Food Marketing and Technology Magazine, India had an interaction with Mr. Rajesh Khosla, CEO, AGI glaspac better known as AGI. AGI glaspac (or AGI) established in the year 1972, are involved in the manufacturing of high-quality glass containers to meet the demanding quality standards for the packaging needs of  Food, Soft Drinks, Spirits, Beer, Wine, and other industries. In this interview he discusses about the journey of AGI glaspac, their products, innovations and their clients in Food and Beverage Industry.

How has your transition been from steel to glass and the polymer business?

HSIL’s glass & polymer business provides an excellent platform for professionals. The whole organisation is running with a vibrant energy to experiment, innovate and grow. Since glass is a sunrise industry in India, opportunities will open up multi-fold. What attracted me to join, was the fact that here was a company steeped in strong value systems of employee empowerment, sound ethics and good teamwork. These value systems were laid on a firm foundation of faith, commitment and confidence, reposed by all relevant stakeholders, be it the promoters, customers, shareholders or employees.

A fantastic team that drives the business with a high level of professionalism is a stimulating and humbling experience. I decided to take its performance to the next level

Please talkabout the journey so far. Could you also touch upon the achievements of AGI Glaspac in recent years?

Associated Glass Industries Ltd., (AGI) was established in the year 1972 with a capacity of 80 tonnes/day(TPD). In 1981, HSIL Ltd. acquired AGI, renamed AGI to “AGI glaspac” and upgraded the furnace capacity to 180 TPD. In 1996, AGI achieved its first ISO 9000 certificate. In 2000, the first new furnace (F-2) was added, which increased the capacity to 450 TPD. In 2004, the second new furnace (F-3) was added to raise the capacity to 600 TPD. In 2009, a new greenfield plant was started at Bhongir with the third new furnace (F-4) of capacity 500 TPD, which raised the capacity to 1100 TPD. In 2011, we exported our first consignment. In 2012, the fourth new furnace (F-5) was added, which increased the capacity from 1100 TPD to 1600TPD with a colouring forehearth. It is also the largest container glass manufacturing facility at a single location in Asia. In 2016, electrostatic precipitators were installed to reduce SOx, NOx and CO2. In 2017, we introduced TPM, LEAN and Six Sigma. In 2019, AGI glaspac invested in natural gas to curb carbon emissions. We also installed machinery like end-of-the-line packaging for robotic case packers, case palletisers, cullet washing systems, automated dry optical sorting systems, etc.

Could you elaborate onyour products and their applications in brief for F&B Business?

The glass industry in India is quite old and well established. It remained largely a cottage industry for a very long time. In recent years, the industry has transformed from using rudimentary mouth-blown and hand-working processes, to adopting modern processes and automation in a big way. However, Indian per capita consumption for glass packaging (1.8kg) is much lower compared to other nations. The following graph shows it:

The demand for glass packaging is expected to grow exponentially by next year. AGI Glaspac has already installed the additional capacity to meet the rising demand, and there is no shortage of glass. Narrow neck press and blow (NNPB) process can produce the best glass bottles, and the current trend is towards tempering, using appealing colours and other value additions that will overcome the shortages and create a good supply chain to the consumer. The industry is experiencing a surge in demand, owing largely to the growing purchasing power, urbanisation, modern retail and increasing awareness about health and hygiene among consumers.

There will not be much cost involved as most of the FMCG products until 2011 used glass, and, hence, switching back to glass is not a challenge. Already, stability data is available with all the FMCG companies. With plastic phasing out in the next year, the demand for glass bottles is increasing substantially, and even end consumers have started indicating a preference for glass. An increase in the price of the glass bottles may happen only with the increase in raw material costs. One of the initiatives is Greendrop Glassware, which deals with B2C and retail e-commerce segments. It is also crucial to note that all these estimates were made before the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a possibility that the current pandemic might bring unforeseen changes to these reports.

What are the technologies used by your company, and how are they different from others to give a competitive edge to your clients?

AGI glaspac uses the latest technologies to integrate its R&D, production, etc. We have adopted Windchill, which is a product life-cycle management tool that integrates all the stakeholders of the operations right from new product development to bottle packaging.  The SAP system is in use to track everyday operations metrics and quality parameters. The business excellence team is equipped with all the tools required for effective statistical analysis and the development of new methods for sustaining the improvements.AGI Glaspac is actively exploring partnerships with industry and academia to bring innovative solutions for which we have been working with IITs and other national-level institutes. We also have collaborations with major glass equipment suppliers and service providers across the globe to bring new technologies and improve operations.

What are your plans for the next five years for both domestic and international markets? What is your post-COVID-19 strategy?

