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In an economic slowdown, believe in your entrepreneurial spirit

Venugopal Pillai ,  Saturday, August 17, 2013, 17:35 Hrs  [IST]

M.Ramani—M. Ramani, Managing Director, Load Controls India Pvt Ltd

Bangalore-based Load Controls India Pvt Ltd is a specialist in LV/MV switchboards and control panels. It has to its credit introducing modular design for LV panels, and later to MV panels and bus ducts. M. Ramani tells more on the “modular” approach and how it has paid rich dividends to the company. Ramani also shares his vision of propelling Load Controls into the Rs.100-crore league by 2015. An interview by Venugopal Pillai.

Tell us about the various switchgear and control panels engineered and produced at Load Controls.
Load Controls designs and manufactures modular-type low voltage and medium voltage switchboards and control panels as well as air insulated LV bus ducts.
The LV range of switchboards includes main switchboards, motor control centers, power control centres, DG control and PLC with SCADA panels, APFC panels, soft starter & drive panels, metering panels, LT kiosks etc.

The medium voltage panels include 3.3kV to 33kV VCB/ SF6 breaker panels, C&R with PLC automation panels and MV DG synchronizing panels. Regarding bus ducts, we manufacture air insulated modular bus ducts as well as trade in and undertake to install Schneider-make sandwich bus ducts from ratings of 20A to 6000A.

We understand that your company is the first to have deployed CNC machines nearly a decade ago. Tell us about this and other high-technology initiatives that you have taken?
Yes, in 1996, I had the opportunity to visit Singapore and made the time there to visit about 18 panel builders in order to understand the international trend and advances in technology in this area of manufacturing. I chanced upon the modular design in panel construction that grabbed my attention. I brought back catalogues, samples — and a lot of inspiration!

Modular panels help in offering customers loads of flexibility, adaptability and versatility. It of course comes at the discipline of precision. Hence the decision to invest in a CNC Turret Punch Press as was seen done by my foreign peers.

Load Controls was the first to extend this modularity to bus ducts too, and then to MV panels. We have also been the first switchboard manufacturers in south India to get our busbar systems housed in a modular panel type tested for 100kA for 1 sec short circuit test. In addition, we nurture a responsive service team and undertake annual maintenance contracts as well in order to offer our customers wholesome solutions.

Load ControlHow has this technology foresight helped you to have an edge over competition?
When customers see the value they get in terms of predictable quality, aesthetics at significantly shortened delivery schedules, we have seen them repeatedly coming back to us. There are certain advantages the customer gets in a modular construction that are not possible in a welded panel, like module interchangeability from two single modules to a bigger single module (and vice versa) with minimal down time at customer’s running installation! The standardization, ready stocks and the resulting economies of scale helps us score over competition and being perceived as different!

Tell us more on this “modular” approach.
Unlike a welded panel that requires the shell to be first manufactured and then the doors, partitions and internals to suit the resulting dimensions, the modular design enables concurrent manufacturing with the concept of kitting. Load Controls enclosures have essentially two profiles, the corner bar (a 3-bend profile) and a crossbar (a 4 bend profile), each punched through their length in the inner sides with 6.5mm dia holes at a pitch of 30mm. These together with an aluminum alloy pressure die cast corner (in all 8 corners) form the skeleton of each custom sized panel. The partitions, doors and even busbar manufacturing then are parallel, line manufacturing activities all put together from pre engineered BOMs.

Furthermore, we prepare sub assemblies of predictable portions of the switchboard to cut lead times even further. A semi-automated pneumatic line with appropriate tools, jigs and fixtures all further add to the inventory velocity.

Do you have any near-term plans of modernization or expansion at your Bangalore facilities?
Indeed we do! We presently operate from four buildings in BTM Layout and in September or October this year, we shall be moving lock, stock and barrel to a brand new 45,000 sqft facility behind the “Art of Living” Ashram down Kanakapura Road, South Bangalore.

This facility is 450ft by 100ft and is pillar-less through the span with a center height of 27ft. We intend to move the panels on multiple lean lines on wheels. The infrastructure would integrate the fabrication, 8-tank powder coating, shell assembly, electrical assembly along with inspection, testing and dispatch all in one flow. People from different departments would also be seated next to each other in a central pool, which would, as we envisage, bring in more spirit of coordination, collaboration and camaraderie.

