In a series of interactions with prominent civil engineers, Arun Prabhat Mull, Director, Tata Consulting Engineers Ltd, shares his experience and views on civil engineering.
To keep pace with technological developments and innovations happening internationally in the construction industry, India has to sprint double fast and needs to have the courage to take risks with the conviction that it can be done,¨ avers Arun Prabhat Mull, Director, Tata Consulting Engineers Ltd (TCE). ¨Look at our neighbour China, who built the Qinghai-Tibet railway through extremely inhospitable and difficult permafrost terrain with the world´s highest railway station. They also built the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, the longest sea bridge in the world and the Three Gorges Dam, the largest in the world.
All this and more were possible because they had the courage to take the risk whereas, in India, the courage of conviction is largely lacking. We need a positive attitude to do what´s necessary for the good of the country. With a change in attitude and teamwork, we can move mountains.¨
Mull knows what he is talking about. In a career spanning four decades, he has handled a host of challenging projects, not just in India but in the US, Belgium, Italy, Uzbekistan, Iraq and Iran.
His project portfolio - roads, highways, bridges, hotels, hospitals, power plants, pharmaceutical plants, marine works, rehabilitation, water supply, distribution systems - speaks resoundingly of his passion for perfection, innovation and good engineering practices.
Each sector has its own demands, according to Mull. ¨Infrastructure projects require very careful monitoring during designing and execution, although that is true for practically any project,¨ he elaborates. ¨Industrial projects are fast-moving with specific requirements that call for safe and robust solutions. Marine projects require judicious design and material selection owing to their hostile environment.
And in rehabilitation and reconstruction, maximum benefits need to be provided economically with speed. Thus, the manner in which projects in each sector have to be conceived, designed and executed differs, but the common threads are time, cost and quality.¨
Although his career choice to a large extent was influenced by two civil engineers in the family, his maternal uncle and his eldest brother-in-law, in retrospect he realises it was the right decision. ¨Civil engineering is a fascinating field with every project throwing up new challenges. With each project site being new and different, there are practically no repeats. At IIT-Bombay, we were taught not just engineering but technology; hence, the conceptual and innovation aspects also got drilled in,¨ says Mull who began his career with the Central Public Works Department. Later, he joined Tata Consulting Engineers Ltd (then Tata Consulting Engineers) and held several key positions including that of Managing Director and CEO from 2004 to 2009.
¨During my tenure as Managing Director and CEO, with the support of the Board of Directors, I was able to contribute significantly to TCE´s growth by raising the revenue from two digits to three digits, opening new offices in India and abroad, and starting a new business vertical, Mining, Minerals and Metallurgical,´ the 69 year-old shares with pride.
¨For engineering, 3D platforms such as PDS, PDMS and Smart Plant were acquired. I also started an Integrated Business Information System for TCE per se, and pushed for integrated engineering, as coordination of all disciplines is a must with mega projects. In these five years, TCE became the biggest private consulting engineering company in India.¨ Now, as a Director on the Board, Mull oversees the performance of the company and provides technical and non-technical guidance. Here, he shares his experiences and views on construction and civil engineering with CW:
The learnings from working in other countries were always two-way traffic. While imbibing some of their good practices, we also set examples for them to follow. We demonstrated our expertise and dexterity with which we could do our designs and drawings, which were then done manually. As TCE was started as a partnership with Ebasco Inc, USA, the company had already adopted its practices and hence there was little to pick up. Yet I observed some interesting practices. In the US, in early 90s, the day always started with a brief meeting to provide updates on projects. While they deployed heavy plant and equipment to get the work done accurately and in time, hand tools were also the order of the day. Thus, productivity was high, quality was excellent and costs were under control.
In Belgium and Italy, meetings were held weekly or whenever necessary. In all these countries, all the decision-makers would always be present so nothing spilled over.
Before the advent of computers, design and drafting were done by hand. An engineer thus witnessed the design concept evolving and while working on site developed an intuitive gut feel. However, over a period of time, an engineer´s role has been diluted, which can be detrimental to the profession. Today, a design engineer stays in an air-conditioned office and lets others interpret drawings and supervise work. This leads to the design engineer becoming theoretical, which then raises the issues of constructability and safety of design and construction. On the other hand, the site engineer with no design experience is unable to understand the necessity of why some things have to be executed in a certain manner.
