By Sharad P Matade:
A name synonymous with quality in industrial rubber products since 1965, the Mumbai, India-based Zenith Industrial Rubber Products Pvt. Ltd today has a pride of place in the global rubber industry with footprints in all the Six Continents in the world. After establishing its indisputable leadership in high-quality rubber sheetings, rubber floorings, coated fabrics, rubber mats, the Company has of late made an ambitious foray into the supply of custom rubber compounds and manufacture of rubber extrusion and moulded products under the visionary and dynamic leadership of Mazhar Vohra, a doyen of the Indian rubber industry, and stewardship by his new gen, equally brilliant son Aamir Vohra.
Leveraging its leading market position and technical expertise in high-quality industrial rubber products for more than half a century, Zenith Industrial Rubber Products Pvt Ltd has made a strategic decision to make a well-calculated foray into the supply of custom rubber compounds and manufacture of rubber extrusion and moulded goods products.
The Company has built a new state-of-the-art facility, one kilometer away from its existing plant, to produce high-quality rubber compounds to cater to its own growing consumption and for supply to other rubber goods manufacturers in the market. The new plant was built last year with a whopping $10 million investment. The plant mainly consists of the rubber compounding intermix lines, a process lab and an ISO -17025(NABL accredited Lab) , which will provide technical service to third parties.
Says Aamir Vohra, Chief Executive Officer, Zenith Industrial Rubber Products Pvt Ltd: “As most of the plant is automated, we could achieve higher quality mixing which gives us precise implementation of formulations and better consistency.”
Zenith Rubber today is one of the world’s fastest-growing manufacturers of rubber sheetings and rubber floorings for the transit industry and coated fabrics with a wide-range applications such as in floats, life-rafts, dinghies, assault boats, recce boats, air cells, storage tanks, balloons and bouys used by port authorities and coast guards.
The plant is largely automated and uses K-5 Internal Rubber Mixers with intermeshing rotor systems for better dispersion. “Our weighing systems are completely automated where we have eight silo systems; so we can load eight kinds of raw materials at one time. We have an oil injection system, which is also fully automated, and online weighing systems for polymers. We also have a space for special mixing such as for silica which needs specific temperature controls,” says Aamir Vohra.
On the production side, currently the plant has three operational intermixing lines – one for colour compounds and the other two for black compounds. A fourth line will be installed which will be used to supply custom rubber compounds to other rubber goods companies. “Each installed line has the capacity of 150 litres giving us a total capacity of 150 M/T per day,” adds Aamir Vohra.
The plant, strategically designed, has advanced systems based on automation. The main highlights of these lines are that they are dust- free as most of the intermixing works are automated. So there is no chance of contamination, human interventions and inconsistencies in batches and that helps reduce rejections during curing and calendering.
The top floor stations various fillers and oil tanks. Each line has eight silos, which means that eight fillers can be added at one time. To ensure purity, the fillers are sieved between 30 and 40 mesh. The fillers, as per the recipe, come in the automatic weigh hoppers and then move down in the surge hoppers to be ready for the next batch. Polymers are brought in the intermix on a conveyor belt.
The entire intermixing process is monitored and controlled by the control room. The automation has also enabled the company to trace all the parameters of compounds manufactured in the past. The Kneader section is at the ground floor which is used for final mixing. Once a masterbatch is made in intermix, the final chemicals and accelerators are added in the kneader.
The plant makes two types of masterbatches — primary and secondary. The primary batch, called M1, can be utilized in between two to four months, while the secondary batch, known as M2, which is with Rubber Chemicals, has to be sent for calendering within 24/48 hours. At the ground floor, the processing lab is situated which evaluates in-process compounding and helps to take corrective action, if needed. The new unit has 140 employees, while the total manpower is 450.
The existing plant of the company takes care of the calendering process. The plant has three caledering machines, 24 rotocure machines, (two rotocure machines are being installed), and six hydraulic presses and an autoclave. The company has been focusing on Lean manufacturing and World Class Manufacturing (WCM) standards, besides on continuous improvement in production efficiency and utilisation of resources.
“We have revamped our calendering lines. Putting laser-guided system, we will have a new calendering system this December which will give us the capability of producing very thin sheets,” says Aamir Vohra.
Zenith Rubber is also in the process of installing an automated calendering machine at the plant. The calendering machines currently used are able to make sheeting in different widths up to 2 meter, while the new automated calender will be able to churn out rubber sheetings of 2.2 meter width. The press curing machines can produce rubber sheetings up to 50 mm thickness. Though today Zenith Rubber is acclaimed as one of the top manufacturers of rubber sheetings globally, it has a history of diversifying into various products and excel in what they do.
