Until recently, India dominated its fan market, producing approximately forty million fans annually! Despite that, the increase in imports of components due to the spurt in demand for BLDC technology may have stirred up a debate. In an exclusive interview with EFY’s Yashasvini Razdan, Dr Mayur Sundararajan, Business Head of the original BLDC innovator, Superfan, provides insightful information about one of the most common household appliances…
Q. What is the technology that makes BLDC fans expensive?
A. When comparing a regular AC induction motor to a brushless DC motor, some notable distinctions arise. The AC induction motor relies on copper windings to generate the necessary magnetic fields for rotation. In contrast, a brushless DC motor features copper windings, magnets, and crucially, electronic hardware equipped with a microcontroller. It’s this additional electronic hardware and microcontroller that represent the primary cost differential. In terms of fundamental components, apart from this added hardware, the two motor types are quite comparable.
Furthermore, the current market demand continues to favour traditional fans over their more efficient counterparts. Consequently, the production volumes of energy-efficient fans have remained relatively low.
Q. Is India a net creator or a net consumer for fans?
A. The shifting dynamics of the Indian fan market and the increase in imports of BLDC fans have sparked a debate. Until recently, India dominated its fan market, accounting for about 99% of fan production.
This shift raises questions and concerns, which we are actively working to address. India has a wealth of experience in fan manufacturing, producing over forty million fans annually, a significant number even on a global scale. The innovations brought about by Indian companies, like our own, have the potential to reshape the global fan industry. This stands in contrast to other industries, such as air-conditioners, where foreign brands have pushed for energy efficiency standards in India to promote their own products and technology.
In the case of fans, India has both the core technology and manufacturing capabilities. While some electronic components may still be imported, the fundamental technology and expertise reside in India. Leveraging this capability effectively could position India as a global producer of fans, and our company is uniquely positioned in this regard. Unlike other brands that rely on outsourcing components, our company possesses the core technology, handles manufacturing, and owns the brand, allowing for direct engagement with the market to meet consumer needs.
The global demand for fans is universal, making India’s potential as a major fan producer an exciting prospect. This aligns with our vision of utilising India’s manufacturing prowess and technological innovation to make a significant impact on the global fan market.
Q. Can you point out and define the key elements that need to be worked upon for India to become a net creator for fans?
A. Meeting the global demand for fans through rapid manufacturing scale-up is a critical requirement. Achieving this scale swiftly, especially in a competitive market alongside countries like China and Southeast Asian nations, poses a distinct challenge. While India possesses the core technology and fan production knowledge, achieving the necessary scale at an accelerated pace is no straightforward feat.
Manufacturing systems that can efficiently produce millions of super energy efficient fans must be established. Additionally, the ability to adapt to changing consumer preferences and aesthetics is essential, particularly in Western markets where fan usage is different and aesthetics play a significant role alongside functionality.
The challenge lies in bridging the gap between having the technology and knowledge and rapidly scaling up production to meet global demand. This involves not only expanding manufacturing capacity but also ensuring flexibility to accommodate changing consumer preferences and market trends.
Q. Is there any difference between the BLDC technology made in India and the ones that are manufactured and developed in other countries?
A. While there may be various product-level differences, the core technology behind BLDC fans remains consistent, with variations tailored to meet specific market demands. The primary difference between fan requirements in India and Western countries lies in their intended use. In India, most fans are designed to operate at higher speeds, typically around 350-400 RPM, to deliver optimal comfort for the local demographic.
Regarding BLDC (brushless direct current) fans, the fundamental technology remains the same. These fans consist of a magnet-based motor, coils, and electronics. However, there can be variations in how this technology is implemented, resulting in different product offerings. The distinctions primarily manifest at the product level, including factors such as blade shape and length, rather than significant differences in the internal technology.
Q. What does the overall demand and supply for BLDC fans in the past two or three years look like, and the key factors that have pushed it forward?
A. One of the primary driving forces for adopting more energy-efficient fans in India has been government mandates, particularly the introduction of star labelling regulations. This initiative, which came into effect on January 1, 2023, is a significant push towards energy efficiency. Under these regulations, the government mandates specific energy consumption limits for fans, effectively making older, less efficient fans obsolete. For instance, a 1.2-metre (48-inch) ceiling fan can now consume a maximum of 57.5 watts while delivering the market required 230CMM airflow, to meet the new standards, significantly lower than the 75-80 watts of older models.
Manufacturers and well-known brands proactively prepared for these regulations even before their enforcement, partly due to the impact of Covid-19, which resulted in a two-year delay in their implementation.
The key factors driving this shift include a government push for energy efficiency through labelling, consumer demand for eco-friendly appliances, and a desire to reduce energy consumption, which can be especially important for those considering solar panel installations. While some older AC induction motor fans have been able to meet the new standards by reducing airflow and thereby lowering power consumption, BLDC fans offer a more consistent and efficient solution, delivering the desired airflow while maintaining a five-star energy rating.
The shift to more efficient fans is not without its questions, as some wonder why older fans couldn’t have been made more efficient earlier. The answer lies in the trade-off between power consumption and airflow, a challenge that BLDC fans effectively address by delivering both efficiency and performance. These factors collectively contribute to the changing landscape of fan technology and energy consumption in India.
Q. What is the difference between active BLDC, BLDC, and inverter fans?
A. It’s important to recognise that the term “BLDC fan” has been somewhat commodified and used as a marketing gimmick in the industry. Manufacturers often label their fans with terms like “active BLDC,” “inverter fans,” and so on to differentiate their products. However, what truly sets our journey apart is that since 2013, we have worked closely with government bodies such as the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards), and ESL (Energy Efficiency Services Limited) to demonstrate that efficient fans like ours are not just a concept but a viable reality in the market. Through this collaboration, the government recognised the need for greater fan energy efficiency and introduced stricter efficiency ratings. They made it mandatory for fans to have BEE star labelling, similar to air-conditioners. Starting from January 1, 2023, fans are now categorised with star labels, ranging from one star (least efficient) to five stars (most efficient), mirroring the system used for air-conditioners.
As a result, all major players in the fan industry had to adapt to these new regulations and introduce super-efficient fans in their product portfolios. Many of them sourced technology from various suppliers and started manufacturing their efficient fan models. Some adopted terms like ‘inverter quality’ or ‘active BLDC’ to differentiate themselves in marketing their products. While the terminology may vary, the goal remains the same: providing energy-efficient fans to consumers.
Q. What has prompted you to scale now, after a decade?
A. Until 2017, we held a dominant position in the market, essentially serving as the major player. Others existed, but their market presence and volume were relatively limited during that period. It’s important to note that the market wasn’t prepared for rapid expansion during those years. Our company, with a history spanning about 30 to 32 years, has always been rooted in technology. We approached every aspect of our business with a tech-centric perspective.
However, there were specific reasons for our cautious approach. Firstly, the market readiness played a significant role. We refrained from aggressive expansion when the market conditions weren’t conducive for such growth. This strategy allowed us to maintain stability.
During the intervening years, notably the recent period marked by semiconductor component shortages, we deliberately scaled back our expansion efforts. Our other motor control products rely heavily on semiconductor components, and the challenges surrounding their availability prompted this strategic decision. As a result, we concentrated on serving a stable customer base.
This strategy did come with challenges, and there may have been some errors along the way. However, it was a conscious choice, given the market conditions and our resource allocation. Now, with a more mature market and examples of successful scaling combined with our unique core technology, we are poised to expand differently.