Monday, September 21, 2020

Interview - Yatinder Pal Singh Suri (Outokumpu)

Stainless steel has the advantage of lowest life cycle cost


Outokumpu India Pvt. Ltd. – a subsidiary of Finnish Stainless steel major Outokumpu, among the largest producers of stainless steel products in the world – has been present in India since 2006. CONSTRUCTION OPPORTUNITIES met YATINDER PAL SINGH SURI, COUNTRY HEAD, OUTOKUMPU INDIA for an understanding of the growing usage of stainless steel products in India’s cities.


Tell us about the prospects of stainless steel in areas like urban infrastructure?

People do not have access to drinking water from the taps at home or in public areas. It is basically because our storage and distribution is done in corroding and unhygienic materials which make the water filthy. We have seen in metro cities that corrosion in water pipelines leads to leakages in carbon steel distribution lines and lot of dirty liquids enter the water lines to contaminate and pose health hazards for humans.

The storage of water in underground or overhead rooftop concrete storage tanks is equally vulnerable. Government needs to eliminate these contamination possibilities by making use of corrosion free stainless steel tanks and pipelines. When you talk of smart cities or sustainable infrastructure that you plan to create, the government needs to make the use of stainless steel mandatory for drinking water storage to maintain the purity of water. Even railway stations need to have stainless steel overhead water storage tanks and distribution pipes, so that passengers have access to pure, clean drinking water at the platforms. Such a vision and decision making will ensure creation of sustainable and hygienic drinking water facilities for the citizens.


Could you name some of the projects supported by duplex stainless steel in this zone?

Many of the recent desalination and water related projects which have come up in India have used duplex stainless steels. Five years ago no one knew what duplex stainless steel was but today a lot of duplex stainless steel awareness has been created by us and Duplex grade is being used extensively in storage, process and  piping particularly in the chemical process industries and refineries. The use of duplex stainless steel is going up also due to its easy availability. The pipe industry in India is gathering enough demand and capability to meet the end user duplex piping requirement.


Which are the other areas where the application of stainless steel is possible?

Water is a big area for industrial applications as well. When you talk of power plants and process plants there is a huge demand for water. The coastal area power projects will need to draw water from the sea and convert sea water into water for industrial use and drinking. Desalination process being corrosive, the equipments are made from superior grades of stainless steel like duplex stainless steel or super duplex stainless steel.

With escalation in capital goods manufacturing capability in India, there is expectation for steep growth in our per capita use of stainless steel. High end grades are also used for manufacturing of process equipment plants in Oil & Gas, chemical, refineries etc. Application areas being storage tanks for acids, chemicals, edible oils, food processing, dairy and beverages and the sugar industry. Carbon steel tanks corrode over a period of time and hence go through a maintenance cycle every five years. Even though stainless steel is 3 to 4 times more expensive than carbon steel but the life cycle cost will be lowest due to stainless steel having advantages in terms of its strength, resistance to corrosion, equipment safety and hygiene. Other emerging areas of stainless steel application are building facades, metro coaches, metro stations and malls. We already see them in the railings, furniture and the elevators. Bus shelters and the new airports have also used stainless steel. All industrial and buildings particularly in the coastal areas will have to go for Duplex Stainless to neutralise high corrosive environment.


With metros happening all over, there are huge possibilities? 

Yes, particularly in stainless steel passenger coaches, the advantage of our products lie in the grade, finish and the flatness. The coaches need no painting and look uniform and aesthetically pleasing. The railways are always searching for superior solutions for corrosion prone areas being a safety related issue. Good news for them is that such high end stainless steel pipes are available easily in India for the intended critical safety area.


What is the importance of stainless steel in the context of sustainability of future cities?

All high rise building and construction in cities are currently with carbon steel structural elements. No matter what you do in terms of coating or painting, carbon steel will start corroding after some period of time. Stainless steel is an alternative but the biggest hurdle comes because there are no building codes for stainless steel usage. The new urban cities and rural townships will have to opt for stainless steel to have a long maintenance free life and lowest life cycle cost. As a cash starved nation , we cannot afford to spend money on maintenance frequently which also leads to inconvenience to the citizens due to disruption during repairs.


Since you launched operations in India what is the progress you have made in terms of pushing both the idea and the product?

It is difficult for European mills to compete with the domestic mills with plenty of capability to manufacture low-end vanilla grade products. We had to bring to India something that didn’t exist in terms of product forms, grades and applications. The initial challenge was how to create the market for these products, how to enlighten the end user and how to educate the consultants and the decision makers. For the first few years, we were busy educating stakeholders, doing workshops, distributing brochures and technical specification pamphlets. We continue doing that even today because due to our advanced R&D capabilities, we keep adding new products and applications every year. We have to be aggressive in marketing efforts and spend. Currently we are a compact team present in five locations ie; Mumbai, Pune, Baroda, Delhi and Chennai – all stainless steel intensive regions. The stainless steel intensity in the eastern parts of the country is nascent so we are not present there yet. Western India uses close to 52 per cent of the total stainless requirement, 32 per cent comes from the Delhi area and around 15 per cent comes from the South which is growing pretty fast now. Stainless steel rebar usage is another idea whose time has come for use in coastal and hilly regions. If stainless steel is used selectively in corrosion prone areas only the cost of the project could go up by 1-2 per cent, but the maintenance free life will go beyond 100 years. There is a BIS Standard at draft stage right now. In the absence of manufacturing and testing data locally, Outokumpu is providing technical support to the BIS committee with active involvement of the Indian Stainless Steel Development Association. BIS Standard will kick-start local manufacturing and usage.


What is your assessment in terms of the country’s requirement of stainless steel on a mass scale and what kind of a budget would it entail?

Stainless steel demand share is around 4  per cent of the total steel demand in India. If accelerated substitution strategy continues to replace carbon steel, there will be a surge in demand for stainless steel capacity in our country. Currently we have overcapacity in long as well as flat products which should get used up in next five years.


Tell us about your investment plans for India?

We had investment plans for localisation in India in 2008 but due to sudden imposition of import barriers it has not been possible for us to do the same. Future plans entirely depend on the policies of the new government. We are very selective about whom we deal with or do business with is in line with our code of conduct, sustainability vision, and ethical policies. In fact, we are a global benchmark when it comes to sustainability initiatives, something which needs to be emulated by local manufacturers. We are serving the domestic needs of the emerging high end applications directly as well as through our stock arrangement in Mumbai. Warehouse stocks display our committed support to the SMEs who need reliable quality products to satisfy their clients.


Do you see companies coming forward to align with you?

We do believe in localisation which means that we are here to support and partner with downstream manufacturing and processing companies to make world class downstream products available locally for accelerated national industrial and infrastructure growth. Local players stand to gain and learn a lot from our R&D capability in terms of new products and innovative applications. Our vision is to create a world that lasts forever and for sure, India is an important part of this vision.

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