A dash of ABB technology in your cup of tea

ABB technology solutions are driving efficiency not only for the Indian tea industry but also reaching African countries and other parts of south-east Asia

More than 50 percent of a leading plantation company’s tea estates in Assam use ABB drives. Variable speed drives are known to bring about efficiencies of close to 20 percent.

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Most people would agree with this statement. Tea is not only a drink but often a meal combined with milk and sugar in many parts of India and the sub-continent.

India is the second largest tea producing country in the world. But only about one sixth of the produce is exported. India's tea exports in fiscal 2016-17 fell 4.3 percent from a year ago to 222.93 million kg. The country has one of widest varieties of teas, Assam and Darjeeling tea along with the variety grown on the Nilgiri hills make up the basket for the most well-known Indian blends in global markets. The Indian tea sector employs about 1.1 million workers with 70 percent working in the north east and the rest in eastern and southern India. The main tea growing areas include Nilgiris in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, the state of Assam and West Bengal. Two major varieties include orthodox (mostly exported and mainstay of Darjeeling district in West Bengal) and CTC tea (grown mostly in Assam).

The uncertainties of the commodities price cycle (tea prices had crashed during the period of 2000 -2006), lowering of export potential and the impact of climate change has rendered Indian tea with one of the highest costs of production. The reliance on domestic market is also not an easy solution as the per capita tea drinking quantity in India is much lower as compared to global averages of other countries like Pakistan and China.

Enhancing the efficiency of the sector on the plantation side as well as the processing side is imperative to sustain markets and retain competitive advantage. ABB India is working with OEMs as well as improving awareness of leading plantation companies about the technologies available to enhance efficiencies in the tea processing sector.

The first step would be to replace gearboxes with variable frequency drives (VFDs) in the processing cycle. ABB drives control the speed of motors and are a key component of enabling energy efficiency and improving productivity. The processing of tea leaves of any kind involves withering or inducing desired amount of water loss – energy efficient motors, drives and fan blades could provide greater efficiencies with a medium term payback of within two years. For CTC tea, which involves the process of crushing, tearing and curling, passing the tea leaves through cylindrical rollers which have sharp teeth – use of energy efficient motors, synthetic flat belt instead of v belts will yield returns in the medium to longer run. The prevention of air leakage in continuous fermenting machines for such teas with a variable speed drives facilitate a wider variation in fermenting time. Use of VFDs in grid chain conveyor and improving heat transfer efficiency of the drying process are also areas of improvement, which can make a significant difference in terms of process efficiency and quality of end product.

ABB is also working with various OEMs and started supplying machines and components for dryers, fermenters, conveyors, humidifiers, rotor-vanes, which are being used not only in India but also Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Nepal, Bhutan, Australia and many other countries.

Indian tea is a commodity which enjoys global popularity especially given its many varieties. It is imperative that under the current circumstances, technology is deployed to optimize processes, cut costs and look at innovations in process and packaging to garner a larger share of the world market.

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