As India looks forward to a new government and, more important, a renewed thrust on infrastructure development, there are plenty of promising opportunities for pre-engineered building (PEB) construction in the country, writes MANAS R BASTIA.
PEB systems have been a game changer for the Indian construction industry with proven benefits and rapidly rising footprint. Some of the prime factors propelling their success include ease of installation, faster completion, flexibility in design, expandability, workshop fabrication, use of recyclable material, and energy-efficiency. Initially limited to typical box buildings, PEBs have come a long way - and how! Today, they are distinctly visible across an array of areas such as factories, assembly lines, metro stations, paint shops, bridge girders, process multi-storey buildings, shopping malls, cash and carry stores, indoor stadia, schools and colleges, to name a few. In fact, PEBs promise to be a good fit for the large-scale construction needs of 21st century India, which include airports, ports, warehousing sites and power plants. What's more, growing emphasis on the construction of green buildings is poised to expand the PEB market further.
Market in v-curve mode
Steel PEBs form part of the prefabricated houses (prefab) market that includes other materials such as EPS, XPS, etc. Talking about market dynamics in India, there has been a v-curve transition in recent years. "If you look at what has happened to the industry over the past two years, because of sentiments being down, the PEB market had actually shrunk," explains Alakesh Roy, Managing Director, Zamil Steel Buildings India. "From a peak of about 600,000 tonne in 2010-11, it went down to as low as 350,000 tonne and has now come back to 400,000 tonne." He promptly adds that despite the market downfall, the manufacturing sector continues to be a major user segment followed by warehousing and logistics, food and pharma industries.
Going forward, with a steep rise in the cost of land as well as its availability in the right place, going vertical appears to be the best option where steel PEBs can play the role of a total solution provider. "The turnaround of economy, changing scenario of availability of sand and aggregates, labour prices and paucity of time will be driving the demand of PEBs," believes Manish Garg, President (ESBS), Everest Industries Ltd. "The construction of metro rail projects countrywide is going to be another growth driver. The conversion from site-made fabricated buildings to factory-made buildings will continue at a robust pace."
Meanwhile, Roy offers a perspective on changing market trends. "Nowadays, people are demanding more and more customised solutions rather than a prefab offering," he observes. "We have to be technically capable enough to handle such kinds of projects together. Having built a 50-m structure we are now getting enquiries for up to 100-m structures, which are not built in a conventional way and involve a mix of conventional and steel put together."
In recent years, Indian industry has witnessed a significant transition. Since their development, there has been a growing use of Indian codes and standards, an evolution from the earlier era of following American design and codes. "We follow all international design codes such as IS800-2007 and ASTM besides IS codes," says Roy. "In Indian conditions, we have to apply Indian codes. More and more consultants and structural engineers are going in for IS design; this is a major change that has happened in the PEB industry. Also, gone are the days of manual detailing and designing. Today, BIM software solutions with advanced computer-aided design and detailing software are used to provide accurate output in detailing. However, this requires more accurate planning and phasing of the project as a whole right from the beginning."
As Garg tells us, Everest follows both AISC and IS. "EVEREST-MBS, a dedicated software for design and analysis of PEB, has been customised for design as per AISC and IS," he shares. "The quality standards are ASTM for materials and AWS D 1.1 for welding."
New product developments
This industry in India has seen several improvements on both the product and process fronts, ranging from new paint systems to zero-leak roofing profiles. "Unlike other companies in India, we offer pre-galvanised secondary as a standard product," says Roy. "This is an innovative way of saying to customers that we care for their buildings. We are also gradually changing our painting system, which is epoxy by default, so the durability of the building will be improved because of the painting. In addition, we have developed a new wall cladding profile and introduced a zero-leak roofing profile for which we have received FM Approval. Traditionally, FM is a quality assurance agency that applies a certain set of strict criteria while the building is getting erected, so that it conforms to the highest standards and is protected against elements of nature, such as earthquakes, floods and wind."
With many types of cladding materials now available in the market, building aesthetics can be moulded to the customer's requirement, rather than merely following what the product offers. In terms of innovation, Everest has started supplying galvanised plus purlins as a standard, which neither require any painting at site nor need maintenance. On the design front, it has started detailing buildings on Tekla to provide 100-per-cent, error-free buildings at site. "In terms of aesthetics, the grooves technique is becoming very common," says K Daryani, Director, Daryanis Engineers & Associates, a renowned consultant. "The industry needs to get into facade type of finishing, glass, etc."
One of the major challenges facing the industry is the low-entry barrier for some of the new local players, who are said to be spoiling the price to survive in the market. Worse, this is leading to project delays and increased losses for customers. So, how do the market leaders respond? "We have spent a large amount of money on R&D to improve quality and methods to incorporate the latest construction technologies and benefit customers," answers Roy. "We are also trying to educate the market in terms of the quality of other aspects of a building." Besides, he cites the differential tax rates of state governments, rising transportation costs mainly owing to increasing diesel prices, and too many toll taxes as other challenges to this sector.
"Fluctuating steel prices, shortage of trained manpower, presence of small players, lack of quality standards, non-availability of a dedicated PEB code, and high tax and duty will be challenges for PEB," sums up Garg. "The government should look at making ED and VAT cenvatable on buildings. This will mean a direct reduction in the capex cost for these buildings."
Zamil Steel Buildings India
Client: Abis Exports (I) Pvt Ltd (belongs to food and beverages industry)
Project location: Chhattisgarh
Significance: This is the first and largest 'solvent extraction unit' ever done in a PEB solution in India. The project capacity is 1500 mt per day.
Area: 57,866 sq ft
Building height: 34 m
Key challenges: To erect the building along with the machines floor-by-floor, that too in heavy rain conditions.
Solution offered: The total PEB building solution was done by Zamil Steel and no other design house was involved.
Techno-commercial benefits: The major benefit was time taken-it took only six to eight months to complete the project. "The credit mainly goes to the Zamil team for the planning, coordination and execution," says Juned Qazi, GM - Projects, Abis Exports.
Client: Kaveri Hire Purchase Pvt Ltd (belongs to food industry)
Project location: Beawer, Rajasthan
Area: 167,000 sq ft
Key challenges: Heavy loading on floors, (2,000 kg/m2, vibrations, 20 m height, multiple machine mounting on floor)
Solution offered: PEB with five floors with vibration pads and grating and chequered plate Techno-commercial benefits: This building was done on 1,400 mt at a price of close to Rs 10 crore. This was almost 20 per cent cheaper compared to any other form of construction.
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