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“India offers a great promise for lubricant industry”

With the expansion in the Indian economy and local MSME players increasingly competing with their global peers, use of quality lubricants has also witnessed a progressive rise over the years, says Shankar Karnik, General Manager, Industrial, ExxonMobil Lubricants Pvt Ltd in an exclusive interaction with IPF’s Manish Pant. Karnik says that the company contributes to Industry 4.0 by making its customers more competitive in not only the local market but also globally. The world’s largest publicly traded oil major has prepared a ten-year horizon to enhance its presence in what is presently the world’s sixth largest economy.
How significant will the role of players like ExxonMobil be as Industry 4.0 evolves over time?
ExxonMobil works with its customers to add value by basically offering them advance in productivity. What that promises are three areas or benefits that we bring to the table to deliver value. One, economic benefit through total cost of ownership by improving productivity, which basically helps them improve their profitability. Two, by using the right kind of technology in a particular application we promise less amount of safety risk exposure to the personnel on the shop floor. Through our technologies like Mobilith HSC and Mobilgrease, supported by our Mobil Serv range of services, we extend oil drain intervals to reduce exposure of maintenance personnel to equipment. Then on the environmental side, by extending oil drain by leveraging these technologies we are also generating less waste of oil or grease.
All these three together, in a balanced way, appeal to the sustainability of the customer’s as well as our business. We contribute to Industry 4.0 by making our customers more competitive in not only the local market but also in a global scenario. We have programmes in place to support and help our customers to build a certain discipline for proactive and predictive maintenance. Even in large sectors, we contribute to those very aspects that define Industry 4.0 through the concept of reliability centred maintenance (RCM). 
At a time when the federal government is trying to boost the manufacturing sector in the country through programmes like ‘Make in India’, where do you see yourself as an important input provider to the industry?
‘Make in India’ is a concept where manufacturers are expected to ensure products are manufactured to create employment opportunities and contribute to the economy of the local geography. ExxonMobil has a blending facility here to contribute to the concept. Beyond our own manufacturing, we would like to look at it in the form of customers who are to manufacture in India are not only looking at competition that is next door but they are also competing in a global arena. In order to be competitive in the global arena, you need the right kind of solutions, recommendations and inputs to achieve that. Thereby, we are contributing to both ends of the spectrum. 
Have you perceived any marked shift in awareness in the MSME sector regarding the role played by lubricants in reducing overall costs and enhancing the efficiency of the production process?
The awareness about the ExxonMobil brand is very much there in the industrial sector. We work with almost 25,000 equipment builders around the world, out of which we work very closely with 7,000 to 8,000 to develop products, look at trends in machine design and metallurgy and then accordingly design tribological solutions. We have a group of equipment engineers that are based in India to work with equipment builders on a regular basis to provide solutions. Since this is more about product approval, we would call it pre-sales. 
As part of the after sales, once a product is supplied, we bring the right amount of services that are required to realise that potential benefits that we had initially assured. We follow that up with service activities under what is referred to by us as Planned Engineering Service (PES), which is an over 100-year old trademark. We conduct activities to essentially enhance usage of the product to deliver advance in productivity benefits to our customers and then document and review it with them towards the end of a certain period to demonstrate the clear objectives, baseline conditions and engineering activities that resulted in certain benefits. That is all documented under what we call the engineering benefit report as part of the PES. 
Moving on to the sales side, ExxonMobil is perceived as a premium product in the market. The way we would put it, the premium on rupees per litre of a lubricant is far exceeded by the benefits we generate for our customers. That has been proven through various proof of performance that we have generated across industries for various applications. And this is the story that we take to the Indian MSMEs to explain to them that by investing 10 per cent more there is a great potential for them to achieve maybe 25-30 per cent benefits because they should look at the cost of lubricating rather than the lubricant.
Over the years, has awareness in the country’s MSME sector increased on the use of quality lubricants?
Yes, definitely! Our business numbers very clearly talk about it. Our growth has been in double digits for the last many years. Even in a situation where the industry was going through a downward cycle, we have registered a growth. With specific reference to manufacturing, we have been growing at a much higher rate compared to some other sectors such as energy since they are subject to various different business parameters. 
Which industries contribute to the bulk of the demand for your products in the country? Will any new businesses be driving the demand in the long-term?
Manufacturing is the key sector which is a significant portion of our portfolio. Beyond that, we participate in the energy sector. In renewable energy, we are a major player in wind. We work with eight out of the top ten wind turbine manufacturers in the world. We have all the preferential approvals and, as a result, more than 40,000 wind turbines today run on Mobilgear SHC XMP and now we have also introduced our next-generation products.
Gas engine oils is another area. Typically, gas engines use mineral gas engine oils, which are replaced anywhere after 3,000 to 6,000 hours, depending on the size of the machine and OEM requirements. In a regular Cat 3516 model, which is used in the gas compression application, we use a synthetic gas engine oil call Mobil SHC Pegasus 30. This product from an actual requirement of 6,000 hours drain has exceeded 50,000 hours in these Caterpillar gas engines and is still running. 
Compared to a premium gas engine mineral oil, it has not only extended the oil drain interval by almost ten times but also consistently delivered 1.5 per cent fuel efficiency in those engines. This is a huge saving in a 24X7 operation in a natural gas compression engine. Therefore, the engines have been paid back only by the lubricant. On the turbine oil side, we have developed a product called Mobil DTE 932 GT, which is specific for high temperature and high output GE gas turbines. This product has been performing well in several areas. We also work with the process industries such as cement, petrochemicals and mining. 
Given the disruptive times that we live in, what industry segments do you see as driving the growth of your products in the future?
In lubricant parlance, something like artificial intelligence and robotics can be equated to finding energy efficiency in specific industrial applications. We are already there in the latter area as robots require hydraulic oils. Since energy efficient technology in lubrication is the future, we have introduced a series of products based on our years of research and demonstrated the ability to deliver certain energy efficiency in every application. In future, we will ensure that we introduce the next step up pretty much on a regular basis in all these product technologies. 
Where does the Indian market presently stand in ExxonMobil's global scheme of things?
As a market, India offers a significant opportunity in pretty much every sector that one may look at. For ExxonMobil, India is the third largest lubricant market in the world, only behind the US and China. It has already overtaken Japan and Russia. The growth rate that the Indian economy offers is a great promise for the lubricant industry. That’s why ExxonMobil is present here directly and we have drafted a ten-year horizon for ourselves to make sure that our presence is even bigger in the near term. There are various areas that we are currently working on in terms of expanding our footprint and also making sure that we deliver on the value that we promise to our customers.

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