The strong impetus given by the new government on faster development of infrastructure and housing sector is expected to boost the demand for batching plants and other related concrete equipment.
The recent Budget has brought back smiles to many stakeholders of various verticals; however, the key seems to be implementation on the ground level. On a positive note, VG Sakthikumar, Wholetime Director - Operations, Schwing Stetter India, says, ´Definitely there is a positive movement. But we have to wait as many things that the government is intended to do will actually take time for implementation. Many contractors have to receive money from the government for the job they have completed. The government also needs to bring in more money for the projects announced. Besides, this is monsoon season, which is not good for construction activities. All these factors are going to delay the growth demand by at least six months. That means we are [practically] going to see a good time by 2015.´
Speaking about the market trends, Sakthikumar says, ´Majority of batching plants are in low volume range of 10-15 cu m. Our range of plants (18-240 cu m), the market size is about 700-800 units per annum, and we supply close to 500 units.´
According to him, at present, there is no improvement in demand. There are a lot of batching plants which are supplied in the past - lying idle without any job. If there is a demand, it is from the contractors who do not possess a plant. ´As there is already a low demand, there is no trend; everybody wants to save money and invest in the low-cost products. Nobody wants to take the risk of putting in a lot of money on a machine. People are waiting for the market conditions to improve so that they can invest in new machines,´ adds Sakthikumar.
´In India, the demand and growth pattern of ready-mix concrete (RMC) varies from location to location. Some states are doing well while many other states have zero demand. Bigger states with metropolitan cities are not doing well currently. For example, in Hyderabad, due to the separation of Andhra Pradesh into two states, there is nothing happening because of policy and state issues. This is the overall situation,´ says Sakthikumar.
He further adds, ´There is a chance for a shift towards bigger capacity plants, because the moment the growth returns, everybody would like to complete the jobs faster and go to another job so that they can make profit in both the projects. If the machine output is less or the mechanisation capacity is less, they will have to focus on one project only, and they may lose profit on second project. So speed will be an issue when market bounces back.´
According to Samar Ghosh Dastidar, Technical Director, Simplex Infrastructures, the current technology trend in batching plants is quite good. Dastidar says, ´Most of the construction equipment available in India today are of international standards due to the presence of international players. But there is a need for upgradation facility of the existing equipment. Today, the batching plant I am using may not be needed for some other projects, where I should be able to upgrade the plant.´ He further adds, ´In the current scenario, the erection time is becoming shorter and there is growing focus on pollution control. The pollution level and control systems vary from project to project. Some projects like Delhi Metro have stricter provisions for pollution control and environment friendly operations. This practice is tomorrow´s requirement for other projects. A lot of improvements can also be done in maintenance and support system.´
Selection of mixer
Selection of the right mixer as per the application and requirement plays a vital role in optimising the output. Says Ahamed Mohideen, Deputy Vice President - Plant & Equipment, Lodha Group, ´Effective mixing happens with twin-shaft mixing. Internationally it is more approved technology than planetary mixer. Twin-shaft mixer gives more homogeneous mixing. Internationally, most of the batching plants come with twin-shaft mixer. But in India, the local manufacturers go with planetary mixers. Batching plant concept started in India only about 10 years ago. Before that, we used to have drum mixers, which are similar to planetary mixers. However, cost-wise, twin-shaft mixer is expensive compared to planetary mixer.´
Explains Sakthikumar, ´We have different types of mixers - pan mixers, planetary mixers and twin-shaft mixers. It depends on the application and energy consumption. There are sites using aggregates of 150 mm size for dam projects where twin-shaft mixer is required, whereas for a regular building project, a pan mixer of 20 cu m is sufficient to do the production. Application and concrete decide size of the plant. These are the major aspects, which will help us to decide on which type of mixer we need to have. If it is precast concrete products, we may go with a planetary mixer.´
Selecting the right plant
Today, the market is flooded with batching plants with various configurations from different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). So what are the major factors that need to be looked at while buying a batching plant? According to Dastidar, one of the major factors is good mix of concrete. He says, ´Choosing a batching plant is based on the requirement of what type of mixer is being used. There are different types of mixers like pan mixer, turbo mixer, planetary mixer, etc. The second important factor is the capacity requirement. Depending on the quantity of concrete required, we need to use a batching plant of specific capacity. Third factor is type of batching plant, depending on the size, compact or elaborate size. We can use compact size batching plants wherever there is space restriction.´
Adds Dastidar, ´The configuration of the batching plants also plays an important role. Depending on the requirement, configuration can vary to include various controls and accessories like silos. Some projects may require different types of cements.
