Saint-Gobain Group would have invested more than ₹11,000 crore in India by the end of this calendar year. While it has added a new float glass unit in Tamil Nadu, it is also expanding its capacity in Rajasthan. The expansion is expected to meet the incremental demand the company is expecting in the coming years given its objective to become a leader in light and sustainable construction. As India is one of the fast-growing markets for the €44 billion French glass and building material major, the group will earmark 25 per cent of its global capex to India though it contributes just 3 per cent to the overall revenue. AR Unnikrishnan, Managing Director-Glass Business, Saint-Gobain India Pvt Ltd, spoke to BusinessLine on capacity expansion, opportunities for sustainable material and the growth plans. Excerpts: 



With the current expansion, what will be the increase in your total capacity?

The World Glass Complex at Sriperumbudur, which has received the largest investment of the group for any single location, will have about 2,500 tonnes per day. Overall, all our three sites put together we will have a total capacity of about 4,000 tonnes per day. Last year, we announced expansion at Bhiwadi at Rajasthan and the construction is progressing quite well. Around this time next year, we should be commissioning the new unit. With that, total capacity will reach close to 5,000 tonnes per day. Saint-Gobain now accounts for more than half of India’s float glass capacity and more than 90 per cent of exports of the same. 


What are some of the key benefits of light and sustainable material?

I think we are seeing that glasses are more and more used as a sustainable building material because it brings down the amount of material that you use. For eg, you take a typical high-rise building - a 15 storey building. Here, instead of using brick and concrete, if you use glass as the facade, it can bring down the weight of the building by 5,000 tonnes and the energy efficiency that it brings in a year is equivalent to planting 10,000 trees. This is for one building per year. That’s the kind of benefits glasses provide. These light and sustainable materials include glass, plasterboard, chemicals etc. These can be used for the false ceiling, partitions etc. For eg, for drywall partitions in office buildings, instead of a concrete or brick wall, one can use the plasterboard, which is only 10-12 mm thick as compared to 150 mm bricks. So, you’re really replacing it with very light construction and this can be fireproof and also get all functionalities, but much lighter. We have got many construction chemicals that bring down the amount of concrete used in the construction and also reduces the wastage of concrete. So glass, plasterboard, are all light materials that bring down the usage of virgin raw materials from Mother Earth and makes the buildings much lighter and sustainable.  


Do you see faster adoption of light and sustainable material in construction in India? 

India is adopting these technologies and these materials much faster. The design fraternity -- whether it is architects, consultants, structural engineers, construction companies-- are all willing to listen to new technologies, new materials and also willing to learn and adopt them. We have seen them do so in the last two decades. I think there’s a big transformation in the way buildings are constructed in India. Glass facade has become a standard now and makes it much faster in terms of construction, much lighter from that point of view.  


What are your initiatives to emerge as a leader in this segment in India? 

We are doing multiple things from our side to facilitate the use of light and sustainable materials. Firstly, we provide knowledge to the architects, students of architecture through our glass Academy. Second, the academy is providing skills in glass processing and glass installation industries. Third, we also need enough research on building science and on products or solutions, which are more environment-friendly and sustainable. Saint-Gobain Research, which is housed in Madras IIT-Research Park has studied, over the past two and a half years, 30 buildings in India. They did measurements in the buildings, indoor air quality daylighting etc and also did a perception study of the occupants to see what are their perception of their health and productivity and all that. There is a clear correlation between the daylight and the productive connectivity with the exterior environment and the productivity part of it and the indoor air quality part. So a lot of work is happening on the building science front. Thanks to the research facility, we have also been able to develop a lot of new products and solutions adapted to our country. In the last four years, our Research Organisation has filed 60 patents for products and about 20 plus patents on designs, by our engineers sitting at the Research Park. Saint-Gobain has always been focused on investing in manufacturing as also researching in India. Over the past two decades, we have evolved from clear glasses, reflective glasses, bulletproof to fire-rated glasses, all that


Has your revenue mix changed now?

Recently, Saint-Gobain had done a study on our product mix globally. We found that close to 80 per cent of our products already helping in energy efficiency and sustainability. About 70 per cent of the products are also helping in terms of the performance of the building or the final application. So, either in terms of sustainability or performance, at least 70-80 per cent of our product range is already providing that. We will ensure that whatever new additions we have is either meeting sustainability or enhancing performance for the built space or the final product that the customer is taking. That’s really the focus. 


What are the growth and revenue projections for 2022?

As a group, Saint-Gobain in India will be targeting a revenue of about ₹11,000 crore. In 2021, we recorded a little less than ₹9,000 crore of revenue and with revival across all segments, we are targeting bigger growth this calendar year. Glass business is expected to be a major driver of the growth.