The coronavirus crisis has already led to some of the sharpest declines in recent times in demand for certain types of packaging. These include flexible films in the snacks industry, glass and metal in the alcohol industry while accelerating growth for others—such as packaging for e-commerce shipments like flexible, rigid plastics and corrugated grocery packaging that are emerging as lifelines in this new world. Yes, there will be a downfall as many packaging companies that are not able to increase their production as per the high demand will not be able to sustain in the market after the pandemic is over. Most of the organisations that relied on those packaging firms have already shifted to new companies to fulfill the demand in the market.  AGI has short-, medium- and long-term goals. In the short-term, we are trying to implement all the best practices in manufacturing, introduce the management tools of operations and collaborate with world-class glass industries for tech transfer. Digitalisation and automation are being introduced to improve business efficiency. For the medium-term, we want to introduce a series of value-added services, so that we can serve our present and future customers. In the long term, AGI must be recognised as a world-class manufacturer with a presence in India and abroad. Our customer base comprises a host of multinational and Indian companies catering to various business segments. The domestic market is our first priority, and AGI glaspac has a clear policy that we would not like to export at the cost of domestic demand. The additional capacity is utilised for exports to regions like North America, Europe, Africa, Canada, as well as the APAC regions.

What are the precautionary measures followed by the Glass Manufacturing sector to ensure safety during COVID-19 pandemic?

We have driven various awareness programmes through banners, leaflets, workshops, etc. to highlight safety as the utmost priority for the workers. The company has also initiated temperature checks and sanitisation at entry and punching areas. Hot water dispensaries have been implemented in various areas. The employees are only following virtual interactions for customer and internal meetings. All the outgoing and incoming transportation is being carefully monitored to avoid any spread of the virus. We have given truck drivers proper awareness and information on the outbreak of the virus. Truck drivers are not allowed to enter without washing their hands. Hand sanitisers have been made available for the truck drivers and cleaners. We have also installed disinfection tunnels in all our plants to keep our employees and labourers safe. These tunnels are sprayed with a mist of sodium hypochlorite solution; chlorine compound is often used as a disinfectant agent as you pass through them. With truck sanitisation, our fight against COVID-19 has been strengthened.

What are the innovations in the glass packaging solutions by AGI?

AGI has recently provided the following packaging solutions:

  • Offering a new tempering method for strengthening glass containers
  • Creating a lightweight container in different geometric shapes
  • Using newer technologies like single-stage forming to produce thinner but stronger glass containers
  • Developing a coating on the surface of the glass to avoid strength loss
  • Creating heat-resistant pyrex glass
  • Creating internal embossing glass bottles

Apart from that, in 2019, we invested in natural gas to curb carbon emission. We also installed machinery like end-of-the-line packaging for robotic case packers, case palletisers, cullet washing systems, automated dry optical sorting systems, etc.

What are are the prospects of the glass industry with plastic phasing out by 2020?

According to various studies, plastic will be phased out by next year. India’s dream and global vision are to replace plastic with green and environmentally friendly product glass. Since plastic is lighter in weight and easier to use, glass uses new technology in glass manufacturing to match the characteristics of plastics. As pharma bottles are non-returnable, they are produced at the lowest possible weights and with a uniform thickness, which will be an added advantage for logistics. With the help of advanced ‘blow-blow’ and NNPB technologies, bottles are produced with airtight packaging and delivered to the customers. Hence, AGI is gearing up for the phasing-out stage through its innovative packaging solutions.

What are the changes that AGI has made to adhere to the government regulations in a fight against the current world crisis?

Due to the ongoing pandemic, AGI has implemented a few changes to adhere to government regulations, involving the following aspects: input material; workforce; and outward transportation. Soda Ash, a primary raw material, has been stocked for up to a few months to cater to the demand. AGI has its sand manufacturing plant, but due to the lockdown, it will run partially. Doing so has reduced the frequent movement of these goods in and out of the factories. Machinery parts and cartons used for packaging have been stopped or delayed. We are looking at alternative options from local vendors. Almost 60 per cent of our employees are now working from home in the Hyderabad and Bhongir plants with the rotational shifts(alternate days) in our important departments like Plant Engineering, Production, Warehouse, Quality and  a 100 per cent work-from-home situation across all our other sales offices.  

Could you please shed some light on your clients from the F&B industry?

AGI Glaspac is a preferred glass supplier for many giants in the Food & Beverage industry such as Parle Agro, Coca Cola, Pepsico India, Nestle, among others. We are the innovation partners, and we develop new products in as quickly as two weeks while respecting the clients’ confidentiality. AGI Glaspac has installed state-of-the-art technologies in the areas of bottle forming and quality control, which ensures that the bottles we deliver are of top quality. Our human resources are continuously trained in the latest technologies and problem-solving techniques to deliver the right products.

Which are the national and international exhibitions and conferences in which you have participated?

In FY 19-20, we have participated in

  • FIEO’s India Pavilion at Malaysia International Food and Beverage Trade Show, June 26-28, 2019
  • Glasspex 2019, 10-12 Oct 2019, Mumbai
  • Pharmac 2019, 7-9 November 2019, Ahmedabad
  • Chemtech, 4-6 Dec, 2019, Hyderabad
  • IIP National Conference on “Recycling & Sustainability of Packaging Materials – Facts, Myths & Way Forward” 10th Jan 2020, Hyderabad
  • IIP National Conference on Packaging for a Better Life, 27-28 Feb 2020, New Delhi