Load-ControlDo you operate as a system house of a particular switchgear manufacturer or do you source switchgear from multiple suppliers?
In MV category, we are a system house for Schneider Electric and have type-tested our panels accordingly. We are called their “Alliance Partners for MV Panel Integration” and support each other while adding value to the end users and contractors with faster Schneider-approved and cost-effective solutions. We are also alliance partners for Schneider bus way systems integration and undertake to not just supply but also install the bus way systems as required. We have in house 3D CAD design capability on Schneider proprietary software that empowers us to plan the bus way routing to zero defect. In low voltage panels we are not a system house for any switchgear manufacturer as yet but do see this as an emerging trend in India.

Would it be worthwhile for a control panel producer to undertake backward integration and produce switchgear?
The short answer is “Yes!” C&S has done it successfully in India. Tricolite from Delhi is almost there through an exclusive representation of Mitsubishi, as I understand. One of the reasons L&T are undisputed leaders in switchboards and control panels in India is that they have the advantage of not just backward integration, but also forward integration through their EPC divisions in India and abroad. Having said that, I feel, the vision of the entrepreneur is the real game changer. Does he want to do it? — Why? And then, how?

Which industrial segments form your main clientele?
We cater to mainly five segments that are buildings (commercial, IT parks, hotels, hospitals and residential); industrial (upcoming projects in automobile, steel, cement and the like); infrastructure (airports, transport and so on); OEMs (DG set assemblers); and exports (mainly, Middle East and Africa).

Do you also cater to power utilities?
We have so far not made any significant sales to power utilities.

The overall economic slowdown has been having adverse impact on the electrical equipment industry. What is your view and experience?
Well, yes and no! Yes, because as against the GDP of India of 8+ per cent in 2010, we are hovering at 5+ per cent at the moment; this has given rise to overcapacity. To add to the woes of the electrical equipment industry, we have cheaper imports from China and Korea making survival difficult for several players. Being a chronic optimist, I would however, like to also say “No” because I am a firm believer in the entrepreneurial spirit that asks “how can I be a cause in the change I want to see?” I also opine that the economic slowdown hits an entrepreneur when his business is in several hundreds of crores. At my company level, it’s really how we see the opportunities in the problems and are willing to examine greener pastures like perhaps exports, exploring geography, product range diversification and getting closer to the customer. I have seen several success stories in these trying times!

For me, my trading division Mani Sales (Bangalore) has had a steady growth and has been fairly consistent. In Load Controls, on the other hand, it’s been a roller coaster ride with highs and lows. This year however, we have had the best ever first quarter and hopefully the new location, being a “visual factory” with flow facilitation and synergies and resources amalgamated for performance, we believe our journey from “good to great” would commence.

Load ControlThough the control panel industry is largely automated, we perceive the need for skilled manpower as operator. Given the general shortage of skilled workforce, what has been your experience?
Automation is a continual goal with a view on improving speed and quality, while optimizing manpower. Notwithstanding this, talent can actually be a big differentiator in our business. Hence was born LCTC “Load Controls Training Centre” in 2010. Every Monday and Thursday, we have shop floor worker ‘production constraints’ review sessions with the electrical assembly and mechanical manufacturing teams respectively. Every Saturday at the training centre we have coaching taking place in the areas of technology, sales and commercial matters. The resultant “giving” helps reap the consequent “receiving” in terms of better systems, processes and execution.

As we understand, the Indian industrial control panel industry has generally been unsuccessful in adopting standards, for instance IEC 61439 is not yet harmonized, etc. Please share your views in some detail.
Unsuccessful, I opine, not just in adopting standards, but also at arriving at standards when it comes to panel design, layout and uniformity in approach. I recently had the opportunity to study the Electrical Inspectorate standards adopted in parts of the Middle East and was struck by the standardization in panel incomer design, outgoing design and approach to invariably having back access and so on. There are uniform approaches to the positioning of the neutral bar and earth bar, which enables size reduction. These enable a panel builder to actually keep stock of ready panels with as many as around 15 variants only. These can be combined to form a modular line up of cubicles as per customized solutions. I hope our electrical authorities enable such standardized approaches soon in India too which could take care of the much awaited exponential growth.

Please share your key future plans and goals for Load Control India.
Over a period of time, I have been analyzing the evolving collective DNA of Load Controls and believe we have it in us to grow, professionalize and make a difference to electrical installations with a pioneering spirit. We passionately empower our products to work very well for end users and feel positive about the outcomes. We are perseverant in spite of tough times and that’s what ignites our initiatives in ISO (Quality Systems), EHS, and LCTC.

By 2015, we aim to be a Rs.100-crore business and by 2020 Rs.350 crore-plus with profitability and cash flows that lead our industry.
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