By Dr.K Rajkumar:

Large and medium-scale industries in India have well-equipped labs for testing activities, however the MSME sector does not have adequate testing facilities. There are also only very few laboratories in India to test automotive tyres. Steps are being taken to equip the Indian laboratories with facilities to test and certify tyres as and when the Government of India implements the tyre labelling certification.

The awareness on quality is increasing day by day. The testing laboratories too are gearing up to face the new quality challenges in the rubber sector. Testing requirements are different for different kinds of sectors. In the case of rubber products, testing includes raw materials testing, in-process testing and finished product testing. Testing is also carried out for investigation of the cause of failure, in case the product fails while in actual use.

Quality enhancement through testing

Quality is the vital element to improve the competitiveness of any industry and rubber industry is not an exemption. Testing becomes an integral part of the manufacturing process to provide assurance of quality of any product.
Today, as per the requirements of ISO:9001 – 2015 Quality Management System, the top management has to do Risk Assessment on each key process in the factory and plan proper mitigation measures to minimise the risk anticipated so that sustainability is achieved. The implementation of quality management system and ISO 9001 certification becomes very mandatory to demonstrate the quality of products being manufactured by any company.
Usually, large and medium-scale industries have well-equipped labs for testing activities to support their Quality Management System Certification requirements and automotive rubber products manufacturers strictly go by the ISO 9001 certification norms.
However, MSME sectors are not generally equipped for the required testing requirements. Such firms usually outsource their testing requirements to premium R&D / testing labs available with organisations like IRMRA. The absence of facilities for testing of raw materials leads to the creation of poor-quality products which weaken their competitiveness in the market.

Role of testing in export business

Rubber products are mainly classified as tyre and non-tyre rubber products. Non-tyre rubber products include inner tubes, rubber footwear, rubber hoses, conveyor belting, V belting, gaskets, packing and sealing devices, moulded, extruded and lathe-cut rubber goods. The rubber products are used in various sectors such as automotive, Defense, Railways, nuclear plants, industrial infrastructure, construction industry etc.
Whether it is a small or big rubber component which may function alone or as part of a major equipment or device, such rubber componets play an important role in the functioning of such products/systems. There are many untapped export business opportunities which can be explored by the Indian rubber industry.
The world per capita rubber consumption stands at 3.5 kg whereas India’s per capita consumption is less than 1.5 kg which opens up lots of opportunities to be explored. Stringent norms for export of products, especially in respect of testing of raw materials, in-process/finished products etc, are a disincentive to the manufacturers.
Some of the rubber products manufacturers follow separate quality norms for domestic and international markets. In my opinion, quality should not be discriminated whether it is for domestic or international customers. The production of high-quality rubber products involves selction of right raw materials, right processing, right moulded or cured product, good finishing etc in conformity with laid down specifications. Quality is the only key which can open the export market and leading R&D labs like IRMRA, RRII etc can help in implementing good quality culture in the rubber industry.
It is essential to exercise control over the quality of raw materials being imported for making export-oriented rubber goods. There are cases where the export consignment got rejected due to substandard quality of raw materials used for making rubber products, which leads to huge rejection. Industry can tie up with institutions like IRMRA for fulfilling their needs in executing export business. As part of promoting quality and safety in the rubber Industry, IRMRA has introduced Quality & Safety Awards and a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) rating system certification. Industry can benefit from such initiatives for the qualitiative improvement of their export business.

ISI marking for rubber products

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has introduced mandatory ISI marking for critical products (through government notification) and voluntary ISI marking for consumer products. Rubber industry should come forward to take up such voluntary ISI marking to meet Indian Standards / specifications and further resist imports of substandard rubber products. This is feasible only through quality enhancement. Consumer awareness should be created to buy only ISI marked rubber products wherever possible.
Manufacturers should come forward to upgrade the quality specifications which would be a challenge to exporters to India. Rubber products manufacturers should become members of BIS Technical Committee and actively participate in the technical meetings of BIS to review and implement quality specifications. Indian products can compete in global markets only by enhancing quality as per BIS/ ISO norms.
There are certain rubber products which are made and consumed in India but tested abroad (in leading labs outside the country). This is mainly due to the absence of Indian standards / specifications. BIS has taken note of it and will develop standards for these products at the earliest to fill this gap. IRMRA is involved in formulating standards for BIS and ISO and will play a critical role in this endeavour.
The Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP) / Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Govt of India, too can take quality control measures after framing Indian standards for these products, which would help minimise or eliminate low-quality products and promote sustainability of the Indian rubber industry.
Industries should identify the absence of Indian standards for any product and bring it to the attention of BIS and respective committees so that appropriate standards could be framed for such products. This will help not only in reducing testing and investigation costs but also in timely issue of certification.

Testing laboratories in India

There are many government and private testing laboratories in India that are accredited by NABL and provide services to the rubber industry. Some large and medium-scale rubber industry players have their in-house testing labs which are accredited and also approved by DSIR. There are only very few laboratories in India, namely IRMRA, ARAI, CIRT, ICAT etc, to test automotive tyres.
Apart from routine testing activities, IRMRA is also involved in focussed research and evaluations to serve the tyre industry. Only few labs like IRMRA have well-equipped analytical research / testing facility to carry out speciality testing and certifications to cater to the export business. IRMRA has upgraded the laboratory equipment / facilities for providing services to the rubber and allied industries. IRMRA has also opened its regional centres to render fast services at local level.
IRMRA is setting up a unique tyre testing facility at its branch in Sri City, Andhra Pradesh (Southern Branch) which will be operational in the year 2019. This facility will serve south based automotive OEMs, rubber products manufacturers and also the governmnet sectors across the country.
India is planning to implement the tyre labelling certification in the near future to address the concerns arising out of environmental & energy efficiency related issues in the automotive industry. Steps are being taken to equip the Indian laboratories with facilities to test and certify tyres as and when the government implements the tyre labelling certification.
(The writer can be contacted at director@irmra.org)