From being a niche equipment manufacturer to a total process solutions provider with extensive and comprehensive back up support for the tunnelling and mining industries, the success story of Normet continues its trajectory. Normet’s strategic partnership with TAM International, a leader in specialist chemicals and systems for underground construction and general building industry, has come in handy as it brings a broader offering for the tunnelling and mining industries that are on the verge of an explosive growth, in India. In a free-wheeling chat with Agith G Antony, Tom Melbye, President, Normet Group, speaks about the current trends in concrete spraying, the challenges faced, and the advantages of such high-end technologies of concrete sprayers can bring to customers.
Normet is one of the top players in offering solutions for concrete spraying and transport, explosive charging, lifting and installations, underground logistics, and scaling. With over 40 years of experience in the development, production and sales of equipment and vehicles for underground mining and tunnel construction, the company has so far delivered over 7,500 machines throughout the world. Speaking about the company’s core competencies Melbye says, “We manufacture specialised equipment for tunnelling and mining; and also machines for support and transport applications for the tunnelling and mining segments. Our core strength, rather our basic vision is the back-up service what we provide to our customers. We have developed a concept of lifetime care (LTC) which means that we take care of the machine from initial purchase by our customer to as long as it is in operation; that means rebuild, service, training, audit, repair, maintenance, troubleshooting etc.”
Melbye further points out, “In addition, our major focus is to be a partner to our customer providing him added value. In order to add this value, we have to understand the process, what is sprayed concrete, the importance of equipment used, the chemistry of concrete mix design; and that is the reason why we have acquired part of TAM International to build up this competence and also to understand the whole process. With the acquisition, we have broadened our knowledge base of the concrete process and technology, and have also gained considerable expertise in concrete admixtures; today, we are a one-stop-shop for concrete spraying. In the explosive charging industry, we are developing extremely sophisticated equipment for explosive charging for blasting purpose. We also have the knowledge to make equipment that fits with chemicals which are used in making explosives.”
Speaking about the potential in the sector, Melbye says, “There is huge, untapped potential in tunnelling and mining. Though these segments are at present more dependent on traditional technologies, the scenario is fast changing. There are more safety regulations put in place, greater emphasis is given in developing skilled labour force, and more and more foreign investors are eyeing the Indian mining market; most importantly, there are quite advanced mining companies in India who understand the importance of faster, more economical and efficient production.” When asked about how this growth trend is reflected in Normet’s business, Melbye says, “In the next three years, I hope to be a 30 to 40 million Euro company in India.”
Crisis always brings out the best, pushing up the defined territories and creating new pastures. Speaking about the impact of the recession, Melbye says, “Though India has not been through financial crisis, globally there was considerable impact. It was almost like a curtain put down.” He immediately adds, “But we did exactly the opposite of our competitors; instead of downsizing the organisation and its operations, we invested during crisis; we invested in India, Indonesia, and in South America, in order to get into the new markets where we didn’t have a presence.” He adds with a smile, “I am not exaggerating. I think Indian market came into our mind when we had the crisis, especially to compensate the loss. India has started appreciating new technology. So, I feel we did the right thing at the right time.”
Of course, Melbye is quite aware of the challenges, especially in service. He says, “My philosophy is getting into service. That is what is lacking. Many companies have come into the Indian market, and have sold machines, but there has been shortage of service personnel and of spare parts. If you want to be a real player and your focus is to partner with your customer, you have to build up your service team, and spare parts, locally. That’s our major focus area now. We are investing substantially not only in setting up our plants, and adding capacity, but also building up an excellent service team. At the end of the year, we should be able to double our service team.”
What about the training? Melbye explains, “Training is an investment, and an ongoing process. I think that is an essential thing for us and the customer. We have set up a training activity and impart extensive training not only to our own people but also customers’ staff with an objective of making them more efficient and productive. He says, “We always train the customers initially, and as I mentioned we have developed a concept of LTC which means we provide the service contract where we have people to take care of the entire operations.”
About the advantages of using concrete sprayers Melbye confirms, “Of course, mechanised spraying brings lots of advantages; it can be faster, it can bring down the rebound drastically. With a good trained operator of such machine with the right profile, you can produce 18 to 20 cu m an hour with the right mix, and with right application, you can have a rebound of below 10 per cent, whereas if you depend on traditional methods, you will be able to spray around 2 cu m of concrete and the rebound will be over 30 per cent. As far as the right concrete mix is concerned, we have experts who work with clients, cons-ultants, at the beginning of a project.”
Speaking about one of the major challenges, he points out, “The concept of costing varies among customers; some give more importance to product costing, for some it is process costing, for others costing means the total project cost. For example, if I am an investor in a power project, my costing basically depends on how fast I can complete the project and produce electricity, and get a return on investment. There the cost of a machine like a concrete sprayer is not that essential, but rather cost lies in how fast and efficient I can produce. Factoring time as a major parameter while doing costing, is still not there.” He further adds, “New concepts means upfront investments, and unfortunately contractors do not have such kind of incentives to come up with new solutions. So, we try to be part of a project as early as possible which opens up new opportunities to use advanced technologies and methods.”
“There is tremendous potential in hydro projects and mining. The market for concrete sprayers is estimated at around 50 units which will triple over a period of time. We hold around 40-50 per cent of the market today, “ Melbye sums up on a note of confidence.