In the age of all-encompassing technology, the humble ceiling fan doesn’t receive a lot of attention. An irony, considering that ceiling fans continue to be the lifeline of many homes and buildings in developing countries like India. In the quintessential Indian summer, fans runs 24×7, raising electricity bills and consuming staggering quantities of power.
A group of IIT-Bombay alumni have taken it upon themselves to find a sustainable solution, resulting in an innovative product named the Gorilla fan.
The fan is a product of Atomberg, an enterprise started in 2012 by Manoj Meena, an IIT-Bombay graduate. Sibabrata Das joined as a co-founder followed by other alumni who became part of the founding team. According to Arindam Paul, head of marketing and strategy, the organisation spent a few years developing products like data acquisition systems and vehicle tracking systems before venturing into fans.
He says, “Ceiling fans have not seen any real innovation in the last 50-60 years. Our founding team already had an expertise in BLDC motors. We knew the potential of these motors to reduce power consumption and optimised one specifically for a ceiling fan. We also had a strong technical background, as we were manufacturing and supplying data acquisition systems to various prestigious institutions. Observing the huge power consumption and wide usage of ceiling fans inspired us to take up the initiative.”
Prototyping emerged as the first major challenge, taking up time and resources but the team admits that manufacturing was a hundred times tougher. “The lack of professional vendors in our space (ceiling fans) put us through a lot of difficulties,” says Arindam. “Materials would usually be delayed by days and sometime even months.”
The team strove to reach its goals despite an unreliable supply process—their plans were made keeping in mind a 30-day delay. It wasn’t an easy time and Arindam recalls one occasion when they had to complete an order for 500 fans just before Diwali, without any proper manufacturing set-up. “The entire team worked for four days straight to be able to manufacture and ship the fans. It was critical to ship the fans before Diwali, as we needed the cash from the client for further production.”
Today, the fans are manufactured, assembled and extensively tested at the company’s plant at Navi Mumbai, which was launched in March 2016, only a month before they received their first order for 100 fans from an IT company.
At its highest speed, Gorilla consumes 28 Watts—one-third the power consumed by other ceiling fans.
The Atomberg team also considered other factors in developing the product. The fan’s life expectancy is around 20-25 years and it works in a wide voltage range of 110-285V. The fans come with sleep timers—similar to air conditioners—and the remote control enables customers to do away with the regulators. If you’ve struggled with malfunctioning regulators in your home and work space, you know what a blessing that can be.
According to Arindam, each Gorilla fan has the potential to save up to ₹1,500 annually, subject to varying usage and electricity rates.
“A normal ceiling fan consumes 75-80 Watts, while Gorilla reduces the power consumption by more than 65 per cent,” he adds. “There are an estimated 246 million ceiling fans in India. If we consider an average running time of 10 hours for 300 days, units saved per year will be 2782 (GWH). It should be sufficient to provide electricity access to 200 million families. It will also make using ceiling fans more affordable for many families in India.”
Their innovation won the Atomberg team a global award by UNIDO (United Nations) in the category of Energy Efficiency for 2016-2017 and a million-dollar funding in 2016.
Yet, the challenges persist, chiefly sales and marketing to the target audience. Market surveys helped them zero upon the first clients for their products—ceramic companies which required fans to run 24×7. Arindam says, “Once the initial clients were satisfied, we got huge business from the industry as word of mouth spread about our fans. Our biggest lesson was to satisfy existing customers rather than just chasing new ones.”
They also started a commission-based entrepreneurship programme as means of promotion. Users could register by purchasing a fan, which would be accompanied with marketing materials and code. They can market the fans and find their own customers to buy the fans using their code, which gives them a commission for every fan sold.
Till date, the 60-member Atomberg team has sold over 50,000 fans to organisations and individual customers.
The company’s corporate clients include Infosys, ITC, Aditya Birla Group, Hyatt Hotels, Indian Railways, IIT Bombay, IIIT Hyderabad, IDFC, Tata Power etc. “We have also sold around 5000 fans online through various e-commerce sites,” adds Arindam.
Arindam admits that the challenges for a clean-tech hardware startup are many, but they are pleased with the response. The company next aims to expand to pedestal and table fans, which are widely used in the rural areas. “In the next 5-7 years, we are also looking at large appliances like ACs and to make them more energy efficient by replacing motors used in compressor with energy efficient BLDC motors,” he adds.
Aiming to become the Tesla of household appliances, the Atomberg team feels that the innovative makes a world of a difference. They say, “Every year, 4 crore ceiling fans are sold in India. Our dream is to make sure that one day all ceiling fans in India are replaced with energy efficient BLDC ceiling fans. This will give electricity access to more than 5 crore Indians who do not have access to electricity today.”