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Exploring Composite Materials for Design and Acoustics with Nitin Govila
Episode 2620th June 2022 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:29:49

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Nitin Govila. Nitin is a management leader, entrepreneur, engineer, and meditation trainer. He is the Senior Vice President, air Pacific and MEA for the French manufacturing group Serge Ferrari, a flexible composite material sector leader. So, Nitin, welcome to the show.

Nitin Govila: Thank you, Lisa. I'm glad to be here and delighted to be speaking with you.

Lisa Ryan: Share with us a bit about your background and what led you ultimately to do what you're doing with composite materials.

Nitin Govila: I was in the initial years of my life. I was born and brought up in India. I studied there and worked there for six to seven years. I started my career with paints after a few years in the dairy and food sectors. Building materials and paints were the first building materials I started with. I needed to kind of update or upgraded myself, so I felt a need for an international management degree.

I came to Paris to do my MBA at HTC Paris, which opened me up to work in an international environment. I started working with another French company, which was in home automation. Then in early 2007 and eight, I felt the need that this part of the world was growing. At that time, I was working in France also, and then I felt the market that this part of the world was growing, and I wanted to be back in Asia. So that brought me to Singapore.

I've now been in Singapore for 14 plus years. For the first seven years, I worked for a French company, also in roofing. I moved to a very niche product category in roofing. Then this opportunity came, which was unique and different. I did not know about the sector. We used to see some shade structures, blinds, and awnings, but they were in detail in the industry. When I was with the home automation, we used to supply moderation systems for the blinds and awnings. So I was exposed to that, but beyond that, not so much. It was an interesting journey for me to enter this business category. That's been six and a half years now. In this industry, as you mentioned, I've been handling the role of Vice president of Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa.

That's nearly a more significant part of the world regarding geography. It's also a growing part of the business for the company. I'm based in Singapore, but most of the time travel across all the countries and regions I am responsible for.

Lisa Ryan: What has changed as far as these composite materials? Why are people moving towards them? And what are some of the benefits of using that as far as architecture and outdoor equipment applications?

Nitin Govila: Great question. When I joined, it's already been six and a half years, as I mentioned. I also ask this question regarding what has been evolving in our company. It's touching 50 years next year, and what I've seen when I look back at the history, I think the main thing has been the technology and the innovation. If you look at composite materials, how it starts may start with a pellet. If you're using polyester, you begin with those pellets. You crush them you. You make a yarn.

We process the yarn through our process and then quote them what drives the innovation and the quality of the products. More and more companies that have invested in innovation have always been able to lead the market, continuously bringing out new products. Based on the market's needs, if I look at significant structures now, I'm talking about stadiums, airports, and large shading structures when we talk about great architecture. Earlier, nobody thought it was a guy maybe 15-20 years back. You might call it a kind of a tarpaulin or a canvas, depending on which country you are from and what words are used. Over the years, companies have leaped to make some innovations. Serge Ferrari is one of the leading companies with innovation. We put nearly four to 5% of our turnover into R&D and innovation. What happened was slowly, the minds of the architects and the designers and consultants also changed and evolved.

There was also a field of study that evolved in engineering, called ten cyl or the fabric or ten cell membrane engineering. Many colleges came up with a couple of them, offering specialization in Germany. These courses became a field of study. When those people came out to start their professional careers with architect or design firms, they also began experimenting. As time went along, when you see those structures, there are still structures that were done 20-25 years back and are still there. That also created more and more openness for the architects, designers, and the final client to look at it. Over time, they also realized that one of the unique ways for every architect or designer is always to have a signature structure made. A unique one and composite materials being free-flowing have been able to give that to feed into their imagination.

It boils down to what kind of yards are used. Are you using glass yarns are using. They have a proven history of projects which have lasted 20, 30, and 40 years and are still standing. That's why now it's moving in the lines. It's the fifth element of construction, other than the classical ones. The concrete and other elements we talk about are moving as a fifth element. It looks like a prominent open structure or a close structure. Even in close structures, people use membranes and fabrics because they can roll up the building. They can make a façade. They can create a perforated facade or single-skin facades can, depending on their needs.

The structure you see behind me as my backdrop is made of a facade material. It's in a public park in Queensland. I visited this place last week to see the project because that also gives a lovely perspective. It's a public space. You can walk and be underneath it. It adds to the aesthetics and creates that iconic structure, which goes in very hand in hand with the city's identity. For that matter, the countries and entities, so if you asked me briefly, it's a long answer, but I would say innovation. Being able to show a proven history, that you've done it, you've done it successfully, and being able to go and meet the right influencers and tell them what the product can bring. Then you have all the test labs and the reports to complement to prove that these are three-four elements that are leading plus the flexibility of it. Even non-combustibility or sustainability in companies like us have taken the lead in that direction. So that building norms or the local norms of a city or a country are also filled in that direction, whether you're going to greener way, whether you're going the noncombustible way, or you want to have more fire-resistant buildings or structures in that sense.