For proper and complete evolution as an engineer, it is necessary for the designer to be involved with construction and the site engineer to be associated with design.
Composite materials such as polymer matrix composites, with their high strength-to-weight ratio, are now being used in repairs or for strengthening of structures. However, eventually, they will become prime construction materials in combination with conventional ones or even by themselves. Although, reinforced cement concrete (RCC) is also a composite material per se, with less than century-old structures decaying, the durability aspect of concrete structures is a big question mark.
However, when carbon fibres, rods and bars become primary construction material, structures will last much longer. Polymer composites using glass or natural or carbon fibres will also find many applications owing to their extreme durability, strength-to-weight ratio, high impact resistance, corrosion and heat resistance, and sound and heat insulation properties.
The 500-MWe prototype fast breeder reactor (PFBR) of Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (BHAVINI) at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu, which is nearing commissioning, is a significant project. Being the first-of-its-type, sodium-cooled fast reactor, it is technologically challenging. The reactor building and adjoining ones are built on one 100 m + 100 m mat foundation. The idealisation and analysis of the mat and buildings, all as one, presented many issues that were suitably resolved. The project entailed extremely intricate and complex construction and fabrication to very tight tolerances. Hence, for some parts, full-scale models were built to check constructability. The models validated what was conceived.
To succeed in any profession, one must have a passion for it, have the courage of conviction, a bulldog-like tenacity of purpose and resilience. In addition, engineers must be able to conceptualise vividly and translate that into drawings and documents. They have to be hands-on, ready to stand in the hot sun or in front of furnaces.
All software developers absolve themselves of any error in their programme. Hence, structural engineers have to be absolutely sure of what they analyse, design, draw and certify as sound construction as per their drawings.
Arun Prabhat Mull
Project: May & Baker´s Pharmaceutical Plant, Paithan, Maharashtra
Client: May & Baker (India) Ltd (now Rhone Poulenc India)
Consultant: Tata Consulting Engineers, Mumbai
Background: A greenfield pharmaceutical formulation plant designed to meet the highest international Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), it had several unique features. ¨Large column-free areas with a totally controlled environment were created with a ledge, recess and crevice-free finish,¨ elaborates Mull. ¨A thin RCC inverted ribbed slab suspended from folded plates/roof slab was provided to serve as a mezzanine floor in most areas. Three long spans with continuous folded plates were used to cover the packing hall and a single span for the warehouse.¨
Challenges: Meeting the stringent British GMP requirements was in itself challenging. Implementing the unique features was equally demanding as manual designing and drafting were in practice in the early 1980s. To prepare integrated drawings, they had to import all the sticker materials. They analysed the three-span continuous folded plates, on computer using the CDC 3600 at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. ¨We were the first to use silicone sealants, fire stop sealants and room temperature vulcanising (RTV) foam in India in this project.
It was necessary to seal all the gaps yet allow differential movement of materials so that they connect and still maintain the environmental integrity of the areas they separated,¨ reveals Mull.
Project: Le Grande Plaza Hotel, Tashkent, Uzbekistan
Client: Tata Projects Ltd was awarded the job by v/o Sojuzvneshstrojimport, Moscow
Consultant: Tata Consulting Engineers for Tata Projects and Tashniziiep, Tashkent, for v/o Sojuzvneshstrojimport
Unique features: The project site falls under micro zone 11 of the Russian system of seismic zone classification. The hotel was engineered to conform to Russian SNiPs (codes of standards). The structural and architectural designs were made seismic-resistant. To speed up the structural analysis and design, a computer programme satisfying SNiPs was developed.
Challenges: The subsoil in the area was loess, which made designs and construction difficult. The Russians, who used to precast concrete works, were apprehensive about in-situ RCC construction. ¨Their fears were dispelled when they saw that we could work even in their winters and complete the raft for the hotel and continue with the superstructure,¨ says Mull. ¨Because of seismic detailing, concreting was not easy and was done using small size aggregates in zones of heavy reinforcement. Low ambient temperatures during winter held up the work, but with their meteorological department´s accurate predictions, all activities could be planned a day in advance.¨ The hotel opened in 1995 and has successfully withstood seismic shocks since.