VRLA/SMF battery market robust with growth

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Valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) and sealed maintenance-free (SMF) batteries are batteries that don’t need maintenance during their life cycle. Gradually, people are waking to the health hazards and other dangers of lead acid batter­ies and switching to SMF, the safer alternative. Subhash Chander, director, Peace Electronics Pvt Ltd, adds, “Due to long life, long power backup, zero pollution and maintenance they are easy to handle. SMF battery is best for power backup systems.” Even D K Malik, di­rector, Nice Power Systems cites, “VRLA/SMF batteries are now being used because they are pollution-free, available at attractive prices, good service lives, absolutely maintenance-free and now they are being manufactured in India.” TV Ramanathan, MD & CEO, Exide Industries Ltd adds, “VRLA batteries gained customer acceptance mainly due to their advan­tages like zero topping up, maintenance-free, compact, neat and environment friendly.”

By Jesus Milton Rousseau S

Tuesday, June 16, 2009: The present VRLA batteries market is highly unorganised due to the huge gap in demand and supply in power. Batteries as a whole will be witnessing healthy growth in the coming years. “Though being a highly sophisticated product, today, batteries have become a commodity and customers are only interested in low price products even if it is at the cost of expensive equipment. Presently there are three major play­ers, namely – Exide, Amaron and HBL,” says Sushil Jiwarajka, CMD, Artheon Electronics Ltd. R Kandasamy, CEO, Sakthi Electronics adds, “The market for VRLA and SMF batteries is growing drastically on an exponential scale. The demand is so huge that it is not possible to be met by Indian manufacturers and so large quantities of batteries are being imported under various brands from countries like China, Tai­wan, etc. This growth is expected to continue for a few more years.”

Girish Arora, MD, Base Corporation Ltd, adds, “The new VRLA/SMF batteries in India are for batteryoperated twowheelers.TheVRLA industry in India is growing very rapidly as the importfromChinaisnotvery feasible due toUSD inflation. The VRLA/SMF battery produced in India will be much better priced and product availability also will be much easier, so the Indian industry will surely be on an upward trend.”

Battery bazaar

“Presently, the gap between demand and supply is huge as far as power is concerned and chances of improvement for the next 20 years seems remote; hence VRLA battery will have a good future,” says Jiwarajka. Further, he states, “The VRLA battery market size is approximately Rupees 2,500-3000 crore and is grow­ing at the rate of 20-25 percent year on year.” However, Kunwer Sachdev, MD, Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd, optimisti­cally says, “The market size is about Rupees 10,000 crore and the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is above 100 percent. Nowadays, customers are becoming more aware and don’t mind spending a few hundred rupees extra for SMF batteries. They know about the disadvantages/hazards of lead acid batteries; so SMF market has a great potential. The lead acid battery market size is reducing day by day, giving way to the SMF market. Lead acid battery market’s loss is SMF battery market’s gain. SMF batteries are the future.”

The present share of VRLA batter­ies is about 30 to 35 percent. At present, since more and more corporates are switching over from conventional bat­teries to VRLA batteries, the growth rate is highly exponential. ”It has been made mandatory that all the telecom companies should use only VRLA bat­teries,” adds Kandasamy. Ramanathan, cites, “With the high growth rate in UPS and telecommunication sectors, the VRLA battery market is also expe­riencing robust growth rate since the last 3-4 years.”

“The emerging markets are UPS, weighing scales, telecom, etc,” says Sanjay Shrikhande, proprietor, Sanheay Battery Pvt Ltd but Jiwarajka says, “Telecom, solar and e-bikes.” Arora says, “The new verticals are the battery operated vehicles growing in India. The telecom industry, the solar indus­try which is fast picking up, banking (mainly rural banking), the windmill projects and the regular UPS industry, since power is always in shortage to demand and supply.”

