Balmer Lawrie Shakes off Dust

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Balmer Lawrie & Co., Indias grand old grease company, is trying to shake off some dust. In the midst of a multi-plant plan to expand its production capacity, the 146-year-old company is also aiming to become a bigger player in the market for lubricating oils.

Last year Balmer Lawrie completed an expansion that doubled the size of its blending plant in Silvassa, India. Now the company is moving ahead with a bigger project for its Kolkata plant. It has also stated its intention to relocate a plant in Chennai.

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Although we remain a dominant grease manufacturer and marketer in the country, the [greases and lubricants business unit] is now focused on further developing the lubricants side of the business to complement our strengths in the grease product line, Director Anand Dayal said in a newsletter posted on the companys website last year.

Based in Kolkata, Balmer Lawrie is a public sector enterprise under Indias Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. It began producing grease in 1937 and claims to be the countrys largest producer today. Other units of the company are engaged in manufacture of industrial packaging, performance chemicals, travel services, logistics infrastructure and refinery and oilfield services.

Balmer Lawrie has four lube manufacturing plants with combined capacity to make 75,000 metric tons per year of greases and lubricants. In addition to the Silvassa, Kolkata and Chennai facilities, it operates a 6,900 t/y plant in Mumbai.

Chairman and Managing Director Viren Sinha discussed the retooling of those plants in a recent exchange with Lube Report Asia. The Silvassa expansion, completed early last year, increased the capacity of that plant from 13,000 t/y to 28,000 t/y, working on a single shift. Now the company is planning an expansion in Kolkata.

The current installed capacity for the Kolkata plant is approximately 25,000 metric tons, Sinha said. Post-expansion, the capacity is planned to be enhanced to around 50,000 t/y on a single shift basis.

The Chennai plant has capacity to make 13,700 t/y of greases and lubes. Balmer Lawrie has said it wants to relocate the facility for unspecified environmental reasons. Earlier this year it was announced that the company is searching for a new site and that it hopes to move in 2015.

Officials say the expansions are part of a strategy to position the company to become a bigger player in the market for fluid lubricants, especially the retail sector. Sinha has been blunt in stating that the Balmer Lawries greases and lubricants unit needs to improve on its performance of recent years.

Not only have we stagnated in the last two or three years, he wrote in last years online newsletter. Volumes have marginally declined. I feel team G&L should increase their appetite for change and new ideas. It is not hungry enough for success in the market place.

The company says it is targeting lubricating oil segments such as retail sales of automotive lubricants, as well as food-grade and biodegradable products. Sinha said management has provided resources to help boost sales, including its largest marketing budget ever in 2013 – 7 crore rupees (U.S. $165,000).

Never in the history of Balmer Lawrie has such an investment been made for sales promotion and branding activities, and I sincerely urge the team to think out of the box to extract optimum mileage out of this budget.