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Kevin Enterprises: Asia's Preferred Mass Transfer Solutions Company
Leveraging on their collaboration with Saint Gobain Norpro Corporation (formerly Norton Chemical Process Products Corporation), Kevin Enterprises has established itself as a leading Mass Transfer Solutions Company in the country. Kevin M Shah, Managing Director, Kevin Enterprises Private Limited, talks about the company and its progress in an exclusive interview with CEW.

The company has establish itself as a leader in Mass Transfer Equipment manufacturing, what are the main challenges one has to face?
India has grown and intuitively in a rising tide, all boats must go up but that does not apply to India. Mass Transfer Equipment are chemical process equipment and are employed in chemical process industry such as petroleum refineries, petrochemical plants, fertiliser and gas complexes, chemical, pharmaceutical and allied industries. The question can be best answered by pondering first on - a) What sort of companies exist in India that buy process equipment? and b) How many vendors that make chemical process equipment exist in India?

It might shock you to know that within a mix of PSU and private sector, India has Fortune 500 companies mostly from oil & gas sector, we have one of the largest fertiliser industry in the world and pharmaceutical champions.

There are ministries that exist in these sectors, low labor and engineering costs is a given. Yet, there are but a one handful chemical processing equipment vendors (ie, employing chemical engineers) in this sector of Indian origin. Often white elephants thrive but tiger cubs die! The reason is that in India, there is no real culture of vendor engagement for product trials or development. A typical plant may employ a few thousand employees but will not have a single person for said activity of approaching the vendors for product development or indigenisation, same cannot be said about the auto industry where vendors are regularly visited, trained and rewarded.

During the active inquiry stage, there is no encouragement either - focus is on price alone. The process licensors from foreign countries recommend some vendors with foreign brand and even when they mention ┬or equivalent╩, there is no local authority competent enough to accept local vendors. We had collaboration in the early stages and then built from there. Only thing then remains then is grit, determination and emotional stamina of my team that got us here. Today, almost all companies that matter buy from us.

How was the journey since 1972? What are the major products you offer today?
The company was started by my father Manubhai Shah and he named it after me, his only son. We have been in the business since four decades and initially started as mere job workers for plastic random packings.

Our factory was strategically located in Baroda (now Vadodara) as PP granules were bought from IPCL (also in Vadodara) under quota system then and proximity to IPCL was important. Due to capacity limitations among vendors then and culture of always engaging with the vendors, they used to split the order among four-five suppliers. There was a ┬freakonomic╩ effect of that - all the vendors except us, formed a cartel. As expected, cartels don╩t normally last as greed or unfounded superiority in someone eventually takes over and so it too did not last long but they lost competitiveness and the art to look within. Instead, they ran the race but focused too much looking over the shoulder at others.

We, on the other hand in the 70s then developed a special grade of PP additive with a local company that made our plastic packings more resistant to thermal attack. Once when the time came for replacement at Gujarat State Fertiliser, the biggest buyer then, it was found that our supplied packings were intact while other╩s packings had gone soft.

That was the spring board and we became the preferred vendor across India. Subsequently we worked with Engineer╩s India Ltd in the early 80s and then signed a collaboration with an American company in 1987 but soon my dad passed away while I was a student in USA. As a symbolic head, my mother Deviben M Shah, a house wife till then rose to the occasion and held the reins till I returned to India at end 1992.

The collaboration still continued thru the entire 90s to expand the range - that American company was eventually sold in 2002. When that happened, it was akin to the doctor dying and so the clinic╩s compounder was of no value and Indian industry disowned us. Since over the years we had absorbed the technology and in fact they had on occasions employed our services for engineering and manufacturing for their projects, we were confident we will sail through.

Over last decade we have slowly but surely won back the confidence and have supplied our products and services to EPC╩s and consulting companies as well as to the end users covering the entire gamut of the chemical process industries including refineries, petrochemicals, fertilisers, chemical, pharmaceutical and allied industries in India and overseas. With that sound background and our experience built over the years, we have in-house capability to do feasibility studies and design, engineer, manufacture and supply of Mass Transfer products viz: Tower Packings - Random and Structured, Fractionation Trays, Tower Internals and Mist Eliminators.

In lieu of the strong growth of chemical industry that has been projected under the 12th Five Year Plan. How does the company plan to capture the market share in the future?
First we must accept that the projections and forecasts will be severely tested as the world is now shrinking at an uncomfortably high pace and some of the initial benefits of globalisation have already evaporated.

Economic slowdown is visible across the geographies from Latin America and USA to Europe and Japan (China too though mildly) and we cannot be isolated, have in fact already slowed plus election mood may set in aggressively around end of 2013. The backlash is visible as non-tariff barriers are being installed by foreign governments to protect their own local industries. All focus will therefore be on few that are there, on piggy backing on EPCs Indian arm for foreign orders and direct pursuit in regions and pockets not mentioned above.

What are various technical and marketing challenges that you foresee? How is your organisation gearing up to address them?
We see more marketing challenge than technical. Before one can sell a product, one has to buy the mind and your work becomes that much more difficult if the mind is narrow or closed. As mentioned above, while the FDI debate is a rage here, the Indian buyer has blind faith on foreign suppliers even when sometimes the same foreign vendors buy from us & in turn sells it further!

Also, the overseas process licensors recommend their familiar vendors and instead of introducing our time tested Indian vendors to them, which happens aggressively in China, Russia and east Europe, the plant users here tend to get a bit blinded and don╩t differentiate between the ┬recommended╩ and ┬mandatory╩ vendors even when they clearly mention ┬or equivalent vendors╩ or they themselves have used Indian vendors during replacements.

What are the current projects, the company is involved in? Any words from crystal ball gazing?
We will see how 2013 is as future is all ┬que sera, sera╩ but this year has been rather kind and there are quite a few. We are involved in projects like the rather interesting and one of its kind revamp of a Tray tower to a Structured Packing one for a Hot Chemical Exchange Column at Andhra Pradesh. Also at IOCL╩s Mathura unit we are working on FCCU and PRU revamp. Then on the Fertiliser side we are doing a mega grass root project for a plant in West Bengal Ammonia and Urea plants both and then there is GCU of GAIL - Pata in UP. We have Butadiene, another large one thru EIL for IOCL╩s Panipat unit. We are rather busy and plant is very noisy!

On the future of capital goods manufacturing industry, we can take a clue from this - there have been occasions when we have supplied our equipment on SOS basis by air, all the way across to large companies in USA and other parts of the world. Unless the GOI and large Indian companies do not do their part in engaging Indian vendors, we will suffer for sure but they too eventually will like the western developed nations are.

Students are not enrolling for chemical engineering discipline, some who have passed are chasing other fields and new colleges are not offering chemical engineering and existing ones are thinking of discontinuing. There will be dearth of quality manufacturing vendors in India in our field and MNCs are known to promptly jump borders to succulent pastures or prefer supplies first to their parent company╩s buy back than local customers. With so much talk of CSR, that would be shameful if a country like India remains indifferent to SME, also employers and thus an ally of GOI in their own right.

Having said that, I am slowly seeing some cogniance of this fact dawning upon the industry across the spectrum and if I don╩t sound too much like Barack Obama, I am his hugest fan, I am rather hopeful. Until that becomes a full reality, my fraternity will have to remain the ┬yes-we-can╩ creed and charge ahead with or without anyone╩s support!