NBG Holding GmbH: Producer of Niche Fiber In Metal Tube (FIMT) & Fiber Optic Sensor Applications (FOSA)
NBG Holding with its daughter companies is designing, developing and producing some of the finest, cutting-edge products and solutions in the field of fiber optics, both for transmission and sensing applications, for the cable industry.
NBG Holding GmbH is a privately owned Austrian group to develop, certify and produce FIMT – Fiber In Metal Tube, to develop and integrate FOSA – Fiber Optic Sensor Applications and consulting services for FttH – Fiber to the Home. The company’s steel tubes with integrated optic fibers and sensing applications are widely used by the wire and cable industry. As a producer of a niche intermediate product, the company also provides consultative services and does the project management where its products are used.
WCI recently interviewed Mr. Karl Bauer, MD/CEO, NBG Holding GmbH to know more about the high technology products they make and the company’s expectations from the Indian market, where it has collaborated with SIMCO Materials International Pvt. Ltd. to market its products. Excerpts:
Wire & Cable India: To start with, tell me about your company in brief.
Karl Bauer: We are an Austrian company called NBG Holding, founded in 1996. Prior to that, we were working as another company since 1982 in the field of fiber optics. Then, in 2003, we founded another company (under NBG Holding), i.e. FCT GmbH, to produce speciality steel tubes with integrated optical fiber or Fiber in Metal Tube (FIMT), as it’s technically called. We are the independent producer of FIMT. Besides, NBG Holding is constituted by other companies, viz. NBG Systems Gmbh and NBG FOSA GmbH and is having shareholdings in companies like Safibra s.r.o. corporation, Infra Sensor Solutions, and flexKom corporation, each of these working in various specialized fields of fiber optics.
As a producer of steel tubes with integrated optical fiber, we have a unique selling proposition (USP) in the market as we are in fact the only neutral supplier of such intermediate products; we don’t have an end-product to bring competition for customers in the wire and cable industry. Our FIMTs are extensively used in producing high quality sensing cables and telecom cables.
Having worked much on various optical fiber technologies and machines, we developed our own set of machines and tools to design and develop FIMTs and this has been 14 years now producing these highly specialized products with these machines. These machines are quicker, have more ability and are very cost-effective, which are very important aspects.
As of now, we produce around 11,000 km of steel tubes or FIMT every year for the cable industry. And, going by the percentage, cable industry is around 60 percent OPGW, around 25 percent sub-marine or under water cable, and 15 percent special sensory cables.
Apart from producing these FIMT, NBG also develops, integrates and provides turnkey solutions in the field of fiber optic sensing applications (FOSA) such as structural health monitoring, distributed temperature, strain sensing or Weight-in-motion concepts, and sensing the presence of oil and metal underground for down-hole industry (under the company NBG FOSA GmbH). When we speak about high temperature cable, it refers to specialty steel tubes which can withstand the temperature of 550⁰C or even more than that; it is very special material and caters to niche market.
Apart from this, we not only have niche market for stainless steel tubes, but we have also strain testing tubes which sense by themselves with the help of fiber sensors on it. As 5 years ago, we observed that the strain testing tube market is getting stronger and we looked for possibility to acquire some know-how to have measuring equipment. Now our product portfolio includes the strain testing tubes as well as hardware and software to develop the same. Also, we have founded two companies doing the project management where we do the observation of railways (including speed, weight and position of trains), bending of railways, cable theft, fire sensing and so on.
WCI: So, you are making many intermediate products to be further used by the cable industry to make end-product. Can you share the name of these products with us?
KB: Yes, we make FIMT (Fiber in Metal Tubes) with diameter of 1 mm to 7 mm and 1 fiber to 96 fibers.
Also, we make specialty optical fiber cables for harsh environments for the use in oil and gas sectors. These special cables for harsh environments with integrated optical fiber have typical diameter of 6,35 mm (1/4 inch) and 24 maximum fibers. These are generally suitable for high temperature wires that have to bear high pressure and stay in temperature as high as 550⁰C. For instance, for oil or metal extraction, you have a down-hole, where you put these special cables; these cables have to bear high temperature and high pressure to get accurate measurements out of the bore hole. So, this is a very special thing that we do for the niche market.
