“Our newest plant in India has the best of technologies,” says Steve Kenny of H B Fuller

A two billion dollar multinational industrial adhesive manufacturing company with manufacturing facilities in 42 locations, H B Fuller has grown from 1.4 billion dollars in 1999 to 2.1 billion dollars.

01 Jul 2014 | By Ramu Ramanathan

H B Fuller's operations in India started off with a single employee five years ago. Now one of the world leaders in adhesive technology, the company has approximately 50 employees and a fully functional, state-of-the-art plant in Pune.

H B Fuller's plant at Pune

Ramu Ramanathan (RR) speaks to Steve Kenny (SK), senior vice president, EIMEA (Europe, India, Middle East, Africa), about the developments at H B Fuller plus future plans.

RR: H B Fuller has been aggressive in the past 12 months. Why?

SK: We have invested significantly as we are committed to supporting the region’s current and future adhesive requirements. We hired a team of highly skilled, knowledgeable experts so we can bring better value to customers. Ours is not a simplistic, superficial model but is based on leveraging genuine expertise. This means that we work closely with customers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to help our customers succeed with the right adhesive solution to meet their bonding challenges.

RR: What is happening in marketing and outreach in book-binding and packaging segments?

SK: In Europe, we call this sector, “graphic arts.” The graphic arts industry includes amongst others, the activities of book-binding and film to print lamination. As a global multinational, we are a major supplier to all these industries in all regions around the globe. Coming to India, one thing that attracted us was, unlike in mature markets, the graphic arts business is growing. Following the advent of digital media in book-binding, mature markets are actually in steady decline; the market is essentially getting smaller. Here, what we find with the Indian binderies is that they are investing in state-of-the-art equipment to facilitate growth. There is a significant domestic market and they now have the equipment to compete in export markets as well. What we bring is the best technology possible so that when customers go into export markets they can compete with products that deliver the highest quality standards.

RR: Can you throw light on R&D that you have done in the past one to two years in PUR reactive hot-melt technology?

SK: As most of the binders in India are buying European equipment, we can support them with our expertise and provide high performance adhesive solutions from our significant global R&D investment. At the end of the day, we already have long-term relationships with the major OEM suppliers, so we have proven hot melt PUR adhesive products that are specified and perform well, not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world.

Currently, nobody in India is producing reactive hot-melts, everybody is importing and we are no different. We have a full range of adhesive products for binderies that is being continuously developed and improved predominantly in Europe and North America.

RR: A word about your technology group?

SK: One key role that our Indian technology group performs is to localise production. For example, we have different climatic conditions in every region. The ambient conditions in the binderies in India are different to northern Europe, so you have to factor that in and adjust the open time, set-time, closed time etc., to suit India. This is what our plant at Pune does. But the fundamental formulations are built by the best of our experts in Europe and North America. We have alliances with major OEMs, paper manufacturers, poly-propylene manufacturers, etc. We are well aware of their materials, and it is up to us to put those combinations together and design what is best for the Indian market.

RR: As an evangelist of PUR reactive hot melt technology, how soon do you see a greater percentage of players opting for this technology?

SK: According to my experience with book binderies, I believe they need to establish long print campaigns to enable them to get the best out of our PUR reactive hot melt technology. The problem with PUR is when you stop-start, there can be a lot of waste and a lot of downtime for cleaning. In addition, when you take a reactive system out of the equipment and insert a non-reactive one, they are incompatible. So the real challenge for the binders is to get their print runs established, so that they can run long campaigns on a reactive system. The market needs to accept that the higher quality of PUR technology comes at a higher price.  We provide products that give enhanced performance, and it is up to the binder to be able to differentiate their pricing between a product that is bound with a reactive system or a non-reactive system.    

RR: What is the sentiment among publishers for PUR reactive hot melt technology?

SK: I think they like what they see but may struggle to sell because of the cost difference. The market as a whole needs to invest in education to explain the improved final product performance. Some book types are easier to switch to PUR such as reference books for example, that have a long life. But more disposable books, such as paperbacks, may not need the extra performance that PUR offers. We respond to our customers’ needs and provide quality adhesive products from all the available adhesive technologies that deliver performance across the range of applications. Our customers then cost and sell their products accordingly.

RR: What is happening with your new plant in Pune?

SK: At our state-of-the-art plant, located in Shirwal near Pune, we have the capability to manufacture a wide range of finished products not just for bookbinding, but also for the packaging business, non-woven hygiene and converting businesses. This is one of our most modern plants in the world where we combine the best of our technologies. We have great engineering capabilities and more than adequate capacity to significantly increase our business from where we are today. The plant is built in such a way that it has adequate space to be physically expanded in the future. The plant has been audited by many multinational companies, and I can confirm it has passed with flying colours on every single occasion.  

RR: What is the idea behind investing such a significant amount in India?

SK: India is a rapidly developing economy, and that is the reason why we are here. Emerging markets are critical to our future growth. Europe and North America have always been our biggest businesses, but future growth opportunities are clearly in the emerging markets. We have invested heavily in China, we have made several investments in Southeast Asia, including a new green field project in Indonesia, and we have made recent acquisitions in Asia and Brazil. It is very clear that, if we want to accelerate revenue growth, then we have to be a major player in the emerging markets.

Localisation is something else we are prepared to do. Providing value to new customers to help them grow their business is a clear demonstration of our commitment to their success. We are committed to India and started trading here nearly six years ago. We were delighted to make a substantial investment in India with the new plant in Pune, thus further reassuring our customers that we are committed to their businesses.  

RR: Are you bullish about the Indian market?

SK: Yes definitely. We are growing our business profitability and are very happy with our Indian business. In this, I follow the 3S principle of the Indian Prime Minister: skill, speed and scale. I think the scale and skill exist, and we look forward to the new government facilitating the speed.

RR: H B Fuller has seen leadership changes. Who will lead the Indian operations?

SK: Harsh Gupta will be heading the Indian operations. With Harsh we have the strong leadership we need to take our business to the next phase of development.

Stay tuned for Steve Kenny's Big Interview in PrintWeek India's July issue