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Indian power plants do not adopt anything new, Som Chakraborti, Business Director, Process Automation

29 Nov 2012

Rockwell Automation, a US-based company dealing mainly with automation and industry solutions is fast increasing its footprint in India. An annual sales turnover of over $6 billion from India alone suggests that the company is here to stay. To know about its plans for the sub-continent, Pallavi Chakravorty met Som Chakraborti, Business Director, Process Automation on his recent visit to India. Edited excerpts: 

How would you rate India’s energy sector on the scale of technology vis-a-vis global standards?

I would describe the power sector to be somewhere in the middle of the line in terms of global technological advancements. I do not find power plants here adopting new technologies. They tend to use tried and tested technologies that have been proven for use; they do not adopt anything new. This, however, may have variations but here I’m talking about a general trend.

How do you view India as a market?

An important dimension of our performance is what percentage of our revenues is coming from emerging markets. We look at markets like India to strengthen Rockwell Automation’s presence. We have now moved into some aspects of development in India and are also adding resources for our sub-continent customers. So, India is and will continue to be one of the key players among emerging markets and the company’s investments will be commensurate with that.

How old are you in India?

Allen-Bradley, which is a 100-year old company, has been in India for the past 30 years. In the early 1980s it was based in Kolkata, but after some transition it shifted to Delhi as Allen-Bradley India Ltd, from where it continued to operate till it was taken over by Rockwell Automation. The current Noida facility came up about four years back.

Rockwell caters to various industries and sectors across the globe. Which is its target sector in India?

The core sectors in India that we target are the consumer goods market, a traditional stronghold for Rockwell. We also refer to them as hybrid industries, which include food processing plants, packaged consumer products, etc. Emerging markets in India and around the world are in power, both in combined cycle and balance of plant (BOP) in the utility power segment. So, captive power plants and combined cycle as well as the entire BOP footprint are extremely important for us and we would continue to grow in those segments. We also have some expertise in oil and gas, primarily in upstream and in midstream; our core focus in oil and gas is in upstream, which is also the core focus of investments globally.

Since power is one of your core focus areas of investment in India, how has your company been affected by the turbulence in the Indian power sector?

I wouldn’t say we are getting affected yet as we are not exclusively focused on a certain industry or couple of industries. We have a broad spectrum approach as far as industries are concerned. 

Automation investments typically are cyclical because they are dependent on capital investments or capex cycles of the economy. We try to mitigate those risks by broadly diversifying in heavy industries and we have been doing that successfully around the world. So, if the power sector is going through a lull it doesn’t directly affect us, though it does delay projects and certain bookings. So it’s not that it doesn’t affect us at all, but it is not significant.

What are the challenges that you face in catering to the Indian power sector?

The challenge for us is that there are some historic suppliers who have created a traditional base in the power market. Rockwell has always provided equipment and solutions to power in the BOP areas, however, now we are getting ourselves more engaged in the core part of a power plant whether it’s an industrial captive power plant or a combined cycle power plant in the steam generation or turbine control areas. These are the areas that have taken some time for us to gain acceptance and ensure that the engineering constructors and procurement firms bless our architecture and our solution offerings as an acceptable standard in the power industry. We have been trying to knock off such barriers one after the other and the end user’s acceptance at the end of the day is helping us perform better.

Do you concentrate only on thermal power plants?

You cannot be in the power sector and not serve thermal power. It is still a lion’s share of power generation anywhere in the world. But in terms of our growth and focus, combined cycle plants are what we invest in the most, in fact in several countries many power plants are being converted into combined cycle plants due to environmental reasons. Industrial captive power plants are our other focus area.

What are your current major projects India?

As a company policy, we do not talk about our upcoming projects or clients. But yes, we are working on a number of power projects, both state-owned and private owned.

What is your market strategy in an emerging and constantly evolving market like India?

Our strategy in India is a reflection of our global strategy, which has been customised for the sub-continent. Our strategy encompasses the types of customers we serve. In that spectrum the first kind of customers we serve are the original equipment manufacturers or OEMs. They adopt our technology and we help them in the process using our own resources. The second category is the consumer durables industry. We aim to be the biggest supplier of automation controls in this segment.

The third category of focus is heavy industries and energy. Metals and mining are very important for us and between our control technologies and solutions we have the right combination of supplies for these industries. Continuing with that is energy comprising both power and oil and gas. In oil and gas, we would continue investing in upstream if the price of crude stays near where it is now. Our footprint is still growing in India particularly as private operators participate in oil and gas more and more.

We have a number of distinguishing factors as compared to our automation peers, which also help in strategy building. We have a major leverage called the limited distribution model which is unique in the automation industry. Basically, a network of distributors who stock Rockwell automation equipment and parts and also a bunch of trained and dedicated personnel to directly attend to our clients through this network.

What is the industrial green print technology that you have formulated?

Green print technology is a set of technologies based on the solution concept. It is primarily focused on the power generation market where we have a comprehensive suite of products, which help the plant with energy management. It is a superior solution that addresses sustainability and industrial regulation objectives. So, it encompasses our automation products, electrical drives products and communications (Ethernet IP) that tie these two areas together.

Both China and India are target markets for Rockwell. What are the major differences in operating in each of these countries?

They are different in scale and many other economic conditions as well. The pace in China has been larger for Rockwell, which is also because China has a much larger industrial capex base versus may be a services base in India. But there are some common denominators too; both countries are not exhilarating at the record levels until recently, particularly more in India than in China. The oil and gas investment areas are stronger in India; the power investments too are much stronger in India than in China.

(InfralineEnergy thanks Som Chakraborti, Business Director, Process Automation for sharing his valuable insights with our readers. The column 'In-Conversation', is a platform to engage experts from various sectors to share their views on the different transformations happening in the Indian energy sector.)