Executives in India's rotational molding sector believe they have escaped the worst of the world economic slowdown, although one prominent estimate said the financial turmoil is likely to slow growth in the domestic sector to less than its current 8 percent.
In interviews at the Society of Asian Rotomolders Star conference, held Feb. 1-3 in Noida, executives acknowledged that the industry faces some challenges from the economic slowdown, as well as internal problems, including a lack of industry standards and a lower technology base.
But they also painted a picture of decent prospects, based on the strong growth in construction and other infrastructure spending, and offered a sense that in their opinions, India's domestic economy has been less affected by the global slowdown.
``We have been visiting a lot of customers here and we do not see so much of a negative impact on customers as in other markets,'' said Venkit Mahadevan, general manager of Mumbai-based Ico Polymers India, part of Houston-based Ico Polymers. ``The global recession has not affected us as much in India.''
An executive with Mumbai-based plastic maker Reliance Industries Ltd., which supplies more than half the resin to the country's rotomolders, said that industry demand for raw materials is solid.
``Some of these guys are at my throat for more materials,'' said Raju Venkat, head of the department of product and application technology at Reliance.
He told conference attendees the industry would likely grow 8 percent during the Reliance fiscal year that ends March 31. But in an interview after his Feb. 2 speech, Venkat predicted that afterward, growth may slow to between 4 and 7 percent.
Several executives said they believe India's domestic rotomolders will fare better because the industry is mainly focused on domestic markets, with little focus on exports.
India's domestic auto industry has suffered, but sectors like agriculture and construction have held steady, mirroring the larger trend that domestically oriented companies in India's plastics industry have generally fared well, Venkat said.
``India is largely a home consumption market,'' said Ico's Mahadevan.
That solid growth starts from what is a small domestic market, compared to other countries. India has about 270 rotomolding companies with 550 lines and an annual resin consumption of about 190 million pounds, according to Reliance estimates.
The industry does not make enough use of technology, and its development is hurt by a lack of standards, which makes it difficult to get into new markets like waste bins, where injection molding predominates, said S. B. Dangayach, managing director of rotomolder Sintex Industries Ltd. in Kalol, India.
Reliance's Venkat said the industry suffers from a lack of local access to higher-grade materials, such as cross-linked polyethylene, and a limited range of product offerings. For example, more than 80 percent of India's rotomolding production is for water tanks.
One industrial designer giving a speech at the conference encouraged local firms to tackle the furniture market and make better use of product design. Rotomolding is cheaper than injection molding and is easier to customize, said Alamelu Pasupathy, a freelance designer based in Ahmedabad.
``I see a huge opportunity for using rotomolding in furniture,'' she said.
India's rotomolding sector is seeing increasing foreign investment, and some industry officials said they believe the industry is on the cusp of taking on more demanding and more lucrative markets, such as automobile fuel tanks.
Italian firm Nuova Simplast Snc set up a rotomolding factory in March in Noida, its first outside its base in Europe, and just the second foreign-owned rotomolding operation in India, said Balbir Bhasin, director of the Indian operation, Simplast India Pvt. Ltd.
He said the factory makes fuel tanks for Indian operations of multinational tractor makers and is profitable, but he acknowledged that the company has put plans on hold to add more capacity this year because of the economic uncertainty, including in the auto market.
An executive with KÃ³pavogur, Iceland-based rotational molder Promens hf said it plans to add another manufacturing line at its India factory this year, where it makes more sophisticated products like insulated food containers.
Promens, too, has seen a small reduction in domestic demand from the financial crisis but sees opportunities for more sophisticated products in India, said Swetang Dave, managing director of Promens India in Ahmedabad.
Ico said it also was actively studying setting up compounding and pulverizing operations in India, because it believes that local companies cannot supply the color and other technical requirements the market increasingly needs.
``I think this industry is ready to graduate,'' said Andy Ubhi, vice president of Middle East and India operations for Ico.