“China’s battery industry suffers a setback, which is a blessing in disguise for India”

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Established in 2008, Artheon Electronics is today a leading battery manufacturer in the country. Set up as a small assembly unit in Nashik, it expanded operations after an investment of Rs 700 million in a joint venture (JV) with North Star Company of USA.

In a conversation with Richa Chakravarty of Electronics Bazaar, Sunil Bhatnagar, director, sales and marketing, Artheon Electronics, shares the company’s future growth plans

EB: How did the last FY go for Artheon Electronics?

Our products generated a good response and the market acceptance was simply great. We have been growing considerably over the years, and last year we utilised close to 40 per cent of our total plant capacity. This year, we intend to utilise 90 per cent of our plant’s capacity.

EB: What are the marketing strategies Artheon has adopted to stay ahead of its competitors?

I feel that in any industry there are three important aspects that help market your products—quality, branding and availability. If you have an excellent quality product, price will not be a major issue for the consumers. Also, the brand speaks for itself, as consumers look for reputed brands. Making the product visible is also very important; hence, we market our products properly. We ensure that our products are available across geographical boundaries and penetrate the right markets.

EB: In which sectors in India do you see the maximum demand for batteries?

The telecom revolution in the developing countries has been the major driving factor for batteries. Telecom in the rural areas is growing very fast. Deep in the villages, where power lines have not yet reached, solar power and batteries come into the picture.

Solar energy is another segment where there is a good demand for batteries. A new concept of micro grid projects is coming up in the country, which requires a good number of batteries to store the generated power.

E-bike batteries is another segment we are focusing on. It has great potential. Also, industrial batteries have several applications, as any kind of automation requires a battery to run. Even in agriculture appliances, there are certain applications where batteries are required. Hence, all these segments have been driving the growth of the battery market.

EB: Do you intend to expand your manufacturing facility?

Yes, definitely. Our manufacturing unit in Nashik is already booked up to 2013, so we do have expansion plans in the near future. We are planning to come up with another manufacturing unit in Gujarat, by mid-2013.

EB: With reference to exports, where does India stand in terms of volumes?

In terms of quality, Indian products take the lead. But we have some constraints regarding price when compared to Chinese products. China is very good at exports, and in sheer bulk production, they have the upper hand. Our price difference in comparison to China is close to 5-6 per cent as of now, which we are trying to overcome. The rising price of the dollar has affected costs by 18-20 per cent. These are some of the reasons why India is not doing much of exports, despite the huge potential.

Recent developments show that the Chinese government is very concerned about the health hazards of lead usage in battery industry. They now have a new policy that is very strict with respect to lead emissions. This has impacted the battery industry in China heavily. Almost all small battery manufacturers have shut down. This has, however, been a blessing in disguise for India as a lot of business is coming to India, which is a good sign.

EB: Could you tell us more about your product portfolio?

We have three kinds of batteries—2 V, 6 V and 12 V for different applications. Batteries with 6 V go into LED based solar lanterns, emergency lights and weighing scales. We customise our

2 V batteries at a higher ampere through series and parallel connections, if required. We do 2 V cells from 200 Ah to 600 Ah but by doing series parallel connections, we can take it till 3000 Ah. Batteries with 12 V have varied and vast application areas—12 V 7.2 Ah is the fastest moving battery and we are one of the largest manufacturers in this range. These are used mainly for offline UPS systems and CFL based solar lanterns. All our batteries are approved by the Solar Energy Centre, the Electronics Regional Test Laboratory (ERTL) and the Electronics Test and Development Centre (ETDC).

EB: Do you plan to add more products to the existing range?

This year we are coming up with a 12 V 100 Ah front terminal (FT) battery. Unlike conventional batteries, the terminals here are in the front and these batteries do not require much space. The best part is, we have made this battery very thin. While earlier this battery had a width of 170 mm, it is now available in a width of 100 mm. Similarly, we are working on an advance version of e-bike battery with a capacity of 12 V 20 Ah and are also coming up with increased range up to 33 Ah.

EB: What technological advancements has Artheon made in its products?

You have to design a product according to the market requirements. The power crisis in India is a major issue and batteries are generally abused because they are run for far too long. SMF batteries are not made for handling long outages at high rate of discharge. However, we are working on a technology wherein our batteries are capable of giving good power backup for longer periods of time. We have already developed deep cycle batteries, in which we have increased the percentage of tin in the plates to help the batteries work for long hours.

The ambient temperature is another condition we are working on. These batteries are designed to work at 25°C internationally but in India, temperature conditions vary drastically, going up to 45°C. Batteries with 12 V 7.2 Ah are ideal for working in temperatures of 25°C but our batteries can work in temperatures as high as 45-50°C. Moreover, our batteries give life of 1300 cycles at 20 per cent depth of discharge, which means close to four years.

EB: Do you plan for any other joint ventures?

Our JV with North Star USA is doing very well and they are very supportive. So we will never think of any JV as far as lead acid batteries are concerned. But, definitely, in some other technology such as nickel metal hydride or lithium, we might think of some new projects.

EB: Where do you see Artheon Electronics in the next two years?

The market is very dynamic. With new technology and new areas of application, there is a need for innovative products. We still have many areas to venture into, so we hope to grow by at least 60 per cent a year for the next three years.

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