The four-decade-old aluminium utensils industry in Vijayawada is going through trying times. Once flourishing industry with majority of units located at the Jawahar Autonagar, it is trying to wriggle out of labour problem by taking steps to automate the process and modernise the units.

There are 15 composite units in the region and most of them are starved of skilled labour. “A majority of them are about 30 years old and the generation of skilled labour that have either become old or obsolete. There is no second generation lineage. With the labour force becoming old, the rate of absenteeism is over 50 per cent. At times we are facing difficulty in fulfilling the orders and this is where we are losing to the competitors,” said Andhra Pradesh Small Industries Association President and Promoter of Sunlight Metal Industry D.V.K. Rama Rao.

There was a time when the aluminium metal industry was employing over 3,000 people. Today the number has dropped to about 1,500.

To counter the labour problem the units have gone into a research and development mode. “A delegation had gone to China sometime ago and approached a few firms to give a blueprint on total automation. We are awaiting the final plan and costing,” said Mr Rama Rao.

Countrywide, the aluminium utensils industry is estimated at Rs.3,500 crore and the contribution from Vijayawada is about Rs.30 crore.

Major chunk comes from Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Delhi.

The units here cater to needs in Andhra Pradesh and parts of Karnataka, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh. The units in Tamil Nadu and Delhi get good support from the government, which was totally absent in AP, said Mr.Rama Rao. “They have long term government-run training and entrepreneurial development programmes and schemes, which is lacking here,” said Mr Rama Rao.

Most of the units are equipped with foundries and rolling mills.

After the melting process it is left to the skilled workers to cut and shape them into different sizes. The industries manufacture from small utensils used at home to large ones for caterers and hoteliers.

With the profit margin going down, scrap is also in demand. While, a kg of scrap cost Rs.110, ingots cost Rs.135, but the wastage factor in scrap is about 20 per cent compared to 3 to 4 per cent in ingots.

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