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Since the turn of the century, the Indian market has been growing rapidly and steadily. To be sure, it was by no means stagnant before that, but its growth was in stops and starts. All application sectors are developing currently, and this represents a large growth potential for the industry’s companies.
(Published on June 2008 – JEC Magazine #41)
The very first use of fibrereinforced plastics (FRPs) in India dates back to 1962, with the manufacture of roofing sheets by Praga Industries (Coimbatore). In 1964, Chemical Process Equipments Pvt. Ltd. started fabricating composite tanks for chemical industries in Mumbai. Polyester resin was first produced by Bakelite Hylem Ltd. (Hyderabad) in 1973. The availability of these essential raw materials triggered the setting up of several small-scale units manufacturing composite products by the hand lay-up process.
For many years, the high cost of raw materials, the low availability of many essential materials because of import restrictions and the lack of mechanized production methods affected the production of composites in large volumes. As a result, the Indian composite industry could not compete with steel, aluminium or timber. During the past three decades, more than 1,200 small-scale businesses have been established in the country. More than 98% of them use the hand lay-up technique for composite fabrication. Production volumes only started to grow significantly in early 2000, as a result of the globalization of the Indian economy.
The total production of composites was about 75,000 tons in 2004-05 and rose to 1,100,000 tons in 2005-06. The following graph shows the growth of the Indian composite industry from 1990 onwards: Large-scale use of composites in India began
in the chemical industry, due to the excellent corrosion resistance of these materials. Applications include chemical equipment, piping, cooling towers, firefighting breathing apparatus, etc. There are applications for composite pipes in sea-water intake and effluent discharge in desalination plants, ducts for the chemical industry, cross-country water pipelines, sewerage pipelines, and more. They are also used to manufacture cooling towers that will resist corrosion due to moisture. The table summarises the present consumption of composites along with their future growth potential in the aforesaid sectors (table 2).
In the early 80s, the Indian railway sector identified composites as a potential material for many passenger coach components, such as louvres and glass shutters, window sills and frames, battery box trays, roof ceilings, flooring, etc.
The aim was to completely eliminate timber and plywood in coaches. The present consumption of composite materials in Indian railways has been estimated at about 8,000 tons, with a 20% annual growth rate. The automotive industry is another sector where composite materials have been used significantly, especially in passenger cars, scooters and helmets. The growth rate of composites in the automotive sector has been as follows (see table 3).
Strong market potential
In the oil and gas sector, composite materials have a vast application potential in high-pressure pipes and pipe fittings. Current offshore structural applications include low-pressure pipe, gratings, handrails, equipment covers or enclosures, and ladders. Because of their low weight, corrosion resistance, improved life-cycle costs and enhanced safety, composites could capture 50% of this market over the next 56 years. The use of composites in boat-building applications started in the early 1970s for replacing wood because of certain advantages such as corrosion resistance, ease of fabrication, improved performance and low cost. The marine market for composites was around 1,000 tons per annum in 2006 and is expected to grow to 3,000 tons by 2010, with applications in leisure boats, houseboats and speedboats, among others. India has also made tremendous progress in the wind-power sector, where composite consumption has exceeded that of China and Japan, and now ranks as the fourth largest wind-power producer in the world. M/s. Suzlon Energy Ltd., Pune, has emerged as a leading supplier of wind turbines in the global market. It is estimated that using only small wind turbines of 10 to 500 KW capacity can produce roughly 100,000 MW of power in India. The present overall consumption of composites has been estimated at around 110,000 tons per annum, as summarized in table 4.
New business opportunities
With the gradual introduction of modern technology, the Indian composite market has been growing rapidly with newer products manufactured. A market analysis reveals that, although many small fabricators are using hand lay-up methods for manufacturing composite products, the use of advanced computer-controlled equipment such as filament winding systems, pultrusion, RTM and other equipment is growing rapidly.
There is a huge potential for use of composites in the Indian automotive industry, especially for catering to the transportation needs of the growing middle class. There would be a good market for hoods, shock absorbers, frames, and cargo containers that could be used as part of these locally-built vehicles.
New business opportunities also include air intake manifolds, thermoformed components for automotive applications, fishing boats, refrigerated freight containers, gas pressure vessels, motor-driven carts, storage light houses, walkways and piles for building foundations, RCC casting, shutters, leaf springs, etc.