Recessionary impact

Recession has not affected the VRLA industry. Arora says, “The recession hasn’t affected it much as the battery is an integral part of the industry as an alternative power source. Due to recession in the IT industry, there is a slight effect here too but overall, the situations is good.” Shrikhande cites, “The power sector is not affected by recession, because people will not stop working. They need power backup for everything; hence, the market is not affected and can never be.” Jiwarajka also adds, “Recession’s impact on VRLA industry is negligible as the application of VRLA battery is for devices need­ing power backup like telecom, UPS, e-bikes, etc.”

Malik feels, “Recession has af­fected each and every trade in India and abroad. There is a drop in sale of all kinds of batteries but at the same time the prices of base metals have dropped drastically and that is positive for battery traders in India. Now the manufacturing cost has come down due to the fall in prices of lead. Hence, now customers are getting batteries at more affordable prices.” Even Chander adds, “Due to less income, people are avoiding purchasing batteries.”

Market-friendly batteries

The different types of VRLA/SMF batteries are 2V series, 6V series, 12V series and capacity ranges from 7AH to 5000AH. According to Kandasamy, the different types of VRLA/SMF bat­teries are: VRLA with absorptive glass mat (AGM) separators; VRLA with gel electrolyte; tubular VRLA with AGM separators and tubular VRLA with gel electrolyte (hybrid batteries).

“The fastest moving batteries in the market are 6V4.5AH and 12V7.2AH batteries, which are widely used in emergency lights and UPS. In 2V series, fastest ones are 200AH, 300AH, 400AH and 600AH, which are mainly used for power backup for base transceiver sta­tions (BTSs),” adds Jiwarajka. Kandasamy adds, “The fastest mov­ing capacity of VRLA batteries, 6V–4Ah and 12V–7Ah are used in emergency lights, small computer UPS, security systems and solar lanterns, etc. 12V VRLA batteries are used for UPS/in­verters. Other capacities like 2V–100Ah to 2V–2000Ah battery banks are needed in large numbers for telecom applica­tions. Sachdev adds, “100–200 Ah are the fast moving batteries as they go as packages with inverters.”

VRLA/SMF batteries have a wide array of applications. They are used in inverters, auto industries, emergency lights, solar, weighing machine, UPS, telecom; emergency lights, small home UPS systems, large battery banks for bigger UPS systems, telephone exchanges, telecom signal towers, railway signalling, battery operated motor cycles/scooters, golf carts, solar traffic signals, solar street lights, solar home lighting systems, wind mills, bank security systems, CCTVs, time and at­tendance recorders, etc.

Cost factors

“Lead and special separators used are the principal raw materials for VRLA batteries, and have significant effect on the cost of VRLA batteries; besides the cost of technology and manufacturing processes,” says Ramanathan. Jiwarajka adds, “Lead price is the major factor affecting the cost of VRLA batteries and is dependent on the London metal exchange (LME).”

The main raw material required for the manufacture of VRLA batteries is lead. The major producer of lead in India is Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL), but their scale of operation has also come down. Hence, the demand for lead is met by recycling it from used batteries and also through import. Lead constitutes about 60-70 percent of the cost of the batteries. Hence, the cost of batteries invariably depends on the cost of lead, which fluctuates drastically due to non-availability and the premium to be paid to source it, which, to a great extent increases the cost of batteries.

On the other hand, China has an advantage of producing lead in large quantities. It gets lead at a much cheaper quote and its labour cost is also much cheaper. So, it is in the position to pro­duce the same product for nearly half the cost. Hence, more and more Chinese products are flocking the Indian mar­ket. “Their products are much cheaper than our India-manufactured ones, even after importing them by paying all the duties and freight charges. Till a proper norm on the pricing of lead is not formed, the Indian manufacturers will suffer from the batteries dumped by the Chinese manufacturers. Nowa­days, importing and selling batteries is much cheaper than producing it in our country. Many big players in India are importing batteries from China and selling them under their own brand name,” says Kandasamy. Sachdev offers a solution, “Raw material cost is more and the technology is advanced, hence, the VRLA/SMF batteries are costly; but with volumes, this problem can be overcome.”

