Competition between products made in India and abroad pervades every single product maker, and cleaning machines are no exception. What to choose and why is a perennial source of questions, doubts and partially-informed choices. Ultimately, it is the customer who decides, which in this case, is facility management service providers.
Mrigank Warrier, Assistant Editor, Clean India Journal spoke with Ninad Bhatt, Director, Cleanteq and Geetesh Saraf, Director, Urja Facility Management Services Pvt. Ltd to understand how the country of origin of a cleaning machine influences their purchasing decisions, from the point of view of spare parts.
“How we perform at the client site as well as our operational efficiency depend directly on the availability of spare parts and post-sales service of cleaning machines,” said Saraf, 80% of whose machine fleet is Indian-made. “This forms a major part of decision-making during the initial procurement of the machine, which is why an Indian machine will be preferred.”
Bhatt, who always tries to buy only Indian-made machines, said: “Now, most machines are made in India. Their quality is good, and they sometimes cost less than half as much as foreign-made machines. And in case there is a problem, I just have to make one phone call and someone comes quickly to fix it.”
Machines that are made in India, with 100% Indian-made parts, are becoming the go-to option to service providers for a plethora of reasons.
Until some years ago, the popular perception among FM professionals was that domestic machines cannot match the quality of their imported machines. This is no longer true, according to Bhatt; in some cases, Indian machines may even perform better.
He shared an example of an Indian machine he bought five years ago; after having used it extensively, he is confident that it will continue to perform to satisfaction, and without hiccups, for the next 10 years. As Saraf said, the quality of Indian machines is not an issue anymore.
When a machine breaks down or a part wears out, the service provider needs a replacement at once. If the machine was manufactured abroad, chances are that the spare parts are stored somewhere at a central depot in India, from which the required part is shipped to customers in far-flung parts of the country. In my respondents’ experience, this can take up to a month or more.
The logistics process to procure a spare part fabricated elsewhere in the world can be long and tortuous. “There is no way of knowing when the part will reach me,” said Bhatt. “It requires continuous follow up. But in the case of 100% made-in-India products, the distribution system has reached the doorstep.”
In some cases, the wrong part may be shipped from the central depot, and the whole procurement process must start again.
What is the reason for this delay? Saraf puts it well: “The availability of spare parts depends on how much the management of global manufacturers is focussed on the Indian market, on states where they do not do a lot of business and on Tier II and Tier III centres which are not their biggest buyers.” For such customers, it is the domestic manufacturer who is most reliable.
Earlier, foreign-made machines were prohibitively expensive; I must point out that this is no longer the case. The price of their spare parts may be only slightly higher, or comparable to Indian-made parts.
However, customers find that there is more room to negotiate with Indian manufacturers. The latter also understand the financial constraints of their buyers.
Bhatt shared an example: “A foreign seller typically needs to be paid 50% or more in advance. Recently, I ordered a cleaning machine from an Indian manufacturer, and said I will pay for it in two parts, including with a post-dated cheque. Since we have had a working relationship for over a decade, they had no problem with that.”
Some global sellers even ask for 100% advance payment, which may not be feasible for smaller service providers waiting to be paid by their clients, or housekeeping startups that do not have deep pockets. This set of customers, which forms a majority of India’s FM community, can afford to and will only buy cleaning machines from domestic manufacturers.
One comparison in which foreign-made products still rank higher is aesthetics. Cleaning machines are large, visible objects whose appearance does play a role in a facility user’s perception of the facility. Indian manufacturers need to catch up on the look-and-feel front if they want to match their foreign competitors in all spheres.
Life of spares
This does not differ between domestic and Indian manufacturers; however, the longevity of a machine depends on service and spare parts availability, where Indian companies emerge stronger.
Bhatt illustrates this point: “After using a foreign-made machine for two to four years, when I asked the manufacturer for a spare part, they said the product is no longer being manufactured, hence the spare parts are no longer available. I have 8-10 imported machines that are lying idle because I can’t get spare parts for them.”
If the product is Indian-made, chances that are a spare can be scrounged somehow from somewhere. But the design of foreign-made machines is so unique that only foreign-made spare parts can be used.
Branded vs local
In the case of domestically produced machines, customers have the option of sourcing spares from the manufacturer, or opting for a potentially cheaper option from a local, non-branded manufacturer. This is especially true in the case of new entrants to the FM space. But is this prudent?
Bhatt advises everyone to only use branded spares: “Every part is designed for a specific purpose. If you modify a screw of a particular calibre for use in another situation, it will work for a few months, then the problem will recur.”
At the end of the day, service providers need to follow client preferences; do clients prefer foreign-made or Indian-made machines?
There is no easy answer to this. “Foreign manufacturers are innovative,” said Saraf. “They are the first movers in the cleaning machines space, and designing happens there. This can be a USP for clients”.
However, he also said that while until a few years ago, clients were particular about the brand of machines used at their facility, this is no longer the case. Most are only concerned with maximum uptime, not with whether the machine was manufactured in India or abroad. He advises others to look abroad when looking for something unique, but only when practical and feasible.
Need to Make-in-India
Much as the popular discourse is in favour of made-in-India machines, the fact of the matter is that there are still many advanced, specialised cleaning machines that are not made anywhere in India. Service providers do not have any alternative but to buy imported variants.
Saraf offered two examples: Upholstery cleaning machines, and smart options for glass cleaning at heights that are reasonably priced.
Beyond spares, consumable parts too need a domestic manufacturer. Squeegees, wheels and wheel bearings, and brushes all get worn out. Bhatt spoke of a valve that controls water flow; once it stops functioning properly, the manufacturer’s service personnel come and simply rejig the machine’s operations to bypass the valve entirely. A special, magnetic valve – not yet available in India – is the need of the hour.
What I gathered from my conversations is that until sophisticated cleaning machines start being designed – and not just manufactured – in India, service providers will still have to look internationally for advanced cleaning equipment. However, Bhatt is optimistic. “As per my knowledge, Indian-made robotic floor scrubbers are not yet available. But I know of a small Indian startup which is in the R&D phase, and will be able to supply such a product within a year.”