Sometimes, the cement supply will be very erratic in certain regions like the Northeast. So we need to put enough silos there so that the work does not stop.´ He further adds, ´We also have to see what are the additives to be used. Depending on the concrete mix, we have to decide whether to use retardant, silica, chilled water, ice flakes, etc.
According to these requirements, we have to set up the batching plant. If we require chilled water, we should have a chilling unit together matching with the capacity of the batching plant.´
Mohideen says, ´When selecting a batching plant, one has to see whether he needs a site-based plant or a project-based plant. Also, there are various grades of concrete requirements. Depending on these, he will be selecting a batching plant. There are mobile batching plants which can be shifted from one site to another. Major plants are permanently erected giving a large volume of concrete output based on the volume requirement such as 120 cu m, 180 cu m, 250 cu m, etc.´
He adds, ´For every plant, there should be a minimum outtake of concrete. For example, a plant has to have a viability, at least the minimum output of the plant should be established. In my knowledge, at least 60 per cent capacity of the plant should be utilised. So, one has to keep this in mind while selecting a plant.´
According to Mohideen, the grade of concrete also plays a role while selecting a plant. ´There are different grades of concrete depending on the load requirement in the slab, industrial building, foundation area, piling structures, etc. There are some structures on the sea side where we will require chemical-based concrete, which can resist the corrosion from seawater interaction. These kinds of concrete will be prepared in a separate kind of batching plant. This cannot be mixed with regular normal batching plants.´
From the OEMs point of view, the fund availability is one of the major issues. Says Sakthikumar, ´Today, we have mainly two major issues: price realisation and collection of payments. Even if we have an order, the customer does not have the finance to pay and take the delivery. So the funds availability is a major problem. The variation in price at which we were selling the machine earlier and now has put us under tremendous pressure to retain our price level. Unless the market becomes better, there will be the issue of funds availability. The government has announced certain policy directions to ease the situation. But these policy decisions should help things to happen. Unless this, thing are not going to change.´
From the end-user point of view the challenges are different. According to Dastidar, the major challenges are maintaining the promised output, quality of mix, and maintenance service.
Says Mohideen, ´Concrete output depends on many factors. One is the continuous feed of material, which will not be possible by the OEM. That depends on how a user is managing the aggregates, cement, water, etc. If he is giving all input materials like power and operational aspects like the ready transit mixers, the user should get 85 per cent of the rated output for a new plant.´
Mohideen further adds, ´Issues of not getting the desired output of concrete can be multiple. One of the reasons can be problem in mixing. Another can be the ratios given by the machine may not be proper. It has to give certain quantity of cement. There are load cells in the machine that should indicate the right quantity of water, cement, and aggregates. So, all these when get mixed as per the mix design, you get the concrete output. If these systems are not maintained properly, then probably you will not get the right kind of quality concrete. These are the parameters to be maintained by the manufacturers. They have to come and calibrate the machine, be in touch with the user always, and ensure that all parametric conditions are fulfilled in the machine.´
Dastidar says, ´Nowadays, the batching plants come with sophisticated parts and electronic controls. This needs adequate service support from the company and the OEM. We have our own maintenance section for these machines. But they cannot be experts in everything. Especially in the electronic parts and upgradation of the plant, support from OEMs is very important.´ He futher adds, ´We need back-up support from OEM mainly for electronic and sophisticated parts and in the upgradation of the plant. Normal mechanical parts and services can be handled by our maintenance staff.´
Operational cost is another factor. It is important to see what is the operational cost per cu m for a batching plant. In India, one has to be economical to get a job. Also, the raw materials which are being used should be of good quality to get the required output.
Realty sector has been one of the major demand drivers for the concrete equipment such as batching plants, transit mixers and concrete pumps and vibrators. The last couple of years were not good for the industry; especially 2013 was forgettable for the Indian real estate sector on account of weak macro economic conditions. However, with a stable government at the Centre, there is now more optimism in the country. As per the recent report from Care Ratings, the residential volumes are expected to pick up from Q4CY14 with a nominal increase in prices. With rapid land and infrastructure development as well as improved standard of living in Tier II and Tier III cities, housing demand is likely to increase more in these cities.
