Equipment selection is a major step involved in the execution of a project. SP Rajan, Head - Plant and Machinery, RREC, L&T Construction - Transportation Infrastructure IC, explains the various productivity parameters involved in the process of selecting the suitable equipment for a project.
Which are the major construction projects that you are involved with?
L&T Construction is executing several important infrastructure projects across the country and overseas. In the roads, runways and elevated corridors sector, we are presently executing more than 30 projects. Key among these projects are the Delhi-Agra road, Rewa-Lakhnadon in the north, the Bar Bilara-Jodhpur, the Dedicated Freight Corridor in the west, the Ghoshpukur-Salsalabari road in the east and the Villikuri-Kanyakumari stretch in the south.
Could you elaborate on your construction equipment fleet?
We have more than 5,000 construction equipment (a mix of owned and hired) are in operation now. Major ones among them include asphalt plants, batching plants, WMM plants, crushers, concrete slipform pavers, asphalt pavers, motor graders, vibratory compactors, Kerb casters, excavators and DG sets.
How do you define equipment productivity?
Productivity is a relative term. The equipment team (manufacturers) refers to this as production per hour under ideal circumstances. For users, it is the quantum produced by an equipment within acceptable quality standards under the defined duration with respect to application. Generally, the productivity of 80 per cent of its rated capacity from a machine is an acceptable norm for the industry.
What are the parameters you consider while choosing an equipment for a project to ensure better productivity?
While choosing an equipment for a project, we consider the following parameters: Capacity/size of the equipment, Project requirement, Ease of operations, Project duration, Project location, Job specifics, Haulage/lead, Standardisation, Past performance, and Service support.
How do size and location of a project matter in the equipment selection?
Since production per month is defined as productivity, it is imperative that the machine has better uptime. So, mean time between failures (MTBF) and mean time to repair (MTTR) must be under control.
Most linear projects are divided into different packages with each package having a separate project manager controlled by a Chief Project Officer. So, irrespective of whether the project is large or small, the approach adopted is the same and in turn the selection of machines also follows the same pattern. In projects that involve mass excavation, specialised mining equipment or any other best practices followed in the industry are resorted to within the confines of the rule book.
How far productivity parameters influence your purchase/procurement decision vis-a-vis cost?
Cost efficiency is of paramount importance and a cost benefit analysis is always carried out whenever machines are selected. Many a time, the operational expenditure (Opex) may appear equal or, at times, even more for superior machines, whereas the benefit is explicit with respect to savings in time.
For example, there are rollers that can compact 1.2 m at one go. The initial cost is about Rs 1.5 crore, which is much higher when compared to conventional rollers costing in the range of Rs 20 lakh that can compact only about 250 mm at a time. While the Opex in both these cases may turn out to be more or less similar, time is reduced by almost 60 per cent when using the former, costlier roller.
How do you assess the current construction equipment market in India with respect to the productivity parameters?
The present market in India is still on the maturing curve with respect to productivity parameters. In fact, the 12-ft grader used extensively in India is one of the smallest in the international market. The rollers are still small ones while in the case of batching plants, there is reluctance to go beyond three cu m whereas in the US, these plants can produce six to nine cu m in one batch. With increased awareness on digitalisation and control, production per hour can be improved but are still far away from the international standards of production per month.
What are the major challenges you face in the availability of the right equipment?
Availability of right equipment is one of the biggest challenges. There is clear knowledge and understanding among the users about the right equipment. But they refrain from buying specific equipment because of unpredicted future deployment and make do with general equipment. A case in point: if a project requires a 100 T excavator, the general tendency is to avoid purchasing such a high-capacity excavator but deploy more numbers of 30 T excavators instead. The same is the case with crushers, batching plants and many other equipment.
Another issue is ease of service. Unless there are sufficient numbers, equipment suppliers do not equip themselves with the capabilities to provide adequate after-sales support. They bank on the overseas support instead, which in turn increases MTTR, which adversely affects productivity.
How do you assess the latest generation of construction equipment vis-a-vis used equipment value for money?
The equipment in general are assessed on various parameters such as: Category of equipment (strategic/general purpose), Application, Availability, Service support, Ease of operation, Ease of diagnosis and repairs, Operator comfort, Occupational safety and quality compliance, Project completion cycle, and Digital compatibility.
In recent years, construction equipment has witnessed considerable modernisation, with most OEMs launching technologically advanced and energy-efficient equipment at regular intervals with the objective of enhancing productivity, reducing downtime, being more cost competitive, reducing reliance on imports, managing a better inventory of spares, and so on. Owners who are able to afford these superior equipment have migrated from basic equipment that has helped them tighten project schedules, improve quality and safety and enhance productivity. However, a wide gap still exists between strategic equipment like a slipform paver and general purpose equipment such as an excavator.
The latest generation equipment is assessed for its capability to handle telematics and operator assistance facilities apart from artificial intelligence that can improve the performance of components, thereby reducing Opex and improving productivity.
Used equipment is mostly assessed keeping in view the specific period of use with the intent to write it off fully or part of the cost on the project. Age or vintage is another important consideration and equipment that are five years and more find very few takers. Strategic equipment are mostly avoided from used lot. With the spurt in infrastructure development, the rental market is also improving where used machinery take centre stage.
SP Rajan, Head - Plant and Machinery, RREC, L&T Construction - Transportation Infrastructure IC.