An inspiring legacy
Zenith Rubber was started by the father of Mazhar F Vohra, Chairman & Managing Director of Zenith Rubber for the production of bicycle tyres. However, in mid-80’s, it stopped manufacturing bicycle tyres and continued making hoses and mats, catering to rapid growth in the segment. A massive order from Russia opened the doors of export business for Zenith Rubber, and in late 80’s, the company added the new product line of rubber sheetings, concentrating mainly on exports. The response from export markets was very encouraging.
As the export business was growing in leaps and bounds, Zenith Rubber established Reem Rubber, now known as Zenith Rubber Industries Middle East LLC, in 2001. The UAE plant is fully integrated having capabilities of producing rubber sheeting, mats, and floorings. The fully integrated plant has an installed capacity of 350 tonnes per month. An online internal mixer with cooling batch off system, calendering line, rotocures and compression moulding presses are some of the major machinery installed for manufacturing products to meet the critical requirements of its customers. It can produce rubber sheeting, mats, and floorings with thickness ranging from 0.5 mm to 50 mm and complies with international standards and REACH regulations.
Says Aamir Vohra: “The basic idea of having plant in UAE was to be competitive in the MENA (Middle East & North African region) . The plant also caters to the needs of the north African markets as it attracts less or no duties on imports from the Middle East. Though the UAE plant produces the same products, they do not have the entire range as what we produce here in India.” Today Zenith Rubber exports its products to almost all continents. “To have presence in developed markets, you have to be compliant to all international standards,” says M F Vohra.
Strict regulatory compliance
Norms and regulations regarding environment and products quality are getting stringent, particularly in developed markets. The need for such compliance was identified over a decade ago by Zenith Rubber when it was not much needed. Zenith Rubber started investing heavily in international compliances since 2008. “People were making fun of us for having much focus on international compliances. But the fact is that, had we not been complying with such standards much early, we would not have been able to produce any international standards-compliant products in a short time. Today, it gives us an edge and puts us ahead of competition,” says M F Vohra.
Today the Company’s products, including those that are supplied domestically, have REACH compliance. The Company has obtained various certifications and approvals from such bodies as US FDA, WRAS, KTW & WQC (for potable water), CE, REACH, PAH, RoHS etc. “Such compliances have helped us to reduce wastage, energy consumption , rejection levels and to have better control on inventories,” says M F Vohra.
A major chunk of revenues having come from the European market, the Company has established warehouses in the UK and Europe. These warehouses are an interface of the company to its customers in the respective markets. The warehouses also help reduce delivery time to great extent in the UK and Europe.
“We have ZENITH Branded stores in Europe and UK where a large stock is maintained. We have a basic laboratory at our warehouses to provide technical services. Customers there can have the satisfaction of dealing with the manufacturer. We are proud to be an Indian Company and project a different image of India,” says Aamir Vohra.
Being equated with the inferior Non-REACH Compliant Chinese products makers was the main challenge to gain the position in the international markets. “The international market is huge, and it is being majorly serviced by the Chinese companies, most of which generally make their products from scrap rubber. Initially we were equated with Chinese companies and their product standards. So, we demonstrated our quality and started with small supplies. Workers at our European customers recommended our products as our products had no Metral Scrap particles, less rejections and safe for their punches. That’s how we started off. Though Chinese products were cheap, our buyers have more confidence in our quality,” says M F Vohra.
ISO-17025: 2015- NABL Lab
The newly installed NABL lab of the company has been set up with the aim of providing technical support and services to the rubber goods industry, mainly micro, small and mid-size companies which have restricted access to standard testing facilities in India due to very high charges. Considering the rubber compounding and testing plant as ‘give back to the industry,’ the Vohras have left no stone unturned to facilitate it with world-class machines, and equipment for processing and testing. A large sum of the total investment made in the plant was spent on procuring testing equipment of international standards. “Our advantage would be we can test the compound and also guide the companies on how to improve their compound quality,” says Aamir Vohra.
Focusing on precision in data collection and analyses, Zenith Rubber has procured its testing equipment from MonTech, Germany, which can test according to all international standards.
“We have installed all testing equipment required for flooring products and flame retardant flooring,” says M F Vohra.
The lab has a dynamic rubber process analyser, which measures accurate data about the process ability, cure characteristics, cure speed, and behaviour of the compound during curing and the after-cure. Samples can be loaded and unloaded automatically in the test chamber; thus eliminating the human interference. To have consistency in samples, the lab has a volume cutter which prepares samples precisely in shapes and weights. Hardness is one of the main properties of rubber compounds, and to have it measured, the company has a hardness tester which measures hardness in both shore A and International Rubber Hardness Degrees (IRHD) scale.
