Refwin: Please give us a brief introduction of CUMI Electro Minerals Division’s developments during the recent years.
Mr. P S Jayan: CUMI Electro Minerals Division is poised to grow significantly well due to its cache of product and process developments, the willingness for strategic investments and global marketing. This is well reflected in being adjudged by CII as one of the top 25 innovative companies in India with Platinum level scores in all the three innovation pillars such as innovative culture, management and input / output. The approach the business follows is a three-fold one.
(i) Regular products to manage the present by improving the efficiencies,
(ii) Growing on adjacent products by proving applications and capacity additions and
(iii) Evolving the transformational products through in-house as well as external collaborations.
The business is moving well on all these three specific areas across its locations in India, Russia and South Africa. Under regular products we continue to produce brown fused alumina, white fused Alumina and mullite in India and Silicon carbide in Russia and India. In silicon carbide the uniqueness we maintain is that we use raw petroleum coke to have enhanced levels of stable phases in the products. Across these regular product we drive efficiencies and improve environmental standards continuously.
In the adjacent products specific to refractories we have released a high alumina grade of fused product, USFR which contains more than 97% alumina content, ensuring extremely high level of consistency through an established synthesis process. The other grade is a high end variant of white fused alumina which is the chosen one for critical investment casting application with significantly low impurity levels. In all these, CUMI EMD manufacturers and supplies well defined size ranges from coarse particles to microfine powders with focus on meeting the emerging customer requirements. From South Africa at Foskor we manufacture and supply fine varieties of monoclinic and calciastabilised zirconia. CUMI EMD in Kochi has recently added a state of the art facility for the production of monoclinic bubble zirconia. This together with its well-established world class facility for fine powder processing would produce zirconias to meet the requirements in specialty refractory and casting applications as well as uses in other current and emerging applications. A co-generated product from bubble zirconia manufacturing process is silica fumes which are being offered for refractories and insulation castables. We have also introduced stabilised zirconia powders for thermal barrier coatings and are focusing on building markets for this range of products.
Coming to the transformational range of products in this segment we have put up a plant for the manufacture of fibre free low density alumina through a technology transfer from Israel. This product, Nebulox is very unique due to its micro porous foam structure with a very low thermal conductivity as low as 0.5 watts / mK at 1600 deg C with possibilities to save energy to the tune of 30% when compared to conventional high temperature refractory insulations. These are available as free bubbles, boards or shapes depending up on the end use for conventional as well as special purpose applications in aerospace, bio and microwave applications.
Refwin: As you know, imports from China are also a major source of electro minerals for the India Market. How does this affect CUMI Electro Minerals Division ? What advantages are there for CUMI’s electro Minerals Products?
Mr. P S Jayan: Though imports of electro minerals into India plays crucial role in refractories, consistency in all aspects (delivery, quality, consistent price and lower inventory) and application specific support gives regular refractory products from CUMI EMD a unique and key space in the market and outweighs the price differential. Also CUMI EMD shall continue its efforts to grow on specialty products. The collaborative approach to establish adjacent and transformational product is providing a definite advantage to both CUMI-EMD and our customers.
Refwin: Industrial alumina prices in China have been rising since early 2016, which pushed the BFA and WFA companies to have cut their profits to survive under the weak market demand. How about the raw materials cost in India and your company?
Mr. P S Jayan: The pressures of the costs are a universal phenomenon. The price decreases in the past years have not been uniform for raw material and the finished products. Also the general view has been that the prices of BFA, WFA and SiC had been depressed below what the market would justify due to issues of over-capacity in the industry and price corrections are anyway overdue and have also begun as many of these over capacities have been corrected. Last year, irrespective of the global alumina prices there has been an increase in the calcined alumina prices in India. Also, the Alumina producers had been supplying alumina at a lower rate than the current prices when the LME was higher. We need to watch on the prices in this segment in India. However, squeezing margins in BFA and WFA are a reality. Efficiency improvement, new investments and the product mix are contributing to improve the situation for us. The impact due to raw materials and energy prices are significant. However, we should also mention that we have a stable supply source for the raw materials we require and while prices are not within anyone’s individual control, we have excellent relationships with our partners to ensure business continuity for our customers.
Refwin: What is CUMI’s general strategy in the refractories segment? How do you see developments in the medium term?
Refractory segment is evolving to provide innovative solutions to their customers which gives innovative organisations like CUMI-EMD opportunities to focus on application specific minerals to our customers by partnering with them in this journey. On regular products, we continue to focus on efficient operations and quality products which will help customers provide quality solutions to their markets. Therefore focused growth in specialties, efficient operations and a balanced mix of products / applications would be CUMI EMD’s approach for the refractory segment. For silicon carbide, the prices had already hit the rock bottom. We expect corrections to be seen in prices in the medium term both in SiC and Aluminas.
Refwin: Thanks you very much for talking to us!