B Santhanam
B Santhanam

Saint-Gobain India breaks into Group’s global top 5 earners

The next decade would see SGRI accelerating on the research front, as it looks to expand the scope of this function.

CHENNAI: Saint-Gobain’s India operations now occupy a pride of place among the French float glass major’s global business, with its strong annual revenue growth placing it among the top-five markets.

B Santhanam, CEO, Asia Pacific and India region, and chairman, Saint-Gobain India, in an interaction with DT Next, said, “We have grown nicely, responsibly and sustainably.” The thrust on energy conservation (70 per cent of energy use from renewables) was a fact he sought to emphasise by stating that of the Rs 1,800 crore capex allocation, Rs 200 crore was purely for sustainability.

“We believe in walking the talk when it comes to sustainability. We are working towards carbon neutrality goals of 2050 and it is a matter of pride that the India business has won an award for sustainability,” he said.

As part of expanding its India product portfolio, Saint-Gobain has started a separate strategic business unit (SBU) that is focused on recycling and circularity solutions.

“We process construction debris waste and the recycled material for our Perungudi plant,” Santhanam said.

Refractory steel and ceramic lining are some of the application areas that the SBU seeks to leverage. For this purpose, Saint-Gobain has tied up with NGOs to ease up the process of recycling glass and waste.

Efforts in the area of R&D have been exemplified by the Saint-Gobain Research India (SGR India) facility completing 10 years.

The uniqueness of SGRI is unlike the globally-owned R&D facilities of Saint-Gobain, the Chennai housed unit is on a long-term lease, he said, highlighting the exception made owing to the research prowess of SGRI that has 30 patents to its credit this year.

SGRI, one of the eight cross-functional R&D centres for the Saint-Gobain group, began operations in 2012. Located within the IIT-Madras Research Park, the R&D facility, spread over 1.20 lakh sqft, was set up with an investment of about Rs 150 crore.

“We have been working on several innovative products, be it in the sphere of automotive glazing, antenna development, low-cost connectivity, windshield display and thermal glass-coated solutions or even working on sub-atomic probes,” Santhanam said, exuding happiness over the centre working on fundamental science and building its material science capabilities.

“It is a copybook centre where there is stability of researchers. By 2025, we are looking at 150 patents and our research areas include biomass, hydrogen, electrification of factories,” he said, noting that the centre designed for hot and humid climate solutions would be increasingly doing work for other geographies with similar climatic conditions.

The next decade would see SGRI accelerating on the research front, as it looks to expand the scope of this function. Of the 225 people in the research centre, nearly 30 per cent are women.

“These researchers are being hired from tier III locations such as Rajapalayam, Theni and Kota,” Santhanam said.

After reporting 16 per cent attrition last year, the company would continue to make productive investment in its 8,000-strong workforce. “Attrition is now around 10 to 11 per cent. One in four employees are in IT, digital and R&D divisions where it has seen the maximum attrition,” he said.

Acknowledging the impact of global economic uncertainties, Santhanam said while the company was braving for slower growth, there is no slowing down on investments. The Bhiwadi plant in Rajasthan (the world’s biggest flat glass facility at an investment of Rs 1,200 crore) would be inaugurated in the Q2 of 2023, he said, adding Saint-Gobain’s capacity from 1.3 million tonnes will be 1.6 million tonnes by next year.

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