The Biogas sector is back in the limelight, with ambitious plans, and that has attracted, or put the focus back on many multinational firms too. German company SUMA with its range of agitators and pumps for the sector is one such firm. The company has established a robust network of partners and is actively exploring the possibility of localizing its products through the establishment of an assembly unit in India. Helge Kopczak, the Sales Director of SUMA, sheds light on the distinctive qualities of their products, the promising prospects within the Indian market, the challenges they face, and their future expansion plans. Excerpts:
- Tell us about SUMA and what are the products that you are offering in India?
Helge Kopczak: SUMA is a 65 years old company producing and selling only mixers. We started in the field of agriculture business and stepped into biogas very early which is 30 years ago. It’s based in southern Germany and is family owned to the third generation. It has 150 employees right now. You know that Germany became a leader in the biogas industry as we have 10,000 biogas plants. Thereafter other European countries stepped in. France and Italy are the second biggest market with 3000 biogas plants in each. Now we are trying to export our technology to India. The biggest potential markets are India, USA and Brazil. We have been active for 10 years in China which is still a reasonable market. We saw some mistakes they made 10 years ago and we hope that those mistakes are not done in India.
- How long have you been in India?
HK: SUMA has been active for 3 years in India active through German OEMs. We have supplied products to several plants in India. We deliver almost 3,000 mixers each year around the world. Today, we have more than 100,000 mixers installed and 70% of these are running in biogas plants. So, we really know what mixing is.
- How do you see the prospects in the Indian market?
HK: The industry is talking about the 5,000 biogas plants that will be set up here. The potential is definitely there but what we need now are realistic projects. Since two years everybody is talking that there will be a big boom but we don’t see many projects. We see some projects here & there but the volume is still not there to reach 5,000 plants within three years. These many biogas plants means India has to install 1000 each year for three years. The problem is with investments and finance and projects are postponed.
- What is unique with SUMA in the biogas industry?
HK: SUMA is offering all kinds of mixers that the biogas industry needs depending on the feedstock and size of digesters. We offer variation. We have a certain quality which means a certain motor or certain amount of steel to build heavy mixers that can last 10 years in digesters. The next most important thing is that service first for installation. We see lots of mistakes during the installation phase because people think they know how to read the manual and install mixers by themselves. About 60-70% mistakes are made during the installation phase because in a country like in India we understand that plant owners are not willing to pay experienced technicians from Germany. But servicing is necessary to have mixers running the right way.
- How do you help plant owners with your expertise?
HK: Our idea is to get the bigger EPC contractors to get their staff trained well. We send our technicians. It’s kind of a package. They can help them run their 50-100 plants independently. SUMA is the biggest mixers manufacturer for the biogas industry in Europe. We have a variety to offer which most players don’t and we focus only on mixers. So we have lots of engineering & skills to select the right mixers for digesters.
- Indian buyers are price sensitive. How would you remain price competitive here?
HK: The big EPC contractors will have to purchase from Europe for a few years because we have expertise. SUMA is looking to open its first assembly unit in India very soon. Once we have projects coming, we would start localization. We have service partners already. We can’t manage India with just one service partner because of the sheer size of the country. Partners will be trained and there will be local stock also.
- SUMA has supplied its products to how many projects in India?
HK: At present we have about 10 projects that are running. These include waste to energy projects in Goa and Chandigarh among others that have capacities in megawatts (MW). The size of the digesters in these plants range is about 30-10 meters usually.
- How efficient your products are and what is the level of customer satisfaction?
HK: In the biogas industry, most people look at motor efficiency when it comes to mixers. But the blades of a mixer are more important than the motor. It is because hydraulic efficiency is much more important than electric efficiency. SUMA is certainly a leader in this segment.
Also, our customers are very satisfied. Those who once tried SUMA they try it again. If they have used some other mixer before, they are absolutely satisfied with SUMA.
- You said that the Chinese made some mistakes in the biogas segment. What exactly were they?
HK: They tried to put 100% rice or paddy straw into the digesters and after 3-5 years they saw the failure of the plants which eventually closed down. There are people who say that we can digest 100% paddy which nobody in the world did before.