Latest technologies

AGM and gel are the technologies used for manufacturing VRLA batteries. “The VRLA batteries sector itself is not so old and not much has happened except some changes in alloys used in making positive and negative plates. The upcoming technology is thin plate”, says Jiwarajka. Sachdev adds, “SMF bat­teries are sealed and maintenance-free. Hence, very advanced technology is used in sealing these batteries, so that there are no acid fumes.”

Kandasamy explains, “The latest offerings in the field of VRLA are the tubular batteries with AGM separators and those with gel electrolyte. There is a lot of research work going on in the development of these new technolo­gies, with lots of laboratory and field trials going on in association with the Center for Electrochemical Research Institute (CECRI, Karaikudi, Tamil Nadu) and Indian Institute of Science (IISC, Bangalore). Also, there are other researches and developments going on in the following areas –

  1. Different alloy composition used in making the grids for the battery plate which plays a significant role in the per­formance and life of the batteries
  2. Different paste mix formulations to increase the life of the batteries
  3. Different curing methods to obtain performance and better charge acceptability

Another latest technology being used is expanded grid technology, by which thinner grids can be obtained to hold more active material. This increases the energy density of the bat­teries by reducing the lead required and thus reducing the cost. This is the latest technology and more manufacturers are trying to switch over to it.

The VRLA/SMF batteries sector has a bright future with the growth in UPS, telecom and solar industries. “The future of VRLA/SMF batteries is very bright as the application list is growing. More and more users are switching over from conventional batteries to VRLA,” says Kandasamy. Jiwarajka adds, “Though presently, economy is slow, it offers a promising future for VRLA batteries.”

Sachdev goes a step ahead and concludes, “We are planning to pitch our clients against lead acid batteries. We have taken this endeavour as our corporate social responsibility. In a couple of years, we plan to manufacture only SMF range of batteries.”

Some of the players

Artheon Electronics Ltd is a well diver­sified business house having interest in telecom, IT and energy sectors. Artheon Electronics Ltd was established in 2007. Under the energy vertical, Artheon has developed the manufacturing facility to produce VRLA batteries of 6V, 12V & 2V series to cater to the growing de­mands for energy storage devices. The company’s facility is ISO 9001/14000 accredited. “We have state-of-art manufacturing factories to manufacture quality VRLA batteries and shortly we will be expanding further to meet the growing demands,” adds Jiwarajka.

Exide Industries Ltd manufactures industrial range of SMF/VRLA batter­ies in India since 1996 and caters to all the application sectors in India. Exide industrial range SMF/VRLA batteries gradually gained acceptance in various application areas. Currently, the com­pany has a market share of 45 per cent. Exide manufactures all the variants of VRLA batteries and operates in differ­ent business processes as suited for the different market segments – direct to customer, through distributors, through channel network, etc. “From the begin­ning of manufacturing of industrial range of SMF/VRLA batteries, Exide has undertaken several rounds of upgra­dations in technology, manufacturing processes, manufacturing capacities, keeping the customers needs in mind. This has helped Exide to keep its market leadership in the VRLA battery market along with the other product lines,” says Ramanathan.

Sakthi Electronics is in the field of batteries from 1992. The company is an ISO 9001-certified company. Sakthi is presently in the field of manufactur­ing tubular batteries for solar lighting, UPS, stationary and traction applica­tions. “We will start manufacturing VRLA batteries shortly. At present, we distribute Amararaja VRLA batteries. We distribute various capacities, from 12V 7Ah to 12V – 200Ah, 2V – 100Ah to 2V-1000Ah,” says Kandasamy. The com­pany has a distributor/dealer network throughout Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and North India. Their future plan is to develop the export market and supply batter­ies to defence requirements, develop electric vehicle batteries for 2, 3 and 4 wheelers.

Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd was established in 1992. Su-Kam is India’s largest producer and supplier of power inverters, with more than 50 percent market share. The company is ISO 9001:2000, ISO 14001:2004-certified, with 20 product design patents. Also, Su-Kam has received CE (Coformite Eu­ropean) and UL (Underwriters Labora­tories) certifications for SMF batteries. Their inhouse R&D is recognised by the Government of India and the Ministry of Science and Technology. Su-Kam has set up India’s first SMF battery plant which is totally automatic.

