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ERDA is now focusing on highvalue technology developments

Venugopal Pillai ,  Tuesday, October 11, 2011, 16:01 Hrs  [IST]

T.P. Govindan— T.P. Govindan, Director, Electrical Research & Development Association (ERDA)

Electrical Research & Development Association (ERDA) is a professionally managed not-for-profit technical organisation serving industries and utilities for over 35 years in the areas of test, evaluation, certification, consultancy and R&D related to electrical products and systems. T.P. Govindan shares ERDA's contribution to the country and gives a glimpse of the organisation's future plans. While maintaining that ERDA has earned a very good brand image over the years, it is committed to further enhance the quality of service and strengthen its R&D efforts in industry-relevant areas. An interview by Venugopal Pillai.

To begin with, please tell us about ERDA's mission and discuss in brief how ERDA has grown over the past 35 years.
Electrical Research & Development Association (ERDA) is a professional organisation established in 1974 and registered under the Societies Registration Act. The founding members, a group of visionary industry captains, realized the need for an independent and technically competent test, evaluation and R&D laboratory to cater to the growing need of the industry and its customers in the area of electrical products, materials and systems.

Their zeal and tenacity resulted in the formation of the organisation. Acknowledging and realising the need of such a laboratory, the Gujarat government supported the venture and provided the necessary land and infrastructure at Vadodara and provided certain financial grant for building the capital facility. The Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR), Government of India, supported the organisation with financial grant in its initial stages.

Located in a sprawling 25-acre complex at Makarpura, an industrial suburb of Vadodara, ERDA today has a customer base of over 3,000 satisfied customers both nationally and internationally. With a competent employee base of over 300, ERDA is an autonomous, financially self reliant not-for-profit organisation, professionally managed by a managing committee consisting of senior personnel from the industry, the Gujarat government, and CSIR laboratories, supported by invited academic and industry experts.

From the financially challenging early times three decades ago with a revenue earning of a few lakhs of rupees, ERDA has grown over 1,000 times in the last three decades and has set its vision to be a global service provider in its chosen area of R&D, investigation, certification and knowledge promotion for the advancement of technology capabilities of electrical products and systems. All its actions and agenda emanate from this vision.

Please describe ERDA's facilities in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana, and tell us in brief about the various testing routines that they are equipped to handle.
Equipped with many sophisticated and state of art facilities at its two major Vadodara laboratories at Makarpura and Savli, many of them best-in-class. ERDA is constantly looking at opportunities to expand its professional services to new areas within its charter. Its facilities and capabilities are accredited and certified by many leading certification agencies across the world.

ERDA presently caters to customer requirements covering a comprehensive range of very small electrical gadgets to large high voltage products upto 132kV- 220kV class. It can selectively evaluate 400kV class apparatus. It provides complete certification and evaluation of short circuit current capability upto 120kA for low voltage products and systems. A new sophisticated EMI laboratory that evaluates the immunity and susceptibility of apparatus to electromagnetic interference (EMI) has been recently commissioned. With many apparatus now controlled electronically or digitally, this evaluation facility will cater to the reliability assessment of apparatus to emerging needs.

ERDA has set up laboratory facilities at various customer centers across India. It has recently acquired a property at Rabale, Navi Mumbai, to expand its services in Mumbai area. This facility will cater to Maharashtra and neighbouring areas. In its laboratories at Sonepat and Rajmundhry, services related to transformer diagnostics and calibration of various products and systems are carried out. ERDA is constantly looking at avenues to expand its services to new customer base across India and internationally, which is one of its prime growth strategies.

Untitled - 27There is a general perception that India lacks adequate testing facilities, and that Indian manufacturers have to avail the services of international agencies for testing of high-voltage equipment. What is your view?
India is self sufficient in many of the evaluation and certification facilities. This is demonstrated by the vast customer base, including overseas customers, availing services in our laboratories. Many of the laboratories here in India are best-inclass. There are few facilities, however, which need to be upgraded. The country is gearing up in this area.

Given that India is expected to add around 15,000 mw of new power generation capacity per year over the medium term, supported by matching T&D infrastructure, do you foresee an even more pronounced shortage of equipment testing facilities?
Not exactly! This is being seen as a service growth opportunity by the laboratories. The Indian laboratories are competitive, technically very competent, and the customer response time is being progressively bettered. We are gearing up to cater to the increased requirements.

