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“Customers want products to talk to them”

Satish Jamdar, Managing Director, Blue Star, speaks to B Surendar about a wide range of subjects concerning the industry

| | Jul 16, 2014 | 9:41 pm
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Satish Jamdar, Managing Director, Blue Star, and Director of Blue Star Electro-Mechanical Ltd, has spearheaded many projects for his company and was responsible for the Service Business, International Operations. He speaks to B Surendar about a wide range of subjects concerning the industry, including VRFs, best practices and business opportunities in the region in light of a palpable market recovery.

july2014-interview01Are you looking for a larger footprint for your VRF technology in the region? What distinguishes your VRF system from that of others in the market?

I feel VRF is good, and we are in it. But I think, sort of a blind application of VRF is not necessarily correct. We are able to provide multiple solutions – plain ducted, chiller-cum-AHU…. Depending on energy efficiency, application, and diversity, a horses-for-courses approach is the best. An excessive slant towards any product is not the way forward. It can kill or remove the ability of some of those product lines.

I spoke of us being able to provide multiple solutions. In this regard, one-to-one inverter technology is becoming popular. Inverter-based ducted units and inverter-based split units in India are very energy efficient, and the fact that they use less refrigerant is good. Inverters are not coming here [into the GCC] in a big way, and I’m surprised that inverter-based technology has not taken off here, because it can replace splits. Our inverter systems match the five-star rating requirements of ESMA.

VRFs of Blue Star are the only ones being sold in India right now. In Muscat, last year, we supplied small units and some in Dubai. In terms of our VRF evolution, we designed digital-scroll-based VRF systems in 2006-2007. Then, we launched a revised version that ran on R410A. And now we will be launching an inverter-based VRF system in the next two-three months.

ESMA in the UAE and SASO in KSA are raising the bar on energy efficiency. In a recent interview to Climate Control Middle East, one of the senior directors at ESMA spoke of relegating the current top-star rating standard to a three-star-rating status, essentially signalling ESMA’s intent to raise the energy-efficiency standards of products being sold in the UAE. What initiatives is Blue Star taking towards innovations leading to energy efficiency?

The internal guideline for any product of Blue Star is that it has to comply with T3 conditions. And internally we test for 55°C, and we have declared up to 52°C without tripping.

We have pushed VRF technology into the GCC with four-five projects in Oman and two-three projects in Dubai. Once our inverter-based VRF system is ready in three months, maybe we will be here in full force next year.

All the compressors we are planning are inverter-based. We have an in-house psychrometric lab to test at design conditions. We can simulate up to 52°C and demonstrate on site. It’s a certified lab.

Coming to regulations in the GCC region, regulations need to be consolidated, though. JAFZA, Dubai Municipality, Estidama are examples of different sets of regulations within the same country. Why have so many different approaches if the purpose is the same?

What are Blue Star’s plans and strategies for exporting to the region?

We were getting aggressive in 2009. In fact, in 2008-2009, we opened an office here. India was also growing. We at Blue Star grew four and a half times in this period. Obviously, it was a strain on our human resources, and at the time, all of the GCC was booming. In fact, all the countries around the world were seemingly booming. And the problem of the “Great Recession” hit India in 2008. But India as a country is big, with a large mass. The GDP growth was five per cent. But the Middle East fall was precipitous, and I know there was a lot of turmoil here. So, our ambition to push more products into the Middle East took a backseat.

We recently found that the UAE and Qatar have started showing signs of sustainable growth. So we have recaptured our thoughts.

For the last six months, things have been getting better. We are seeing a lot of internal investments here and possibly another boom. And whether it sustains or not, time will tell. This region, including Africa wants to come up. So in the Middle East, Dubai could be a good base, especially with EXPO 2020 and FIFA 2022. You have something to sustain with the two events. I think something’s going to happen. There is a decent growth (15-20%) on the cards from the base level, and even 40%. Africa will grow, and the Middle East, therefore, will be a hub. On the flip side, it seems volatile. Iraq has cropped up, and if anything happens, [market] sentiment could drop.

We are looking at how to reorient, and this time around, we are going into Africa. We have appointed dealers in Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania. Nigeria is our next target. And so is Uganda. It’s part of a three-year plan.

Before that, we looked at SAARC countries. We officially launched in Sri Lanka last year. Maldives, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar – that’s also part of the three-year plan.

In India, after 2003-2008 boom, certainly we witnessed a slowdown. It became generally a more consumer-oriented business rather than investment and infrastructure-oriented business. Sentiment is more positive with [Prime Minister] Modi. We are looking at revival of Blue Star growth in India.

Yes, there are hiccups like Iraq, but overall, we should see three to five years of growth. India, the Middle East and Africa are all growing. So we have multiple prongs for growth.

We need to get distributorship right in all these countries. Every country has its own standards. So customising the products is essential, and so there is a lot of load on R&D. We might have to add capacity on that front. We are also thinking of options of an assembly line here; it’s on the drawing board. Having an assembly line in the Middle East will give us flexibility.

Often-times, the issues that keep cropping up in the region have to do with lack of engineering best practices as a standard approach. A few consulting and contracting firms with a fastidious approach does not mean the entire industry is at a certain acceptable standard. What is Blue Star doing to empower and foster engineering excellence, be it related to installation or O&M?

R&D, innovations in products, services and manufacturing processes are key strengths. Revival of business sentiment in India has propped up everyone in India.

Secondly, we are challenged by regulatory requirements, as we are manufacturers and designers. At the core is the need to look for more energy efficiency and the need to align with the rest of the world… inverters and Turbocor are the result.

Thirdly, we need to consider the work that has gone into the choice of a refrigerant. For four to five years, the pressure was on ODP, and so we moved with 410A and 407C. But soon, people said there is more to it. The auto industry and HVACR industry are driving the change. I can see a move towards a more natural refrigerant, like CO2 or ammonia. Then, there are the hydrocarbons, like HC 290. At an R&D level, we have built a prototype and will be ready to launch in three to four months.

And we have signed up with Daikin on the R32 front for incorporating it in inverter split systems. Those we will launch next year in India.

Overall, the world is at an experimental stage as regards refrigerants, so the challenge is for us to have multiple prototypes. When everyone is guessing what the next refrigerant is going to be, we are ready with multiple prototypes.

,Some of the refrigerants that are being used as interim refrigerants now have disadvantages compared to R22. The de-rating of some of the gases is a concern. There is no choice but to be flexible. If two streams of refrigerants are coming up, we would want to straddle both. We want to be refrigerant-agnostic.

Customers are intelligent – they want products to talk to them, have automation, remote monitoring of big chillers, which is something we have already accomplished. When sophistication enters the field, we need to be ready with expertise and also smart thinking. Remote monitoring allows us to have fewer experts handling 10-15 projects. Blue Star also has an electronics division, whose concerns include intelligent use of remote, CCTV, video, etc. We are trying to marry these capabilities with the air conditioning side of things.

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