Founded in 1984, CSL Silicones has established itself as a leading supplier of high-voltage insulator coatings, able to prevent machine downtime caused by leakage currents and flashovers. President and CEO Faisal Huda sheds light on the technological know-how that sets the company apart from its competitors.
Faisal Huda: The key flaw with outdoor insulators is that they will get dirty and they will get wet. When that happens, they leak current. So, coating them with our product, the material - which is effectively nanotechnology - enables an interaction with the pollution layer that collects on its surface, and renders it electrically inert and non-conductive.
However, that's just a product focus. How CSL has been able to differentiate itself has been much more applications-oriented, compared with other companies out there in this space. We focus heavily on what the customer is actually looking to purchase: the customer is not looking for an insulator coating; they are looking for reliability.
Reliability is not just performance of the product over the long run, but is also about how it is going to be installed. How do we know that it has been installed properly and that it's going to stick and perform as it is supposed to perform? It is really about doing a diagnosis year after year, monitoring installations and helping the customer evaluate its performance.
So, that's really how we have set ourselves apart. While it is our ambition to be a profitable company, that doesn't necessarily translate into being the biggest company out there. We'd much rather be a smaller player that is focused on true value addition for our customers and presenting holistic solutions rather than just products to the marketplace.
We own the lion's share of the market, globally. As a technological leader, that is well proven; not by us, but by people who have studied or used our products for a very long time. We have set ourselves apart to that extent. For a small company to achieve that against massive, multibillion-pound companies from North America and Europe is quite an achievement.
However, what really differentiates us is not actually disclosed in our patents. The fact that we can make our own polymers means we are not tied down by the operating economics of the bigger companies. The bigger companies that supply polymers to smaller companies like CSL will have literally tens of thousands of finished products in their portfolios, but they don't have a dedicated, customised polymer for each of those finished products. From an operating economic standpoint, that would be ludicrous, not to mention impossible.
So none of these big companies have been able to do what we have done, which is to engineer, from a molecular level, a silicone polymer intended specifically for a high-voltage surface. However, I am not at liberty to discuss how we've managed to craft a specific polymer for high voltage. It is what you might call the 'secret sauce': a trade secret.
It is not sufficient for us to rest on our laurels. We are always looking further ahead and asking ourselves: what does the end-client really require in terms of reliability and peace of mind?
For instance, one of the things we have identified is that a coated insulator is very expensive, for reasons that are not immediately obvious. A lot of people think that the price of silicone should come down, but despite working together with our customers and helping them apply the product as efficiently as possible, we have found that waste factors are still remarkably high. Some of the best coating application technicians out there can get waste down to around 15-20%, but, on average, the waste is much higher at 30%.
This was driving up the cost, of course. We undertook a project to invent a totally new spray technology. Being a chemical company, that was quite an undertaking, but we succeeded. We filed for the patent last year.
We have taken the waste factors of 25% or so down to below 5%. Bringing down the waste levels so dramatically may hit us in the short term, but it will eventually open the applicability of the available market very widely. So, rather than worrying about hitting each other over the head in terms of our competition and stealing our competitors' market share, I would rather open the doors to the available market much wider.
Developing this kind of technology is one way in which we really partner with the best interests of our customers. It's not in our interest to sell less material, so we try and think of the bigger picture and more on a long-term strategic basis, making the right choice as a company and on a human level too. That's one way we work with our customers to ensure our mutual interests are served.
Another project we have undertaken is to try and develop performance-measurement tools that provide definitive answers to our customers on how our technology is performing. We have enough confidence in our material to be able to answer any questions our customers might ask, and give them the reliability they are looking for.
Yes. We see it as a kind of ecosystem strategy of products, tools and services, from coating chemistry and application to performance measurements. It's a full circle of fulfilment.
We also opened a sister company, which is able to provide turnkey projects to our customers and is proving to be particularly helpful in breaking into new territories. For example, I recently received a telephone call from a company in Mozambique saying, "Listen, we've got a problem, but we've heard your technology is the technology to use. Can you help us?"
In answer to that request, we can help by taking it in-house and farming it out to our sister company, which then brings in the necessary array of applied resources. That's a level of service that no-one else can offer right now in this space because they haven't focused on it in the same way that we have.
Founded in 1984, CSL Silicones Inc. (CSL) has carved out for itself a niche in the global polysiloxane (silicone) industry by way of innovations in the field of RTV silicones. Products range from specialty sealants & adhesives to industrial high performance coatings.
CSL has developed the world's most technologically advanced and recognized brand in the field of High Voltage Insulator Coating (HVIC) with the introduction of the Si-COAT (570) HVIC product in 1987. This proprietary material, engineered from specialty polymers crafted by CSL expressly for high voltage use, has been installed on insulators counting into the multiple tens of millions across the globe.
The Si-COAT HVIC technology, designed to eliminate leakage current on contaminated insulators, has improved electric power system reliability and reduced operating and maintenance costs in installations spanning the globe.
In support of this business, CSL has developed a world-leading centre of HVIC excellence. The company has invented new technologies to improve the coating application process and to dramatically reduce waste during the application process. CSL also provides ongoing training, education, applicator certification programs and equipment supply to support its numerous service partners across all continents.
Finally, CSL brings to market complementary technologies such as low-cost, easy-to-deploy online leakage current monitors and analyzers. Such technologies provide the customer with a full-circle view of power system reliability based on insulator health and performance.