensured that the design allowed a lot of daylight to come in while keeping the heat at bay.
“The most innovative space in a laboratory is around the coffee machine! These are instant idea generators. We ensured that these are cosy,” said Raghavendran. He was serious; he wasn’t joking.
Anand Tanikella, Managing Director, SGRI, brings with him two decades of experience in innovation. Over the last three years, he has been busy translating the dream of a world class laboratory by assembling abundant talent from across the globe. Focusing on hiring experts in their middle-level career, he has built a 100-member strong team with a good mixture of experience and expertise. Reputed for his knack for spotting talent, Anand mentioned zeroing in on five major attributes: humility, curiosity, smartness, sense of purpose and diversity. “We have an open office with no cubicles. The laboratories for material testing and characterisation are at the center and the application-oriented laboratories are in the corners. We position experts from different teams to sit together. This would facilitate cross fertilisation of ideas,” said Anand.