Please summarize ERDA's growth plans, mainly in terms of increasing its competence in the electrical equipment testing sphere.
ERDA has invested close to Rs100 crore in its facilities with most of the growth investments happening in the last decade. ERDA has set its vision to be amongst the best laboratories in the world. New facilities are continuously being added and existing laboratories upgraded. In the last year alone, ERDA added three new laboratories to provide new services and reduce the service cycle time of customers. A challenging annual growth rate is being planned. Geographical expansion of ERDA laboratories is on the cards. Internal competence building exercises of our human resources are progressing further. Large scale automation of test systems to enhance speed, reliability and integrity of the services are planned. Business Process Automation through ERP is being taken up.

India is seen moving to the 1,200kV UHVAC power transmission regime. How involved is ERDA in this endeavour?
ERDA so far has not been in the area of UHV. As of now, it is not equipped to directly and significantly contribute to this landmark national pride project piloted by Power Grid Corporation of India. While it salutes, along with the nation, this national facility project of international class, it proposes to provide service to the manufacturers of UHV apparatus related to R&D of new materials and systems. UHV is an area of future thought at ERDA.

Please enlighten us about major technologies that ERDA has developed for the power sector in recent years. In a general sense, how successful has commercialization of ERDAdeveloped technologies been?
Over the years, ERDA has developed over 50 technologies relevant to materials and products. Over 25 of them have been successfully commercialised through transfer of technologies to technocrats. Low voltage fault current limiter, transformer protection device based on evolved gas, LED based low cost portable lamp, etc are a few of them. Many of them have won national awards. ERDA has an IPR portfolio of over 15, based on these developments. The commercialisation rate has been satisfactory so far. ERDA is now focusing on high value technology developments with active participation of end-users.

ERDA is reshaping its R&D structure and mission programme to enhance its involvement and contribution to national mission projects, and industry-relevant midterm product technologies. Renewable energy, advanced materials, power quality, new product and process technologies, diagnostics and life management of apparatus and systems are the new R&D thrust areas.

Untitled - 28It is believed that research in the electrical and power industry faces manpower constraints and that this field does not easily appeal to students as a career choice. What is your view?
High quality, motivated and passionate manpower are the primary requirements for a successful R&D industry. Academic interaction needs to be of higher order to attract talent to the R&D centres at the inception level. Active faculty-industry association can help reduce the gap in this area. Generally, this continues to be an area of concern since a long time and needs improvement.

What type of government support would you recommend to further ERDA's contribution to the power sector?
We are satisfied with the government support being received by ERDA. The Gujarat government provides financial grant for establishment of capital facilities on need and request basis. Government of India provides support to R&D programme of national relevance. In recent times, this support has provided good impetus to initiate and enhance ERDA's contribution to the nation.

We understand that ERDA has done a lot of developmental work in the renewable energy segment, mainly wind energy and micro hydropower. Does ERDA's have plans for solar power that is currently generating a lot of interest from developers?
ERDA has identified renewable energy as one of its technology mission programme of its R&D. It is actively working on R&D programme related to wind, hydrogen and hybrids through MNRE-sponsored projects. R&D work on new materials for storage of hydrogen, new appliances such as hydrogen-based heating system, and hydrogen-run engines are in advanced stages of development. The work in this area is contemporary and in line with any R&D programme in the world. ERDA has recently established evaluation facility for solar based panels. ERDA is yet to work on R&D related to solar power.

We learn that ERDA is involved with the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana, the nationwide village electrification programme. Please tell us more.
ERDA executes extensive consultancy contract programme in the area of RGGVY and other similar initiatives of the utilities. It evaluates the programme, supervises the execution, inspects the products, conducts the technical loss evaluation of the feeders and provides improvement suggestions.

To conclude, what are the three most important objectives or goals that you would like to see ERDA attaining in the medium term?
ERDA has a very good brand image as a quality service provider in the area of investigation, test, certification, consultancy and R&D. Its medium term goals would be to further enhance the quality of service it provides nationally and internationally; geographically expand to reach out to new customer base through existing and new services; and to further strengthen its R&D in national and industry relevant areas.
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