Ceiling fans are ushering in the winds of change at the heart of Indian ceramic industry
Home to 225 ceramic units, Thangadh as an industrial town has seen the most flourishing business in manufacturing and exporting sanitaryware. Shunning traditional ways of manufacturing, the sanitaryware sector is now embracing new technology.
But looks, as they say, are deceptive. Perhaps, Thangadh, which is popularly dubbed as the ‘ceramic town’ can vouch for that. Home to 225 ceramic units with product categories such as sanitaryware, refractories, wall tiles and art tiles in its kitty, this industrial town has seen the most flourishing business over time in sanitaryware. It is also one of the 12 energy-intensive MSME clusters covered under the GEF-UNIDO-BEE project, which looks at selected clusters in India to promote energy efficiencies.
It isn’t surprising to understand why the spotlight is on this small town that is tucked away from the city humdrum. Out of the total sanitaryware exports from India, 70% is from Thangadh with African, Gulf and Arabic regions making up major markets. Reasons such as easy availability of raw material and labour being reasonably cheap are factors that aid the town’s growth. “The cost of the production is very less and quality produced is accepted in the major export markets. This makes exports from here being higher,” says Ashwin Maru, Production and Export Executive at Thangadh-based Sunrise Pottery Works, a leading exporter and manufacturer of ceramic products.
The factory shows off a range of sanitaryware in different colours, shapes and sizes customised as per the export market demand. Maru narrates their story of how the company started off with manufacturing cup saucers, dishes and plates when established in 1976. “We started sanitaryware in 1982 and till date, we are exporting our goods to various countries by taking many steps to upgrade our products,” he reminisces.
Conventional processes are failing
The association with UNIDO-BEE came through five years ago for the cluster and the project aimed at supporting MSME units in implementing a range of energy conservation measures. For instance, 15,000 conventional ceiling fans were replaced with 15,000 energy efficient ceiling fans. “More than 60% of energy was saved by the change of fans. These are Brushless Direct Current (BLDC) fans from Mumbai as opposed to the rewinding ones that existed previously,” highlights Maru.
A crucial stage in the manufacturing process is the shaping of sanitary ware by putting the clay in Plaster-of-Paris moulds. The moulds need to be completely dry within a span of 24 hours for the next step of the shaped item to be cast. Earlier conventional ceiling fans were used in the drying process which were low on energy efficiency and consumed around 75 Watts power per day. After replacing the fans in factories to 28 Watt BLDC fans, a 60% saving on electricity was noticed, which translates to a saving of Rs 15,000 per month.
There have been other changes as well that have created an impact. Installation of rooftop solar power systems in ceramic units to produce solar electrical energy totalling 1100 KW, low thermal mass car in tunnel kiln, use of new technologies such as high speed blunger technology in place of ball mills have also led to cost and energy savings in the units.
“Previously in our tunnel kiln, the weight of the car was too much. Gas consumption will be low if the weight is low. After UNIDO introduced lightweight car trolley, 50% of the weight was reduced and due to that we saved 7% gas consumption per day, which was a remarkable energy saving for us,” reveals cluster leader Pradip Vora.
In fact, for the cluster, conservation is slowly being ingrained in everything they do. Manufacturers are sprucing up their production techniques and now giving due importance to the end product itself. Maru highlights that through research and development initiatives they have been able to cut down on the amount of water needed to get a flush working. “Earlier, European Water Closet (EWC) required almost 6-7 litres for flushing. Now we have developed EWC of 3-3.5 litres per flush. So we are saving a lot of water through such unique techniques,” he says. Exports make up 98% of his business.
The gap to fill
Vora confesses that Thangadh was a ‘low profile’ cluster in the beginning, but got due attention after UNIDO started their work here. Most manufacturing processes across different industries need significant resources and the ceramic industry also has high demands. From the extensive use of water to gas, and fuel, the ceramic industry depends heavily on these three inputs for production.
Technologies implemented at Thangadh cluster (Illustrations by Ashmeet Kaur)
While water is used when the material is mixing to give shape to ceramic products, electricity is used to run ceiling fan, motor, pump, compressor and other machines as electrical. “Each factory of Thangadh consumes more than 1000 cubic metre gas per day. The cost of natural gas is between Rs 35 to 40 per cubic meter, which means each factory’s spends about Rs 35,000 to 40,000 per day to produce 10 metric ton i.e for 900 pieces per day. There is maximum gas use in this cluster, which implies that is adequate scope here to save by changing burners, designs etc,” adds Vora.
In fact work has already started in this regard. Carbon emissions have reduced significantly since UNIDO-BEE set afoot. After using low thermal mass car energy saving technology, the gas consumption reduced upto 8% per metric ton of sanitaryware production. Vora recalls one factory in the cluster that implemented various technologies could boast of a reduced electricity bill of Rs 80,000 as against Rs 1,75,000 earlier.
However, despite the benefits that have come in, some challenges still remain which deter Thangadh from reaching its full potential. Maru talks about further reductions in consumption of gas. “We are using CNG for firing of sanitaryware and by adopting the technology of lightweight trolley, we have reduced our consumption reasonably. However, we still need to reduce the weight further to ensure even greater savings,” he says. The natural gas for furnace to fire 1 metric ton ceramic sanitaryware (about 90 pieces of sanitaryware) needs 110 cubic meter of natural gas to fire at 1200 c temperature. With energy efficiency methods this has been brought down to the levels of about 100 cubic meter of natural gas.
Moreover, the infrastructure, he highlights, needs urgent attention from the government. Poor roads lead to losses during cargo shipments and cast an unfavourable impression when international buyers visit. “What we are manufacturing is fragile cargo and we export to various countries. During the transit of the cargo from Thangadh to the port, a lot of damage takes place due to infrastructural bottlenecks. Government's support to improve this aspect can be of much help to the Thangadh cluster," he laments.