Headlines Interviews

Uniflex Cables: Conspicuous by Growth

Standing at a volume worth Rs. 600 Cr. in 2013-14, Uniflex positioned its focus well on rubber and fiber optic cables registering a noticeable 75 and 100 percent growth respectively.

Uniflex Cables, now a part of Apar Group, is a leading cable manufacturer and exporter in the country. Since its inception in 1981 with the elastomeric cable division, Uniflex Cable is now able to manufacture a wide range of cables – all conceivable variety of power and data transmission cables being catered to an extensive domestic and overseas market.

The company, in recent times, has exhibited tremendous growth in both electrical and telecommunication cables with its Electron Beam cables registering significant presence in the market. Wire & Cable India recently had an elaborate chat with Mr. V. K. Bajaj, CEO, Uniflex Cables where he expounded in detail the company basics, growth strategies, and technological developments which put the company on right course to better future ahead the curve. Excerpts:

Wire & Cable India: First, tell us about how Uniflex Cables is doing in the cable market in India and elsewhere. Both your electrical and telecom cables have grown at 45 percent during 2013-14, what’s the scenario in 2014-15?

V. K. Bajaj: The performance of Uniflex Cable division continues to be good both from domestic as well as in export market. As we have reached a good volume of about Rs. 600 Cr in 2013-14, we went into consolidation phase with an objective to improve our margins by altering the product mix, with more focus on rubber cables and fiber optic cables, instead of improving XLPE cables. We could maintain the topline to about Rs. 600 Cr, and significantly improved our contribution margins by reducing XLPE and improved other cables. The fiber optic cable business grew 100 percent and rubber cables about 75 percent, while XLPE volume was sacrificed due to un-remunerative market prices. The fiber optic and rubber cables are being further improved in 2015-16. The business volume of Electron Beam cables has also improved significantly.

Due to depressed market conditions in the XLPE cable sector coupled with poor payment performance from utilities/EPC, there has been some churning in the industry. Several of the XLPE cable manufacturers have downsized their business and some of them like HVPL, General cables have closed their operations, and some are actively considering that option.

WCI: How do you find the Indian cable market now when the economy seems buoyed with the new political dispensation? Is it also buoyed, or will take some more time to meet the expectations of cable makers?

VKB: It is true that the business sentiment in the economy is buoyed under the new political dispensation, however, it is yet to reach the ground. The declining trend of the economy certainly has been arrested and things have started looking up. In our assessment, it may take another year for see the full light of ‘acche din’, but it should happen soon. The demand for our major focus products renewable energy cables (both windmill and solar) as well as fiber optic cables has increased considerably improving our business prospects. The demand for XLPE continues to be sluggish and so is their contribution margin.

WCI: We are curious to know about your technologically advanced project at Khatelwad with Electron Beam Accelerators. When the set up was put in place and when did it start operations?

VKB: We commissioned our Electron Beam (EB) accelerators; the 1.5 Mev in early 2013 and 3 MeV in mid 2013 and have given boost to our specialty cable business. We have successfully developed cables for locomotives, shipping and submarines, windmill and solar industry. We have also developed 125°C LT XLPE cables. We also developed 150°C EPR rubber cables. The demand for these products is increasing in India as well as in overseas markets. More application based products (like automotive cables and wires, flexible panel wires etc.) are under development. To improve machine utilization, we are also offering the (EB) facility as service centre (on hourly charge basis) for several non cable products to proliferate the technology. The service centre products include heat shrink products, O-Rings, precious gem stones and diamonds, pipes, PTFE besides medical sterilization.

WCI: Tell us briefly about the E-Beam technology. How is it is used in your cables and to what purpose?

VKB: The EB technology is almost 50 years old and has been in limited use in US, Russia and Europe. However, since Nineties, the technology has been harnessed commercially all over the world. The Chinese developed the manufacturing of EB accelerators and made it quite affordable. There are almost 1000 EB accelerators installed all over the world, and over 60 percent of it is deployed in the cable industry. In China alone, about 300 Electron Beam accelerators are deployed for cable industry application.

The typical Electron Beam (EB) accelerator comprises an Electron Gun that emits Electrons when a very high voltage is applied. The High Voltage 1.5 MeV (Million Electron Volt) and 3 MeV represents the high voltage applied to generate electrons. These electrons are guided and accelerated in an acceleration tube. At the end of the acceleration tube, there is an electro-magnetic deflection mechanism that works like a scanner. The electrons are at very high speed and if there is no scanning system, it can burn the product. The cable product to be cross-linked is passed under the scanner and is hit by these electrons and that energy is absorbed partly in the product and it excites the outermost periphery electron leading to creating carbon-carbon double bond that is called cross linking. The under beam handling system is equally important for efficient accomplishment of the process.

WCI: The E-Beam irradiation curing of elastomer and other polymeric cables has several advantages over conventional steam/dry curing method. Please elaborate.

VKB: In the chemical cross linking, the process takes place under heat and pressure using cross linking agent. In the EB process, the cross linking takes place at room temperature by high speed electrons, thus the physical properties of polymer are not compromised. While in the EB process, almost 80-85 percent of molecules get cross-linked, the chemical cross linking can at best do cross-linking of only 50-60 percent of the molecules. Therefore, the EB process leads to far more superior products offering with better physical properties.

The EB cross linking technology, as at present, is more suitable for LT cables only and not for medium voltage cables, therefore comparison with dry cure/steam cure is not relevant. Yes, it is a dry curing process for LT cables.

WCI: Finally, what do you think of ‘Make in India’ in reference to the growth of wire and cable industry? Just in brief.

VKB: Most of the cable manufacturers had already taken initiative since last few years to explore global opportunities due to depressed market conditions in the domestic market. However, ‘Make in India’ adds to the sentiment. It may have been better if some additional incentives for increasing the exports were granted to motivate Indian manufacturers to explore wider overseas markets. In certain areas like renewable energy (both windmill and solar), locomotives, shipping, automotive etc., lot of cables are still being imported. These are slowly getting localized. In fact, there are opportunities to supply these products to the global principles based on satisfactory performance with their Indian JV operations.