Umicore is a global materials technology and recycling group. One of its businesses—Performance Materials—offers titanium zinc based building products. The Umicore brand VMZINC finds applications in building envelopes and walls. Girish Dharachar, General Manager, Umicore India Pvt Ltd spoke to Buildotech.
VMZINC has been introduced in India quite recently…
The historical roots of Umicore go back more than 200 years and the Group in its current form is the result of the coming together of a number of mining and smelting companies like Vielle Montagne France and Union Miniere group. Umicore is a global materials technology and recycling group headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. It focuses on application areas where its expertise in materials science, chemistry and metallurgy makes a real difference. Its activities are centred on four business areas: Catalysis, Energy Materials, Performance Materials and Recycling.
Umicore Precious Metals Refining operates as one of the world’s largest precious metals recycling facility. Automotive Catalysts is one of the world’s leading producers of catalysts used in automotive emission abatement systems for both light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles. Precious Metals Chemistry produces organic and inorganic precious-metals-based catalysts for the fine chemicals, life science and pharmaceutical industries.
VMZINC is the international brand name of rolled Titanium Zinc products manufactured and sold by the Building Products Unit of the Umicore group, which is specialised in materials technology. It is headquartered in Paris with manufacturing facilities across France.
The VMZinc brand is a world leader in application of Titanium Zinc for Architectural applications. It is established in more than 50 countries across Europe, Asia, Australia and the US. Though Umicore as a group is present in India for 13 years, the building products business started only in 2010 after a year of development activity to map the local market. It is evident that with a lot of construction happening in India the scope for pushing our product is quite big.
Under the Umicore Building Product business comes Titanium Zinc alloy which is basically used for cladding & roofing of buildings and of late, it is also being used in interiors. They are being used for ornamentation as well, especially in Europe where we will find that a number of buildings with old architecture have windows covered in metals; mainly Titanium Zinc. Titanium zinc as a material has its own advantages. One, it is long lasting; zinc being non ferrous does not corrode and that way it weathers also beautifully and aesthetically it is very pleasing. There are also products that are not directly related to the building industry.
Umicore’s overriding goal of sustainable value creation is based on an ambition to develop, produce and recycle materials in a way that fulfils its mission: materials for a better life. Umicore Ranked Number One in Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World Index.
Market penetration in India
From April 2010, we have 40 buildings where Titanium Zinc is being used on different projects that are at various stages of execution. Some of the projects have facades as large as 10,000 m2. The material is gaining acceptance. Architects decide on the usage of materials for the building and they are the ones who need to be convinced about the advantages of using Titanium Zinc cladding. Architects travel around the world and see Titanium Zinc installed on a number of prestigious buildings. Our presence in India assures them of local support.
What are the physical advantages of zinc? Can you also explain pre weathered zinc?
Natural zinc is shiny silvery in colour. When the metal is exposed to the exterior environment, because of atmospheric impurities and moisture, a process called the Patina formation takes place naturally; the zinc reacts with the moisture in the atmosphere and forms zinc hydroxide that reacts with carbon dioxide to form zinc hydro carbonate. This is a two stage process called Patination which basically prevents any further reaction of the environment with the zinc. This layer of the zinc hydro carbonate is fairly non porous and it protects the zinc underneath. Unless this layer is disturbed, the zinc underneath does not get exposed and is protected, ensuring a longer life. This process is however a fairly long one. Moreover, the cleaner the environment the longer it takes for the patination process to get completed. For e.g. in places like Mumbai, Chennai, Mangalore it will happen very fast, but in places like Khandala, Darjeeling, Coorg it will take a longer time for the process to get completed. The zinc looks non homogeneous until the entire process is complete and homogeneity is achieved. In order to achieve faster patination and a homogeneous looking surface we do the pre weathering process in our factories in France.
The life of the Titanium Zinc is expected to be more than 100 years. The metal is 100% recyclable and sustainable. If one is to compare the Titanium Zinc product to other materials used in the building industry, it requires far less power to manufacture; so it consumes lesser natural resources.
Applications of performance materials in buildings
In India, Aluminium is very commonly used for facade and roofing applications in different product forms like Composite panels or solid sheet. These systems usually use a silicon sealant during installation for various reasons like water tightness etc. The reason behind this is not that inferior quality materials are used; it is just that some materials are not very malleable and therefore typically in joints that are complicated, sealants are used. This methodology is accepted worldwide. But there is maintenance associated with products like these.
In all single skin Titanium Zinc systems, usage of sealants is avoided. Since zinc is very malleable, it can bend easily; you use “Flashings” that cover and overlap corners providing with a fantastic finish. The advantage is that the buildings remain practically maintenance free. Titanium Zinc can also be soldered very easily thereby achieving excellent detailing & finishes.
All of single skin Titanium Zinc façade applications are dry joint systems. They are dry clad; it means that there are no sealants and flashings are used for all the corners, widows joints etc.
In a composite material, there is a likelihood of delamination over a period of time as they are bonded using glue and have limited life.
Titanium Zinc on the other hand, is mostly used as a single skin and has a much longer life. The green properties of Titanium Zinc like 100% recyclability, scrap management and zero VOCs earn LEED certification points. As a group we are committed to sustainable development and to re-emphasise Umicore Ranked Number One in Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World Index
What about cost factors?
In roofing, if compared with normal concrete roofing, Titanium Zinc is definitely expensive; but if compared with metal roofing that is gaining popularity, the pricing is comparable to aluminium.
In facades too, if compared with other single skin metals, it is competitive. It is only against metal composite panels that Titanium Zinc application becomes expensive. However, if life cycle costs are taken into consideration, it may turn out to be cheaper. For e.g. if a building is used for 60 to 70 years with almost no need for maintenance, the Titanium Zinc façade could actually be cheaper than one made of composite materials which do not have longer life.
VMZinc offers colours that are natural and are not coated. These are pre weathered. It also offers different colours which are produced using mineral pigments that last much longer than traditional coatings.
In India life cycle costs are still not a dominant decision making criterion for facades, but the mindset is changing and end users are looking at zinc as an alternative to other building materials.
Your product is in solar panel also…
Solar panels and Titanium Zinc panels are independent by themselves; however the two can be combined. We have a range called solar roofs, where essentially the panels continue to be produced in Titanium Zinc and have the solar panels pasted on them. A solar panel and Titanium Zinc panel can be integrated together to serve the dual purpose.
Your strategy for expanding the market?
We meet the architects and end customers regularly. Ten buildings can be constructed but Titanium Zinc cannot be used in every building or for that matter every product cannot be used in every building. There are various factors like the design intent, language, proportion of the building etc that has to match with the cladding material and its systems. It is the architect who knows best about all these factors and envisages the usage of the right material for the right project.
We have teams across the country and we work through business partners. It is important to know that the way Titanium Zinc is applied is different from the way a lot of other materials are applied. The way Titanium Zinc gets installed depends on the craftsmanship of the installing professionals. We therefore, also have a training centre in Mumbai where our partners are trained on application of Titanium Zinc on roofs & facades. The partners do the installation work; we mostly supply the materials and sometimes the panels.
We have an in house architect who is the technical manager, deciding on specific applications depending on various factors like climate, location etc. It also helps in understanding the Architect’s design intent better. Adaptations have to be done and we have a professional designated as craftsman who supervises the work at the site where Titanium Zinc installation is done. It is his job to see that the work being done is up to our standards. This is how we typically operate.