The initiative by RBI to ease norms for affordable housing is a right move that would have far reaching impact. According to C Shekar Reddy, President, CREDAI National, this will pave the way for liberalised funding, and with the increased exposure the lending to the affordable housing sector is expected to increase many folds. He adds, ´The move of allowing the banks to issue long term bonds in order to raise resources for lending to affordable housing is appreciable. The decision will make the affordable housing projects attractive for developers and more builders will be coming together to initiate such projects throughout the country.´
He elaborates, ´This norm makes the affordable housing eligible for getting the loans under priority sector, through which the home buyers in the six metropolitan cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Hyderabad will be eligible for loans up to Rs 50 lakh for house costing up to Rs 65 lakh, and for other cities individuals will be eligible for the loans up to Rs 40 lakh for houses costing up to Rs 50 lakh. This will help the end-user in availing the loans easily, and with the new norms in place, more people will be able to get loans for housing. The move will also help in reducing the interest rates resulting in cheaper home loans, which will further increase the quantum of loan amount.´
Says Kumar Gera, Chairman Gera Developments & Founder President of CREDAI, ´The house and infrastructure sectors have found a pride of place in this Budget. Housing will be impacted positively through the various budget proposals namely, smart cities, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), easing of FDI norms, enhancing of the tax deduction limit on interest for housing loans, the urban renewal programme and the ´Housing for All´ programme. These actions will lead to a positive impact of GDP growth through the positive cascading linkages that real estate development provides.´
The government´s announcement to develop 100 smart cities will also provide new opportunities for the real estate sector which in turn is expected to boost the demand for concrete equipment. Says Anuj Puri, Chairman & Country Head, JLL India, ´The Budget has allocated Rs 7,060 crore towards this end, thereby giving a financial sign-off for this concept. This will have very positive implications for real estate across all segments, including residential, commercial, retail and hospitality. Smart cities, by definition, imply considerable demand for technology-enabled services, and this is a big positive for IT/ITeS companies in India. Significantly, as much as one-third of the country´s demand for office space emanates from this sector.´
Zooming in on the 10-year infrastructure revival plan - be it fast-tracking PPP mechanism, modernisation of railways, creating diamond quadrilateral project of high-speed trains, networking freight corridors, time-bound national highway programmes, promoting low cost airports, development of ports and inland and coastal waterways, creation of 100 smart cities - the Modi government has given ample thrust on the development of infrastructure which augurs well for the construction equipment industry.
According to Anand Sundaresan, Vice Chairman & MD, Schwing Stetter, investment in NHAI projects, smart city development, Northeast road development project and the 16 new port projects and port connectivity, are some of the initiatives, which will definitely create market for the construction equipment industry. This is something we have been eagerly waiting for since quite some time. We only hope that these projects are implemented quickly so that the construction equipment industry will be benefited fast.
´The government´s plan to allocate Rs 2,037 crore to clean up Ganga; Rs 50,000 crore for urban infrastructure projects and announcement of metro projects in cities with 20 lakh people is very encouraging for construction equipment manufacturers. Further, the plan to allocate Rs 14,389 crore for rural road development, Rs 8,000 crore for rural housing scheme and Rs 7,060 crore towards development of 100 smart cities is a boost to the infrastructure segment,´ says AM Muralidharan, President, Volvo CE.
Sakthikumar sums it up on a high note. ´The growth potential is always there. India has a great future and so also, our business. But today nothing is in our hands. All the sectors mentioned are going to grow. But, to what extent, will depend on how fast as a country we move towards building the infrastructure. The government has already announced the direction, now to translate all these into action will take another six months at least. By the time, we will have our next Budget. Then the boost will come. So 2015 is expected to be good for us.´
Realty sector has been one of the major demand drivers for the concrete equipment such as batching plants, transit mixers, concrete pumps and vibrators.
´Upgradation facility of existing plant and equipment is needed.´
Nowadays, the batching plants come with sophisticated parts and electronic controls. This needs adequate service support from the company and the OEM, says Samar Ghosh Dastidar, Technical Director, Simplex Infrastructures. Excerpts from the interview...
Which are the recently completed or ongoing major projects of Simplex Infrastructures? We do a lot of piling work, and currently we are using batching plants in most of our projects due to the requirement of good quality concrete. We have at least hundred projects - small and big - underway across the country.