Lisa Ryan: Because this is audio-only, people don't see the structure behind you, but I can verify that it is super cool, so just from the sustainability aspect, that's great. But the creativity, because you have the opportunity to work with those flowing materials and create something unique. You have a lot more flexibility. Let's talk about its sustainability of it. Using glass and polyester and those different fibers, from a sustainability standpoint, is that, like recycled materials, we can incorporate our, I don't want to call it, our waste, but our waste into these types of projects? We'll talk a little bit about the sustainability aspect of that.

Nitin Govila: Certain companies are working on it again here. We are taking the lead. We have been leaders in developing PVC-free products. In that sense, which is mainly for interior applications, so instead of somebody wanting a polyester coated PVC polyester yarns and PVC coated product if they wish to a PVC free, that's a trend which is going. Because sustainability also has very different meanings in different countries in certain countries. They want to understand the entire back end of the process in the value chain of the whole manufacturing. We consider the terms of how the raw materials are sourced. The raw material supplier companies are doing in terms of their processes. In Australia, you have a concept called PVC best practice, which means that vinyl and PVC are not bad, but it's more important to see what the processes follow to make a product.

We also have a second development we had in the past, and now we are doing it uniquely also is to create, how do we recycle these membranes and then recycle to what is it recycle to a bad waste in a way that okay. It's recycled, but still, it's not such a usable way. Maybe you can still make some applications not related to structures. But some other things or are you able to create even the yarns and pallets which are of good quality so that you can use them to make another fabric, which will be a good quality. The company is working on the second step earlier, we had the recyclability that it created pallets, and you could use them for various things. Maybe low-end usage now, we've gone one step ahead to develop a technology where we are working on it. We should have it launched at the end of this year or early next year.

If you're also able to show that the pallets you create are of high quality, then when the yards you create and through that, the fabric you make will also have better quality. Then other elements are what coating process use what environment are you using to, then and classify production in that direction. So there is a very, very strong effort towards that. We are aligned with the overall objectives, whether of Europe or other parts of the world. We have allocated a specific part to ensure we are moving in that direction. The world is moving or as expected of companies like us.

Lisa Ryan: The other thing I find interesting about what you're doing with your materials is the difference between sound and noise. What are you doing with those internally, as far as helping workers to be more focused on what they're doing because you're able to reduce or eliminate some of the day-to-day noise? Talk about it from that standpoint? How are your products and your technology helping today's manufacturing workers?

Nitin Govila: It's not only the manufacturing workers that's important. But it's also overall. I would say workspace so whether it's manufacturing, whether it's an office, whether it's a restaurant or a public space interest public space or, for that matter, include swimming pool or a sports gym or whatever. What happens is that acoustics is, and I'll prefer to use the word acoustics here because acoustics is misunderstood or misconstrued. When you talk about acoustic, the first thing people understand is this sound reduction of soundproof. That's where I have learned it. I did not understand before joining the company that there is a difference between sound and bad noise.

What is essential is to have a good sound or up and reduce the effect of bad now is not bad noise means that you are an area, you have a lot of people. There's a reverberation of sound, which is happening and affecting that even when you go to a restaurant. It's packed on a Friday evening or Saturday. You're not even able to hear the person across your table for which you've come for dinner. Suppose you have an environment that ensures that those sound reverberations are what the coefficient NRC or the Alpha. We say the noise reduction coefficient is measured in terms of the material. In that case, you're not saying you're making a soundproof. It's not like a recording room. But what you're recording also insulates you. You don't feel much of anything in a recording room. Here it's different. You remove the bad noise effects and have a good sound. You're able to sit comfortably and be in a good space. You can also hear the other person, whatever the other person is saying, and communicate comfortably even if people are around now. What's happening is over the years and still happens. There's a lot of effort put towards in an office, not only the aesthetics, or how do we manage the heat, the terminal part the glare, part all those elements are being looked at more seriously.

Even though there is an element of exterior protection outside the window or inside, that has its pluses and minuses. The acoustic part is never looked at, and when you look at it now, try to get people back to the office after the covert. You become pertinent to creating a good space that people would want to return to; otherwise, they were happy in their homes. They have created a space of working for the last one and a half years doing these calls like zoom calls or teams calls, and then, when they come to the office, they see it's an open space.

