Jyoti Cera Rubber (JCR), an Adityapur-based supplier, has approached Tata Steel for the licence to commercially manufacture the product. The licensing of an IP asset is a pioneering step for Tata Steel's IPR cell, which has painstakingly nurtured its intellectual property, "from protection of the innovation, to marketing the process, and finally to achieving the goal of commercialisation,, as BK Bhuyan, senior manager, patents, Tata Steel, puts it.
Based on JCR's business plans, Tata Steel expects to earn a 3 per cent royalty that works out to Rs3 million in the first year, going up to Rs12 million by the fourth year. This is over and above cost savings that will accrue from replacing conventional idlers with the innovative hybrid idlers (expected to be in the region of Rs630 million for one plant alone).
The conveyor belt systems at Tata Steel's plants are used primarily to transport raw material and need to be highly reliable. At the Tata Steel sinter plant, for example, the role of the conveyor belt system is to convey the raw mix to the sinter machine and convey the hot sinter as well as cold sinter to the blast furnace. At this one plant alone, the conveyor belt network is about 42km long and uses nearly 100,000 idlers — approximately 63,000 carrying idlers and about 31,500 return idlers.
In the normal course of events, the wear and tear on the idlers implies that they have a very short operational life. At the sinter plant, the idlers had to be replaced every month, implying a severe burden in terms of system down time, maintenance support and increases in production costs.
Tata Steel's Mechanical Maintenance Unit (a part of the Shared Services Division) and a local partner JCR jointly worked on an initiative to improve the quality and lifespan of these idlers. The result of the R&D was the creation of the hybrid idler, specially designed with a coating of high alumina ceramic powder with polymer (called JCR-1000 CERO ZIP).
The new idler took about six months to develop and underwent trials for a year before it was declared successful. Tata Steel itself has invested only Rs20,000 in the R&D process but will benefit in several ways:
In terms of costs, Tata Steel confidently expects to save about Rs5,000 for each carrying idler and Rs7,500 for a return idler. Considering the vast numbers of idlers needed at the plant, this works out to a saving of Rs630 million in the sinter plant alone, and about Rs1,800 million if the hybrid idlers are used in the company's 120km-long network of conveyor belts.
JCR, the company that is licensing the technology from Tata Steel, can expect customer interest from a wide range of industries that use conveyor belt systems.
The innovation has won JCR an award for R&D in the small-scale sector from the president of India.