The latest model of dispersion testing machine has also been procured. This machine checks the dispersion of all fillers, from
1 µm to 250 µm, in a masterbatch. As rubber comes in contact with harsh surfaces, wear and tear have to be tested. To determine the performance of the rubber products in frictional operations, an abrasion tester has been installed in the lab. This machine measures the volume loss due to the abrasive action by rubbing a test sample over a specified grade of abrasive sheet which helps to predict overall wear and tear of the product in actual applications. The test can be done with various loads and distances. The semi-automated densimeter is used for rapid and accurate determination of specific gravity. To measure bounciness, the automatic rebound resilience tester is used according to standards. Rubber age is influenced by various factors such as sunlight, heat, oxygen in air and humidity. The lab also has an Ageing oven that checks various polymers’ life at various temperatures and durations.
Lab Intermix machine
One of the major highlights of the lab is the lab-intermix machine. Since one of the main objectives of the plant is to develop customised rubber compounds, this lab intermix develops a batch of a 2-kg compound for lab trials. The lab intermix can check physical properties before taking compound production on a larger scale. The 1.6-litre lab mixer with eHopper+ technology mixer gives a similar simulation factor having the same properties as the large mixer for production. The lab mixer comes equipped with SCADA, which monitors and collects data about the energy consumed, temperature, batch timings, batch weight. This machine helps Zenith Rubber’s engineers to control RAM pressure and speed, rotor speeds through the mixing cycle, dump temperature, the temperature monitoring through the cycle etc. according to the compounds’ recipes. With all these proven data, the compounding technologist finds it convenient to define and fix a recipe for a particular component for specific applications.
Zenith Rubber has also installed a Lab Mixing Mill which runs with variable of speed and friction, and with all top features required for a comprehensive compound testing under various permutation and combinations. The mill is incorporated with top-line electrical, automations, recorders and SCADA.
GST and its aftermath
Since major revenue comes from exports business, Zenith Rubber has also focused its attention to the domestic market, particularly after the implementation of GST. Demand for Zenith Rubber’s products has been rapidly increasing through its retail presence. The Company started its first outlet, Zenith Stores, in Mumbai, followed by the second Store in Delhi.
“Since the implementation of GST, we have opened one store each in Ahmedabad and Bangalore. We are in the process of opening our stores in Chennai and Hyderabad, which will give us a full Indian network,” says Aamir Vohra. The stores also help enhancing the Company’s brand image.
“It has been quite surprising as far as demand is concerned. Responses have really been positive. Customers are happy as the retail stores are price-competitive and give buying satisfaction. But the most important thing is that it gives the customers technical knowledge as well as quality assurance of what they are buying. Such stores are an interface for the company and give assurance of quality and pricing and give a wider range of products to buyers,” says Mazhar Vohra. Currently, about 80% of the Company’s revenue comes from exports, while the rest from domestic business.
Though the Indian rubber goods market is always crowded with unorganized players, the Zenith Chairman does not see much serious competitions from such players. “We are not competing with unorganized players in the country. Small players do manufacture commercial rubber sheetings; but as far as technical sheetings are concerned,we are very competent to meet the required standards demanded by the customers, says Mazhar.
Zenith Rubber has also added more products in inflatables like various kinds of boats, surge bladders and coated fabric segments. “We have a strong pipeline. We have developed rubber sheet products for conveyor system such as Chute lining, slurry and pipe lining for the mining industry. We have got a full range of ceramic pulley lagging,” says Aamir. Zenith Rubber for this fiscal expects a growth of over 20% in their sales from their Indian Operations, adds Aamir.
The road ahead
The Company produces products of international standards but the Management believes that there is always room for improvement. “Striving for excellence is not only market-driven but it is in the culture of the Company. We constantly keep abreast with technologies.
Apart from QCA, we have a Value Analysis & Value Engineering (VAVE) team whose goal is to improve the capabilities, improve process and give quality benefits. This team identifies innovative inputs that improve performance. The team checks with QCA and R&D teams to get approval in the applications for which the product is designed keeping in mind the saving of time, energy and safety. With an intensive training program and team management, it is our objective to do things right the first time itself “, explains Aamir Vohra.
Having quality products is just not enough to retain the customers. Zenith Rubber understands the value of aftersales service. So the company has intensified interactions with its customers to understand their needs. “Myself and my sales team have frequent visits to our customers for closer interactions,” says Aamir adding that the company spends substantial amount on research & development (R&D).
Developing technologists and defining everyone’s role is also a part of Zenith Rubber to groom talent in-house. Adds Aamir: “The second thing is finding a correct person for the right role. We take young guys and groom and evaluate them with challenging responsibilities. And the leadership is clear, and everyone’s role is defined.”
Challenges have always been there and will be there for Zenith Rubber, but the leadership has a clear mission which has been successfully infused into its employees. “Competition has been there and will be there; so we treat the technical specification guide as the Bible. We just don’t want to deviate. We deliver what we promise. That’s why we have created a brand value which is unshakable,” affirms M F Vohra. Yes, Zenith is all set to take on the competition however tough it is going to be!