The All Indian Industrial Gas Manufacturers Association (AIIGMA) has officially opened its 39th seminar on industrial gases at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Abu Dhabi, a spectacular hotel situated opposite the striking Grand Mosque.

Vineet Chandgothia, Owner of KVK Corporation, welcomed all delegates and explained how the organisation has grown within India in recent years, as well as stretching its presence by holding events in seven other countries including the one currently taking place – its 2017 annual conference.

Chandgothia introduced esteemed guest speaker Dinesh Kumar, First Secretary of Development to the Indian High Commission in Abu Dhabi. Kumar revealed how he was confident in further investment across the UAE following the contributions that the members of AIIGMA have already financed.

Current President Anish Patel welcomed over 200 delegates to the opening. Under this year’s event theme of New Challenges - New Solutions, he spoke about the significant growth in the production and use of industrial gases in the region in the 1970s. Due to this rapid growth, it was identified that a body to represent the industry was needed to build relationships with the Indian government, and so AIIGMA was incorporated in 1975. Now, the organisation has 310 member companies.

Patel then switched the focus to the current day, expressing his belief that the Indian industrial gas industry could be increasing its trade with UAE – a relationship boasting a long trading history dating back over 3,000 years. But he said that the challenge for our industry lies in finding the right people to work in our industry, a task that is currently being addressed by training programmes.

Digitisation effect

With digitisation infiltrating every corner of our society, Patel acknowledged how the change in technologies is also a growing challenge for our industry. He outlined how our industry aims to embrace these changes but cautioned that the technology change is accelerating and we are simply not keeping up. 

He also mentioned how the introduction of Goods and Service Tax (GST) in India will present challenges for our industry, and how AIIGMA members need to be prepared. Patel concluded with optimism, saying our industry and AIIGMA members will have a great chance of success to meet these challenges head on.

Guest speaker Kumar then took to the stage, thanking Patel for inviting him to attend the 39th seminar. He too touched upon the influence of digitisation, explaining how India has been trying to embrace new technologies, especially electronic and digital processes. He said the use of technologies will be the key to help reduce the costs of producing gases, which should in turn boost demand.

KR Sahasranam, General Secretary, then highlighted how the growth in the metals, chemicals and glass sectors in India has enhanced demand for industrial gases – but he also outlined several challenges. One such obstacle is the need for consistent energy or power supply, and the industry needs to address the costs of cylinder distribution throughout the country. However, the future looks bright as he revealed that the oxygen demand across various industries is growing twice as much as gross domestic product (GDP), with other gases such as argon, nitrogen and hydrogen growing even faster.

Saket Tiku, Chairman of the Organising Committee, then thanked the Indian Embassy for its continued support to AIIGMA. AIIGMA awarded recognition to Siddharthbhai Patel, the Chairman of Aims Oxygen, and RP Khator, Chairman of Bombay Oxygen, for their continued support to the organisation. Both had previously represented AIIGMA at President level on two different occasions.

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Siddharthbhai Patel, Chairman of Aims Industries, being presented for his continued support of AIIGMA.

Treasurer Rajeev Gupta then gave a vote of thanks and set the stage for the first session of the conference which focuses on current innovative solutions within the industry and some of the challenges that have arisen.

First session

Joerg Peter Mehrer, CEO of Mehrer Compressions GmbH, opened the first session of the day, which was introduced by Karthik Kannan of Tamilnadu Air Products, focusing on the innovative solutions and technologies in gas compressors. 

Mehrer Compressions is a fifth generation, family-owned company that was founded in 1889. Mehrer explained that the two types of compressor solutions – piston systems and diaphragm systems – are provided by today’s suppliers in either components or complete packages of compressors.

Compressors are used across a wide variety of industries, including the industrial gases sector, with applications including syngas pre-configuration, hydrogen, helium, oxygen and nitrogen compressors. Mehrer underlined his belief that creating both standard and bespoke solutions will help customers to become more efficient in their processes.

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First session speakers (L-R): Keith Stewart, Joerg Mehrer and Karthnik Kannan.

Next to present was Keith Stewart, Global Sales Manager for Herose GmbH and Ltd, who discussed the challenges and solutions in today’s valve technology. His overriding message was that the technology change needs to make safety its primary goal and that cutting corners is simply not a solution.

One of the key drivers for Herose was to create designs that can reduce localised installation costs but also maintain safety integrity. Stewart reinforced that companies need to continue to develop this technology but highlighted that there is also a need to make it easier to use and install.

Stewart revealed some engineered solutions that Herose has recently introduced to the market. The first was the unveiling of automatic filling valves that help fill liquid tanks quickly but consistently. The improvement of valve technologies means that the operating valves can sustain operations for up to a decade, saving significant money or CAPEX in the bulk business.

The other form of tailored solutions for our industry, Stewart highlighted, is to change the insulation of cryogenic storage tanks from perlite to blanket insulation as well as using high-tech paper and foil to improve insulation performance. The paper/foil sheet is perforated so vacuums can be pulled effectively and speedily. According to Stewart, these engineered solutions will speed up production and make the manufacturing process easier.

Joint ventures

The next session focused on the collaborations and strategies put in place to overcome the challenges within India’s industrial gas industry. The session was chaired by Mack Valves Chairman Ravin Michandani and featured a panel of three representatives from the industrial gases sector who had become involved in joint ventures (JVs) to drive growth in India.

First in the line-up was Padam Agarwala, Director of Ellenbarrie Industrial Gases, who had recently partnered with Air Water Inc. of Japan. The second panelist was Kieran Karnawat, CEO of K-Air, a JV with Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation (TNSC) to build a helium business. Karnawat’s experience was different to that of Agarwala’s as his key issue was getting access to molecules. TNSC had this access through its US subsidiary Matheson, so K-Air believed it made sense to partner with the Tier One corporation.

“The key to a successful relationship is being open in discussions in order to build trust in the team”

Renato Imeri, Business Development Director, SOL Group

The third panelist was SOL Group’s Business Development Director Renato Imeri, who is responsible for the company’s businesses and acquisitions in India. As SOL is effectively a family business, the company looked for an equivalent family-run business in India. Imeri revealed that it has already found two and recently added a third to its acquisition portfolio.

Mirchandani questioned the cultural challenges that arise when working with another partner that is not Indian. Imeri responded, “The key to a successful relationship is being open in discussions in order to build trust in the team,” whilst Karnawat added, “K-Air benefited from both a western and eastern input as MATHESON was the driver in the relationship, but Japan always wanted to be involved in the business in order to understand the culture of India and its work ethic.”

Agarwala mentioned the challenges surrounding the bottom line and interpretation of the main financial goals in Indian JVs. He said it was of utmost importance to trust the partner and added that whilst better systems and processes have been put in place which helped Ellenbarrie Industrial Gases, the general decision process to move from a family owned or financially independent company to one with a major JV partner has tended to slow in recent years.