The company has established itself as a leader in product innovation, de­sign sensibility and sales distribution. Su-Kam’s expansion into other technol­ogy-driven products like UPS systems has also met with resounding success. Su-Kam manufactures and distributes its products through 500 distributors all across India. The company exports its products to various overseas markets across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Pacific region. Currently, 10 percent of the company’s turnover is made up of exports and it is poised to rise expo­nentially in the years ahead.

Base Corporation Ltd, a leading player in the standby power equipment industry, commenced its operations in the year 1987. Base has a partnership alliance with Matsushita Electric Indus­tries (Panasonic), Japan. The company recorded a turnover of Rs 361 crore in the year 2007-2008.

The company has their corporate office at Bangalore. Base has a network of many branch offices across Delhi, Chandigarh, Zirakpur, Agra, Ghazia­bad, Ambala, Jammu, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Lucknow, Calcutta, Guwahati, ,Jam­shedpur, Bhubaneshwar, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pallakad, Pune, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Indore. About 750 channel partners support this network all over India. The company has also undertaken to establish 1000 Base Terminals by 2010 for retailing and selling of the entire range of batteries.  Base has also started its own manu­facturing unit, with state-of-the-art plant and machinery located in Solan, Himachal Pradesh. A technically expe­rienced and dedicated team of around 400 personnel mans the plant.

Nice Power Systems is a leading power backup solutions provider in Delhi and NCR since 1996. The company, with its consistent focus on technological innovation has attained heights in the largely unorganised industry. The company has a clear technological edge, creating new benchmarks and upgrading standards for the industry. Today, Nice Power Systems is one of the established leaders in sales distribution networks across India for Su-Kam online UPS, high capacity inverters, line interac­tive UPS and batteries (lead acid and SMF/VRLA). Nice Power Systems is a one-stop-shop for power backup solutions, offering customers fast and easy services.

Peace Electronics Pvt Ltd was established in 1991. The company sells their batteries under their brand names: Peace tubular and Spice tubular batter­ies. The company has a 5,500 sq ft unit at Ghaziabad with a workforce of 25. The company’s monthly production is 1800 numbers.

Sanheay Battery Pvt Ltd was es­tablished in 2007. The company sells their batteries under the brand name ‘Labat’. They manufacture low-mainte­nance lead acid batteries. The company is ISO 9001-certified. The company has a 10,000 sq ft manufacturing unit with a workforce of 70. The company produces 45,000 batteries per month. They have 12 distributors. Labat bat­teries are unique, with low-maintenance and long life.

Su-Kam’s initiative towards a healthy India

While people may heave a sigh of relief after getting an inverter installed, it is actually the beginning of destruction of their health. They are oblivious to the havoc that lead acid batteries may play on their health.

While the health hazards of lead have been proved, lead acid batteries are still being used inside homes, thereby multiplying the exposure and also the damage to health. Lead exposure occurs when lead fumes coming out of the battery are inhaled. “It is advisable to keep the batteries outside your homes in the open so that the health hazards of lead are minimised. In case it is not possible, it is imperative to keep the windows and doors open so as to allow the air circulation. Also, while changing the batteries, one should go for sealed maintenance free (SMF) batteries,” says Kunwer Sachdev, CEO, Su-Kam Power Systems Ltd. SMF batteries are dry and sulphuric acid is stored in them in the form of gel and due to this, poisonous fumes are not emitted from the battery. Realising this, Su-Kam has taken the initiative to manufacture and market SMF batteries. These batteries are not only maintenance free, they are also last 50 per cent longer than that of ordinary batteries and their charging time is much less than the ordinary batteries. Su-kam has integrated the ‘deep discharge technology’ with the sealed maintenance free system to produce the power bank VRLA battery for inverters that are Conformite European (CE) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certified as they follow the rigorous safety and environment standards set in Europe and USA. These batteries useabsorbed electrolyte system—the entire electrolyte is absorbed into the positive plates, negative plates, and the separators. Coupled with the use of special sealing epoxies and long sealing paths for posts, these batteries have exceptional leak resistance.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

 

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