You may feel heavy or not so comfortable, so I think that's an element I see sometimes gaining but not so much a part of it is also lack of information and knowledge available. Maybe there are not so many acousticians who can share the difference between all those elements. Part of it is also design and awareness. The moment all that comes together, we are playing a part. When we try to show at different exhibitions or displays or even presentations to architects to talk about this. Because the free-flowing fabric word that it ensures is it can fit into your design environment. You can envelop it with the lights, so if you have a light, you can cover the lights. Instead of glass, you can do a fabric. Nobody will ever realize that you can do ceiling baffles. You can do panels.

You can do even the walls and print on them; nobody will even realize there is fabric. It provides the acoustic effect that if you take swimming pools, you can do the ceiling underneath any roof. It could be a membrane roof. It could be a steel roof. The sound does not get reflected. That improves the whole acoustics of the place. Many times when we see stadiums being designed, they are always double-skinned. Part of it is also because of that; our product is included in the Qatar World Cup, which has five stadiums. There's one stadium, designed like a Bedouin, a Middle East tent where the outside surface is a membrane. The inside part is done on the ceiling. The design of what the intent in the Middle East inside will look like. We designed it from the yards. We did not color it. The yarns are of that red-brown whitish color to give that look from the inside. That's an acoustic fabric that was put inside the top membrane, which is also to show that effect but also provide comfort for the spectators who will be there to watch the game. So it's evolving, but I think it will take some time to get that across.

Lisa Ryan: It sounds like it's quite an education process because when you were talking about a noisy restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night, that makes sense because it detracts from the experience when you can't hear the person across from you. But if you go into a manufacturing plant or an office where sound is not something we even think about, what would be some signs to look for? How would somebody know that this could be an issue that could be helped by looking at the acoustics they have.

Nitin Govila: The first point, as you just mentioned, is the element of education. If we are taking the lead, there are not so many companies that can manufacture fabrics that can give these acoustic properties. We have a couple of products in a range, so we have to take the lead in educating, so when we talk to architects or consultants, we do our presentations in public forums or at different events. We ensure that we try to bring that element to education. We cover it in our catalogs and other communication. We have also changed the way. Sometimes we communicate so when we do big events or even exhibition booths. We try to create an experience room.

In that exhibition where people sit inside that space, they will feel the difference, so that's also what we are trying to do, and then obviously. We sometimes tell people okay, let's start with one of your rooms. Let's not start with the whole office. Let's take a meeting room, for that matter. Can we do a different way of a meeting room, and we are happy to support you on that or work with you on that, so maybe once they see the difference there, they'll come back to us, okay, let's look at the design of the whole office. It's a long effort, so it's all about communication and talking about it. Using case study methods, where we've done a lot of projects like this, to show that it could be a church and a restaurant. That's why sometimes more specific, very targeted audience-specific events started happening. If we decide to participate in that, we also try to bring in those elements to talk about.

Lisa Ryan: I also see in your background that you're a meditation trainer. So that mental health of workers falls right into that category, so talk a little bit about that because it sounds like you're doing a lot with the architects. Who would then have to sell the concept to the end-user? When it comes to the benefits of mental health for that end-user, whatever that building is? How does that work, and what are some success stories that you have experienced?

Nitin Govila: So I would say it's still very nascent where people look at mental health from the office environment. The design environment is still a different category to look at. One thing that has happened over the last few years is magnified, so you have bigger companies with specific HR and specific people-focused departments that are being created for workplace wellbeing and wellness. That's a real positive development. Mental health is being talked about. Also, stress is being talked about. Breakdowns are being talked about in companies. But it's still connected to an element that's related to people. Somehow I am not yet able to see a connection that the office environment also could play a part, I think it will happen, but I suppose it's too early for that. At least we are talking about this subject. It's a very positive direction because many years back, it was not even talked about, or it was not even considered good to talk about. At least now we are open about it; companies are taking specific actions to help their employees to understand supporting them. I do a lot of weekly meditation sessions with certain companies in Singapore virtually. They made it a practice that they gave their employees a half an hour option, not forcing them but they have a choice.

Those kinds of things companies are doing. They are also doing other things to help them maintain that. Ideally, it would be nice that the whole thing becomes holistic and that even when you design your space, you're already thinking of what colors I use and what kind of protection. I'm doing outside my glass, how I manage the heat, how I manage the air conditioning load, how I manage the aesthetics, or the glare or whatever when I'm looking at my screen. The sound or whatever, am I, creating space where I can have an opening for myself when I can connect with myself either meditate either pre or whatever I do that maybe you know. I worked with some companies that are creating meditation boards, or they've completed separate rooms called introspection rooms, where people can walk in whenever they wish to sit quietly for whatever time they want to and then come back. Part of it is happening now, the overall integration to combine all those elements. Maybe a little bit away, but it will take some time.

Lisa Ryan: Well, and I think it's funny because...

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