Builders have been adopting new construction techniques, materials and organisational practices.
THE scaling up of operations in the construction business has required structural enhancements to provide sturdy structures. Real estate developers say that builders in Chennai have been enterprising enough to adopt new construction techniques, materials and organisational practices that are needed to build modern structures.
Until recently most materials were mass commodities, without a brand name. However, in the last few years, brands have acquired importance. Until recently, most builders used to mix their own concrete for use in their projects. But the growing complexity of the construction business has resulted in the entry of suppliers of ready-mix concrete of varying specifications to cater to the needs of different kinds of structures.
"It is just not worthwhile to spend effort and money on making my own concrete mix for my various projects in the city at any given point of time," explains a leading Chennai-based builder. Moreover, the onus of meeting quality standards is now on the supplier, relieving the builder of an additional responsibility. This change, caused by the scale factor, has resulted in several branded products in the ready-mix concrete business. This can also be seen in the case of several other raw materials such as steel, aluminium, bricks and cement.
One of the new entrants in the branded steel business is Viki Industries Private Ltd. The company has a plant near Chennai for manufacturing secondary steel. It has launched its own brand, iSteel, targeted at the construction industry. Viki Industries will use its branding initiative to educate customers on choosing right-quality steel and on the right quantity to be used. The first product under this branding initiative is a TMT (thermo-mechanical treatment) bar. The company will launch other products under the iSteel initiative, including corrosion-resistant steel. iSteel will also help the company price its products at a premium over the competition from other secondary steel manufacturers, according to G. Gautam Reddy, managing director, Viki Industries.
Viki Industries has its plant at Gummidipoondi near Chennai and has a capacity of 50,000 tonnes a year. It has a 5-MW furnace oil-based captive power plant that meets almost 95 per cent of its power requirement.
Gautam Reddy told Frontline that Viki Industries was manufacturing cold twisted and deformed (CTD) bars but later started making TMT bars. While CTD bars are rolled and twisted manually to strengthen the steel bars, TMT bars are made through a process of quenching and tempering, which imparts greater strength and elongation to the steel. Gautam Reddy pointed out that TMT bars were particularly suitable for earthquake-resistant buildings. They show greater resistance to corrosion, have better weldability and bendability and are fire-resistant.
ARS Metals Private Ltd is another steel producer catering to the needs of the construction industry. An integrated steel producer, it has technical collaborations with companies based in Belgium and the United States. The technical enhancements made possible with these collaborative agreements have enabled it to introduce further refinements in TMT bars. Pankaj Mehra, vice-president (marketing), said TMT bars offered a 20 per cent saving to consumers when compared to CTD. New treatment techniques, he explained, ensured that the outer layer of the steel was not exposed to moisture and hence did not peel off.
Mehra told Frontline that the boom in the real estate business, caused by the entry of Information Technology and Information Technology Enabled Services businesses and multinational companies, resulted in greater awareness about quality construction materials among builders and promoters. He also pointed out that Chennai's builders were quality conscious and open to new ideas.
Referring to the spurt in the price of steel, Gautam Reddy said that the cost of construction materials had gone up owing to the global boom in the construction industry. The increase in the demand for steel in China, Dubai and South Asia has contributed to the increase in steel prices, he said. He feels Chennai is "becoming the favourite destination for business and has a strong positioning as the next IT destination". There will be a huge need for residential complexes and other infrastructure, he said. "Things look very bright for Chennai for the next few years," he said.
Gautam Reddy said that the ongoing boom requires manufacturers like Viki to invest in research and development, in order to produce newer and better grades of steel. This, he said, would also result in lower construction costs.
Big projects mean that water supply for drinking and other uses had to be made available on a big scale. Moreover, there is the need for sewage and sanitation amenities.
Grundfos Pumps India Private Ltd, based in Chennai, sells pumps for water extraction, pumping and pressure boosting. It also supplies pumps for wastewater handling and water treatment to leading property developers and builders. In the wastewater segment, the company supplies the space-saving solo lift pumps for toilets.
B. Chandra Sekaran, business director (eastern and southern region) of Grundfos, told Frontline that water management in India has a "major problem". Efficient management, he said, meant "handling the scarcity of water as well as operating the system economically".
He claimed that Grundfos' pumps conserved energy and were highly reliable. "They consume less power because of their high pumping efficiency," he said.
"The use of sheet metal and laser machines has resulted in greater consistency and accuracy in the manufacturing process. In some cases, built-in variable speed drives are a specialty," he said.