Later on, we came up with the complete sensor equipment including the project management so that we could do complete projects all across the globe. These projects include railways, roads, bridges, and for industries including transport, oil, and security. As far as security is concerned, one of the major aspects is border control; for which, we have these wires underground and when somebody walks over it, we can measure their exact movement. It is spread over hundreds of km and plays an important role for security reasons in critical situations. When somebody walks over these cables or passes by, it creates vibration on the fiber to give a sense / measurement of the movement.
Also, these cables are used for leakage detection in underground pipelines wherein we have the cable placed over the pipeline or nearby; when there is some leakage, we can measure it immediately because of the vibrations in fiber. In another application, by integrating FIMT in High Voltage Power cables, our customers are able to sense the temperature along the length of the power cables.
WCI: In projects or project management, what do you do exactly?
KB: If somebody from oil and gas industry comes to us, we train the people about the product and process. Then, we do all the project management on the site. But, the end-product is going to be completely different as we are different company altogether. Our major thing is to do with fiber optic metal tubes and training people about fiber optics, sensing applications, etc.
WCI: Is this FIMT really that niche and high-technology product?
KB: Yes, it is absolutely a niche and high-technology product. Also, in Fiber in Metal Tubes (FIMT), when we look in to our competition on the high-quality things, I think we are there on top. Also, in the field of fiber optic sensing, which is project-based, we are one of the top 5 players.
WCI: Please share with us the recent trends in the transmission of power and data together. What is your company doing to address challenges over there?
KB: OPGW is the main product. Again, if we speak about submarine cables, it is niche. In case of sub-marine cables, the tube has to be as long as possible as it cannot have many splices. The production of submarine tubes cost a lot of money as you have to make long tubes as there should be no leakage because it is underwater and could otherwise be destroyed. In today’s time, I think we produce the longest, i.e. the length of 25 km in one piece; there is one tail running of the machine without any failure or without any slow movement on the machine. This is one of the things that we are currently doing.
Another thing is when you produce multilayer specialty tubes like this, it is not easy as it is 5 tubes – one tube over other; everything has to fulfill absolute minute requirements. When we speak about 400 MPa (MegaPascal) or when we speak about 550⁰C temperature, where this cable should work, you have to fill in specialty fibers and the metal coating should be used instead of plastic. Such a cable is priced up to 700 Euros per meter including these specialty fibers. There is only one company that produce metal coated fibers; so, we have really specialty products to cater this niche market.
WCI: How do you think the market in India is right now?
KB: Our representative in India, SIMCO Materials International has mentioned that the Indian market demand for OPGW is roughly at about 38,000 km per year. All new Power lines are now going to be with OPGW and Indian utility companies are also replacing old lines with OPGW. Considering this, we feel strongly about the Indian market, even though some projects are on hold due to monsoon, as per our customers in India. We are expecting things to start improving from January 2017.
WCI: Do you think being patient with the Indian market will pay eventually?
KB: Well, of course. I think so and India is such a huge market. There are huge infrastructural requirements, in energy, power, data, railways, defense etc., which eventually will lead to increase in demand.
WCI: Apart from the market potential, what else are possibilities as a manufacturer?
KB: See, the product that we have is not easy to produce. To have a machine is one aspect, but to have the know-how is completely different. There are so many things that you have to know to get good results out of it. Moreover, there may be a possibility where we can invest in a machine here in India to produce locally for the Indian market. We have one machine that could produce min 5000 km per year of tubes for cables; so, this could be a possibility in future.
WCI: So, you are suggesting towards some techno-commercial joint venture?
KB: Yes, sort of. It won’t be purely tech-nical, but commercial too, as we don’t like to sell our know-how. We would like to join somebody when we have success in the market as then it would be alright to share our know-how.