As India races to occupy the third slot among the foundry industries in the world, the growth would not come at the cost of environment as not only domestic laws but also the foreign customers would insist on adherence to environmental safeguards, according to leaders of the foundry industry here.
The industry is also set to break the gender bias with greater sophistication in the manufacturing process leading to lesser pollution and lighter physical workload, facilitating induction of more women workers into the operation of foundries, they said. Speaking to newspersons in Coimbatore, Mr C.R. Swaminathan, Chairman and Mr N. Krishna Samaraj, Co-chairman, respectively, of the Fifth National Foundry Conclave to be held here during November 26-27, said the India ranked as the fourth largest producer of castings globally with its production pegged at about 8 million tonnes annually, valued at about Rs 400 crore.
The industry wanted India to grab the second rank in the production of castings in the coming decade and was confident of dislodging Russia as the third largest castings producer within the next two years, leaving China and the US in the first two slots to chase.
Though not many new foundries were coming up in the country, the existing foundries were growing at about 10-15 per cent annually either by expansion or by modernisation. Of the 4,500 foundries in India, Coimbatore was home to about 500 of them. The number of large foundries, with the production capacity of 4,000-5,000 tonnes a month, was about 500 in the country with the rest being small and medium foundries having capacity up to 1,000 tonnes a month. The foundries here have taken up modernisation as they wanted to supply to niche markets requiring high quality and if only power supply had been stable, at least 30 per cent of them would have seen higher production.
Mr Swaminathan said if the supply of natural gas through pipelines in the region materialised in 2012, the foundries may use gas for melting depending on cost. This would help bring down the pollution considerably and reduce dependence on power supply. The foundry industry generally was perceived to be a ‘dirty industry' but this perception is changing due to modernisation.
Mr Samaraj said women were not generally employed in core activities like melting or molding in the foundry industry but were engaged in lighter jobs. But as labour shortage persists, he visualised more women making it to the shop floor of foundries as more automation would require lesser physical work. Automation in activities like finishing was essential and it has already started in a few foundries and this trend would grow, displacing the misconception that foundry work involves hard labour.
Mr Swaminathan said the foundry sector earlier flourished wherever automobile or auto component manufacturing units were located. But it was not so now and foundry-clusters have come up in Coimbatore, Belgaum, Kolhapur, Kolkata and Rajkot. He wanted secular growth of the industry in all these clusters because of scarcity of man power and as there was growing demand from automotive and infra sectors.
Asked about the environmental cost of the foundries closing down in Europe and the orders shifting to India, he said the foundries were closing in Europe due to shortage of manpower or it being so expensive that the products were priced-out. The Indian Government was also tightening the environmental laws like the European nations.
Mr Samaraj said the influx of orders from abroad did not mean a licence to degrade the environment in India and environmental protection would be ensured by government rules and by the buyers themselves. Most importantly, unless the foundries offered a clean work environment, they would not attract quality labour.
The fifth edition of National Foundry Conclave, organised by the CII (Coimbatore zone), would have as its theme `Coming of Age-4 to 3 @2012', reflecting the potential of the Indian foundry industry to be the third largest producer of castings in the world. The conclave would focus on, among other things, energy, technology, marketing, automation and environment and is expected to be attended by more that 500 delegates.