Brian Schou Nielsen, Director, Fibertex Nonwovens, says that the push being given to all-round infrastructure development is also likely to positively impact demand for geosynthetic materials in India.
What is the market potential for geosynthetic?
At the moment, we estimate the market to be around 130 million square metres. And we expect this to potentially double within the next five to six years. So maybe we are talking about 200 million square metres. This is also the reason why we have moved into India as we see good potential in this market segment. We are aware that there are some challenges involved. Like there is a need for educating the market in the use of geosynthetics, especially in the roads and railways sectors. So we all have to work together. It is a question of creating awareness because there has been an improvement in technology around the world, and using geosynthetics has become mandatory in several countries. Also, the end users in India are at a point where they can see value addition and benefits in terms of geosynthetics. In the coming years, you will witness a huge momentum. We are working on some projects in the northeast region and I feel that when people see their results, they will start focusing on introducing geosynthetics in the construction of roads and railways, shoreline protection and waste processing.
As one of the leading maker of geosynthetic materials, how do you propose to educate potential users here?
We are working with our competitors to show benefits of using geosynthetics to end users. And we have been quite successful there. We are actively involved with various groups, and when any norms are made, we participate there as we have the knowledge and competence to provide inputs. I think what is also required in India is that the industry should get together and finalise some kind of a standard or codes or guidelines for the use of geosynthetics. You could easily adopt European or US norms; however, they are devised for the European or American weather and soil conditions. I think that is why it is important to find an Indian code of practice for using geosynthetics. That will help a lot of people.
Given the fact that you are quite upbeat about the growth potential of the Indian market, which sectors of the economy do you foresee as driving the growth in demand for your products?
It will be infrastructure. We have set up business in India because a huge improvement is expected in the infrastructure sector. Otherwise we wouldn´t be in India. We also plan to use India as a manufacturing hub for all parts of Southeast Asia. We like the fact that there is a huge potential. That the government is putting in lot of funds to improve infrastructure. And I hope that it will also realise the benefits of using geosynthetics. So it is roads and railways and, of course, environment and waste management.
How old is Fibertex in the Indian market?
We have started this year as a private limited company. But we have had a representative here for the past three years, as part of our build-up. Being a European company, we have to adapt to the local conditions here. In order to be able to do so, we need to know and learn how things are done in India. So we used those three years to learn about the Indian market, the way to do business here and prepare ourselves for the challenges we are likely to face. We were always aware that we won´t be able to go full blast from day one. Starting with our sales office and conversion plants, we will gradually be building out our business.
How open is the Indian infrastructure sector to using geosynthetic materials?
While dealing with this issue, I find that there are a number of very competent people in India. We have some brilliant Indian engineers that we are using not only in India, but also outside India, because of their background and knowledge. Also, because you have a long history in textiles in India, we find it?s quite easy to discuss geosynthetics with people because they have the necessary background to do so. When it comes to government bodies, it also depends on our getting access to the right people. They are open-minded. But they can also be restricted in the way things are done here. You just don?t change your rulebook from one day to another. It?s a process, and I do understand that they need to deal with more than one manufacturer trying to convince them about the importance of his project. However, it is for them to also see if the project will add value, if it is a cost competitive solution. When we say that we have a background with about 50 years of experience, we know a lot about these things. So I don?t think it?s the lack of willingness. It is that the system is a bit heavy like a big tanker. You don?t change direction from one day to another. It takes time to do that.
How does India compare vis-à-vis China in geosynthetics?
The only thing I can say is that both of you are two big countries having over one billion people. Both have growth. China has been the locomotive, but India is taking over now. So the population and economics are more or less the same. But there is a huge difference when it comes to adopting technologies. In my view, China has been better in adopting geosynthetics. Its other industries also support production of nonwoven and other types of geosynthetics.
Do you have plans to do part of your R&D and manufacturing here in some years?
Step one is that we will be importing from our other plants in the beginning. We will convert the material into products that are feasible for the Indian market. As I said earlier, highly skilled manpower is available when it comes to design and we will be using that not only for India but also outside India. In a few years? time, when we have developed the market here, we will open a plant for production of geosynthetics in India. If you look at the world today, Europe and the US are more or less covered and matured. Therefore, the real growth is in the Southeast Pacific. We want to be a part of that and we want to do this out of India.