'Indian glass industry can take on international projects'
— B. Santhanam, President - Flat Glass, South Asia,
and founder MD, Saint-Gobain Glass India
Saint-Gobain Glass India manufactures various types of
float glass from its 177-acre world-class glass complex near Chennai. "The
Indian glass industry is poised at an interesting point," B. Santhanam
tells Prashant C. Trikannad.
What are the current and future prospects for the
architectural and automotive glass segments in India?
The glass industry is rapidly transforming. The consumption of processed glass
in architectural segment is growing at a fast pace. In the past couple of years
there has been a huge amount of investments in architectural downstream
processing. What we need now is the presence of appropriate, implement-able
building codes at central and state levels, which will ensure the proper usage
of the right products and solutions. Saint-Gobain is working with the All India
Flat Glass Manufacturers' Association as well as with the glass processors to
help in framing and recommending the appropriate rules and codes to the
We see a huge challenge in the industry in the coming years, as there would be
significant excess capacity. Till the domestic demand grows to be large enough
to absorb this additional capacity the industry needs to focus on exports. That
way we will be able to avoid the supply-demand disequilibrium. Saint-Gobain will
definitely be doing that. We have a large international network for exporting
all over the world and we would be leveraging it fully.
The market will pose a challenge in the medium terms at least for the next three
years. While growth will be there, profitability may not be easy.
What is your overall perception of the Indian market?
The Indian glass industry is poised at an interesting point. Products of
world-class quality are easily available in India. The pricing is also
competitive. Indian architects and designers have shown awareness of the design
possibilities with glass and have responded enthusiastically. The overall market
growth is healthy.
What are the challenges you would like to overcome?
u There is the challenge
of excess capacity. Whether in upstream or downstream there is excess capacity
and this has meant that the profitability of the manufacturers has been under
u There is also a
continuous upward spiral in the cost of inputs and energy. This has meant that
the costs have been going up faster than the revenues.
u There is also a
tremendous pace of new capacity creation in downstream - while the real capacity
utilisation has been poor.
All the above taken together means that, while the demand side is not seen to be
a major problem, profitability will be under considerable pressure - both in the
upstream as well as the downstream. Further capacity addition will have to be
evaluated carefully as the latest entrants usually do so with the highest cost
It would be interesting to see how the industry copes with these opportunities
and challenges in the next few years.
Unlike in the past, glass plays a very significant role in the building and
construction industry today. How has quality and customer perception of glass
Glass is becoming an increasingly popular building material the world over, and
India is no exception. Part of the reason for the increasing popularity is its
transparency. Glass helps people to see through, to stay in touch and to
communicate. It connotes openness: an important trend in contemporary
architecture. And today there is so much more possible with glass because of
technological advantages - in terms of enhanced strength, increased safety,
superior acoustics, exceptional energy control, excellent daylighting etc., that
it is but natural that architects are exploring what all is possible with the
functionality of glass. And on the aesthetics front glass has always scored high
in terms of embellishing to the beauty of any architectural creation.
Glass reduces the weight on the foundations and makes for a lighter building. It
can reduce the weight on the foundation by 12 times when used instead of a brick
wall. It reduces maintenance costs and makes for a comfortable environment. It
optimises the use of natural light, thereby not only making it more comfortable
for occupants but also reducing the use of electricity. Today glass solutions
offer a wide range of energy control possibilities - one can cut the heat coming
into the buildings in warm climates or reduce the heat seeping out in cold
climates or even do both in places with extremes of temperature between summer
Use of glass 'creates space'—not only does it bring the external environment,
the skies and greenery outside, into the spaces within the building, it opens up
spaces inside. If vaulting roofs create a sense of space, so do glass panelled
cabins and cubicles. Studies have found that the increased comfort that arises
boosts work productivity.
Glass is today no longer considered fragile like it was a couple of decades ago.
This is because through usage of the right processed glass (like tempered glass
or laminated glass) one can make glass which is stronger, safer and more secure.
The processing technology for architectural glass is widely available in India -
the investments in this sector are huge and today the Indian glass processing
industry has the machinery and capability to take on projects of international
scope in terms of complexity and quality.
Saint-Gobain Glass India has so far invested Rs 1,500 crore in its
manufacturing plant in Tamil Nadu. What does this expansion mean for the
We are now ready to take up our next phase of expansion. We want to finalise the
location in the next couple of months.
[May 19-25, 2008]