Which batching plants have you used for these projects?
For small projects, we use batching plants from Oru and Universal with capacities up to 18 cu m, while for bigger ones (30 cu m and above) we use Schwing Stetter, Macon, etc. We do not use batching plants from too many companies for a particular capacity, but stick to 2-3 companies only.
What makes you select a particular mixing type?
It depends on the type of concrete, size and capacity. For the machines, the more sophisticated you go for, the more expensive it becomes; operational cost and maintenance cost will go up. So there has to be some optimum figure regarding the capacity.
What are the value-added features that you expect from an OEM?
While selecting a batching plant, we take the help of OEMs in terms of all these aspects. Sometimes, we give the contract to them also for operation and maintenance of the plant. We provide them our requirement of concrete in terms of quantity and quality and pay them at per cum rate.
Are accessories like moisture probes, slump meters, adequate PLC controls and calibration arrangements optional features offered by OEMs?
All batching plants we use are PLC controlled. We also have the accessories like moisture probes. These are of course necessary, not an optional feature.
´Twin-shaft mixer gives more homogeneous mixing.´
In order to keep the O&M cost low, all the machine parts, especially the wear and tear parts should be provided in quality materials so that the wear and tear is at a lesser rate, says Ahamed Mohideen, Deputy Vice President - Plant & Equipment, Lodha Group. Excerpts from the interview...
What are the value added features you expect from an OEM while buying a batching plant?
Definitely the maximum output or promised output is of prime importance. The machine should always be functional. All electricals and electronics and all the safety features should be properly placed. In terms of the environmental aspects, the batching plants are open facilities. Normally, we put a cladding at the side of the mixer, but that is done by the end-user only. So that should be brought into place to avoid pollution at sites.
In order to keep the O&M cost low, all the machine parts, especially the wear and tear parts should be provided in quality materials so that the wear and tear is at a lesser rate. All the lubrication parts should be easily approachable. Valves and such parts should be leak-proof. To avoid wastage, the concrete discharge point should be properly locked once the concrete is discharged.
What are the batching plant accessories for quality concrete that you go for while buying a new plant?
Generally, one should have the load cell attachments. For uniform mixing, there are many kinds of charging types out of which one has to take the right type. There is a bucket type of charging and conveyor type of charging of raw materials. This should be ensured. In some places we use cement bags, so there should be a de-bagging plant, which cuts the cement bag, and the cement is immediately taken through the conveyor. If one does it manually, there is a chance of impurities going with the cement. Screens are very important to keep foreign materials away from the raw materials.
Are accessories such as moisture probes, slump meters, adequate PLC controls and calibration arrangements the optional features offered by OEMs?
Moisture probe is only to check the moisture content in the raw materials, which can be optional. Slump meters are also optional. But PLCs are nowadays, by default, a requirement in any machine. Since we are the end-user of the concrete and pay premium to the batching plant contractor, we expect all the quality elements in place along with the batching plant.
The Project: Flyover/expressway corridor from Jehangir Chowk to Rambaugh-Natipura in Srinagar City.
Project executed by: Simplex Infrastructures
Scope of work: Construction of elevated flyover/road of approximately 3,000 m length including pile/well foundation/RCC substructure, both PSC and RCC deck slab with PSC girders and other miscellaneous ancillary works, involving concrete work of approximately 95,000 cu m of M35 to M50 grade.
Challenges faced: In most sites, because of general weather condition in India, chilling plant and/or ice plant is/are provided to keep the concrete temperature down. But in this particular site, during three months of winter from December to February (during snow fall), boiler had to be used to heat the water (being used for concreting) to 25oC from about -10oC. The water was then pumped to the batching plant through insulated pipes. The temperature at batching plant used to be generally 15oC and at pouring point, about 13 km away, used to be around 18oC. The minimum allowable pouring concrete temperature during winter/snow fall is 5oC.
Batching plant used: Two plants of 45 cu m capacity.
Project: Ring road from Vikashpuri to Meera Bag, Delhi
Scope of work: Comprehensive development of corridor (Ring Road) between Vikashpuri to Meera Bagh, Delhi. Concrete quantity is approximately 1,10,000 cu m of grade up to M60, Micro silica is being used whenever required. RO plant is also used to purify the water.
Batching plant used: One each of 45 cu m and 30 cu m capacity.