Dr Sumon Chakravarty, Head-Technical and R&D, Building Products Division, UltraTech Cement
The Indian construction opportunity is set to almost double over the next five years. While on one hand, there is an ever growing demand for appropriate, innovative protective coatings and safe construction chemicals, on the other, the absence of proper waterproofing standards has led to ineffectual products and, worse, disasters. Against this backdrop, Dr Sumon Chakravarty, Head-Technical and R&D, Building Products Division, UltraTech Cement, shares his perspectives on topics ranging from new-age construction needs, sustainability and market prospects to challenges from the unorganised sector in conversation with MANAS R BASTIA. Edited excerpts:
Let's begin with the demands of new-age construction.
As customer needs evolve, there is growing demand for a one-stop solution rather than dealing with multiple agencies. Increasing customer preference for ready-to-use products coupled with increasing shortage of skilled manpower and faster pace of construction will be the driving force behind the growth of the construction chemicals market.
Our dry mix technology allows benefits such as consistent quality, faster work, ease of application, water tightness, water resistance, negligible wastage during application, no curing with water post application and higher output, which would otherwise not be possible. The additives present help to enhance finished product properties such as setting time, tensile adhesion strength, compressive strength, flexural strength, very low shrinkage, water impermeability, water retention, surface finish, workability and enhanced durability.
Tell us about your scientifically engineered products for today's needs.
We have launched various dry mix products like Fixoblock, Seal & Dry, Power Grout, Super Stucco and Readiplast to keep pace with modern construction needs and are committed to expand the market for the dry mix mortar segment. These products provide higher coverage, enable faster work and increased manpower productivity, and are ready-to-use, self-curing, of high and uniform quality and, most important, made of environment-friendly material.
Our range broadly comprises two categories:
What is the current status of the Indian waterproofing market?
Waterproofing in India is defined as a 'barrier against water penetration'. Having generalised the definition, the subject is complicated and generally misunderstood. In developed countries, specifications for waterproofing have been in place for decades, laying the foundation for proper and durable work. The specifications, as laid down in EN and DIN standards, categorise products as 'waterproofing' only if they conform to nil water penetration at 1.5 bar pressure in water impermeability test as stated in EN 14891 and DIN 1048 part 5. Similar categorisation can be found in ETAG and IBH guidelines.
However, lack of similar criteria in India leads to the use of products without desired effects with sometimes disastrous results. Awareness at all levels needs to be increased to get the desired results, which would help raise construction quality and durability.
How have your products fared so far?
The dry mix mortar market is at a nascent stage in India and is primarily restricted to the metros. We have been able to establish the new products in terms of quality and value addition to customers. In these markets, product application and promotion have helped benchmark the products in terms of quality.
How do your products strike the right balance between price and performance?
The focus on a technically correct product should be an important parameter in decision-making. Despite providing the best of quality, most of our products are also value for money. The cost of the material may be higher but the 'per sq ft cost' of the finished application with the product is lower or equal to conventional application, owing to higher coverage and other benefits. Some of these benefits are not quantitative at present but make a huge difference in terms of higher output of applicators, which results in faster work, ease of mixing and application, apart from products being self-curing, resulting in huge saving of water and labour.
Tell us about the manufacturing of your products.
We have a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility from M-Tec, Germany, which is considered to be the best in the field, in Wada, near Mumbai. Apart from offering excellent product quality, the dry mix mortar plant technology allows homogenous formulation of high-performance products by precise dosing of additives. We are in the process of stabilising the products in the market after which we will look into the expansion of both product line and multiple manufacturing facilities.
How are you progressing towards offering sustainable products?
UltraTech Cement has launched various value-added products like Xtralite, Fixoblock, Seal & Dry, Power Grout, Super Stucco and Readiplast, which are not only best in class but also match sustainability requirements. Right from raw materials to production and transport, major emphasis is laid on preserving the environment.
The lightweight AAC blocks 'Xtralite' are light in weight as well as sound and thermal-insulated, leading to considerable energy-savings. The unique dimensional accuracy of ¦ 1 mm necessitates the use of very little mortar. The launch of thin jointing mortar 'FixoBlock' has the unique advantage of jointing these blocks at a thickness of 2-3 mm, which is also self-curing and saves plenty of water compared to conventional applications. Apart from providing watertight joints, the use of these products also speeds up construction considerably.
'Seal & Dry', a total waterproofing solution, provides water impermeability of 7 bar pressure on the positive side and 1.5 bar pressure on the negative side, thus contributing to non-deterioration and enhancing structural durability. All our products have been classified and included in the list of sustainable products as categorised by CII IGBC in its product directory.
How do you counter challenges from fly-by-night operators in the unorganised market?
Today, the customer is not aware about what a product can and should deliver. Any manufacturer of a quality product would be able to demonstrate and show the performance of a 'best-in-class' product. Once the customer knows this, he would not go in for any inferior product. Therefore, we strongly feel there is no competition from fly-by-night operators or, cheap products as long as we are able to deliver. High level of brand awareness with demonstration of the products at sites of influencers and end users along with continuous training of applicators will help us establish the benefits and would be the main differentiating factor vis-a-vis non-standard products. Value for money needs to be established with lifecycle cost analysis.
What are your future plans?
We are and would like to be driving the market with value-added, innovative, contemporary products. We are also prioritising a training module for applicators and masons on a day-to-day basis. We are associated with L&T for training in their Construction Skills Training Institute in Panvel, near Mumbai, and also at all their sites where our products are being used. Similar activities have been taken up with other reputed construction firms. We also intend to integrate the business back and forward as success will require quality products, economic viability and trained applicators.
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