Introducing new products is helping suppliers of cement, concrete and precast meet growth targets despite the general slowdown.
FY2019 was a good year for the cement industry. Production grew by 13.3 per cent to 337 million tonne as against 6.3 per cent growth in FY18, the fastest growth recorded in a single year over the past decade, points out Ujjwal Batria, COO, Dalmia Cement (Bharat). “In comparison, the cement market has been either flattish or even seen a small negative growth in Q1 and Q2 (of FY20), which has caused a steep price drop in the Eastern markets.”
The offtake of cement is low given the general slowdown in the economy and, hence, plants are performing at 75-78 per cent capacity, opines Anil Banchhor, Managing Director & CEO, RDC Concrete (India).
Batria expects a turnaround October onwards by when some of the negatives like the monsoon and festive season would be over and liquidity is expected to improve with the government releasing money in the market. “With the government’s impetus on infrastructure development, we are hoping for 5-6 per cent growth in Q3 and Q4, which is likely to help firm up cement prices by 2-3 per cent,” he says.
Production for domestic demand should touch 352 mt this year with roads, urban infrastructure and commercial real estate as the key demand drivers, and 2.5 mt for export.
Trends in cement
Recently, many companies have introduced composite cement conforming to BIS: 16415-2015 standards, says Batria. “This is a mix of fly-ash and slag in certain proportions, which is mostly made and sold in East India. It can be used in applications where Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) and Portland Slag Cement are used. Gypsum is sometimes added to meet the performance of this general-purpose cement.”
Very little Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC) is being sold in the trade segment, observes Batria. OPC is mainly sold to non-trade or institutional buyers, with those in the infrastructure segment with their own batching plants preferring to blend cement themselves. Or, to buyers working on institutional projects where OPC is specified. The compatibility of admixtures is another reason for institutional customers to still buy OPC.
Ramco Cements has introduced Ramco Suprecrete, a new variant of PPC with improved fineness and better particle size distribution. According to AV Dharmakrishnan, CEO, Ramco Cements, the re-engineering was done in the company’s research laboratory in Chennai to ensure that the cement meets the needs of different applications in the construction industry. “We’re seeing the increasing construction of taller skyscrapers, long and multi-decked flyovers, elevated expressways and complicated industrial structures, but the requirement of concrete to cater to these needs varies drastically. Today, construction is using simple site-mixed concrete as well as ready-mix and precast elements. The same cement cannot cater to all these needs,” he explains.
“Site-mixed concrete necessitates faster strength development but without cracks,” elaborates M Srinivasan, Executive Director (Operations), Ramco Cements.
“In an RMC plant, the cement should be compatible with different admixtures to give enough workability for a longer duration and to develop the targeted strength of concrete. Precast element and pavement brick manufacturing needs the cement to enable faster demoulding and minimise edge breakages in the product.”
“Adopting construction practices that ensure crack-free concrete at individual home construction sites can be challenging because it necessitates full control over site parameters such as the pH of water and the mix proportion,” adds Balaji K Moorthy, Executive Director (Marketing), Ramco Cements. “While we offer free testing services to all our users, a lot of them see continuous quality control as slowing down construction. So, we have re-engineered the product to ensure crack-free concrete even with normal construction practices.”
Other new cements are cement with performance enhancers like micro-fibre, cement with water-repellent properties and premium cements like Dalmia DSP, which is specifically engineered for concreting or ‘Dhalai’, thus offering high strength, durability and setting time and denser concrete.
“Demand was low in the first half of this year owing to the election,” says Karan Ahuja, Director, Ahuja Concrete.
“Demand for concrete from typical markets such as real-estate developers is low because the segment is still grappling with liquidity issues,” says Banchhor. However, road projects and low-cost housing are performing well and RDC Concrete is seeing commendable growth on the back of these two segments.
“We saw 38 per cent YoY growth last year and are targeting 25 per cent growth this year, as against the 5-10 per cent average industry growth rate,” he adds.
Banchhor expects liquidity issues to ease by March 2020.
Industry trends have impelled RDC Concrete to adjust its product range to suit the need of the road and affordable housing segments. “We are focusing on pavement quality concrete for road construction and have brought out high-volume fly-ash concrete (HVFAC), Greencrete, for low-cost housing construction, a lower priced product offering similar strength,” says Banchhor. “Greencrete comes in various options to suit ground floor and multi-storey construction.”
Ahuja Concrete’s most recent launches include a self-compacting concrete, which is gradually attracting the interest of developers, a fibre-reinforced concrete, which has seen some interest from the industrial segment, and a water-resistant concrete, which has seen considerable interest from the industrial segment.
Going forward, Batria expects around 7-10 per cent growth in ready-mix concrete (RMC) triggered by housing and infra projects. Essentially, there is plenty of scope for growth, with RMC accounting for “only about 15 per cent of total concrete consumption in India,” to quote him, and the dominant grades are M20 to M30.
So far, “the lack of regulations, price sensitivity, unreliability of vendors and quality, long haul distances and local influences mainly on raw materials like sand and coarse aggregates have kept this share low,” he says.
Ahuja expects demand for concrete to increase in the second half of the ongoing year, especially as developers are under pressure to complete their projects on time and new infrastructure projects get underway. “New manufacturing units of overseas companies attracted by the government’s Make in India push will also spur demand for concrete in the Greater Noida region,” he adds.
In the next couple of years, work on Jewar International Airport should spur a lot of development in Uttar Pradesh’s Gautam Budh Nagar district and boost demand for concrete, according to Ahuja.
Spotlight on precast
Magicrete has witnessed a more than 100 per cent year-on-year jump in demand, says Siddharth Sharma, President, Precast Division, Magicrete Building Solutions.
He attributes this performance to developers’ need to complete projects in time. The average delivery time of construction projects in India is three to five years but precast technology (use of volumetric precast components) can reduce project delivery time by 300 to 500 per cent.
“Demand is being driven by the commercial building and industrial building segments in our target market, that is South India,” says M Karthik, Director, VME Precast.
Some major precast markets in the country today are the Mumbai Urban Agglomeration (UA), Delhi NCR, Bangalore UA, Chennai UA, Hyderabad UA, Kolkata UA and Pune UA, observes Batria.
Sharma is optimistic about the future in view of the barely 2 per cent penetration of precast in the Indian market, mostly in the government sector. “Government initiatives to promote housing for the EWS and LIG segments are promoting the usage of precast,” he observes. “Recently, the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs under PMAY has come up with the Global Housing Technology Challenge, which invites international technology providers and startups to take up the challenge of building 1,000 homes in 12 months across six states with precast and other technologies, such as light-gauge steel prefab, tunnel formwork, stay-in-place forms, etc.”
‘Hot’ precast elements
Among real-estate developers, Sharma has observed increasing demand for Magicpod prefabricated bathroom units and prefabricated kitchen units, as these 3D modular pods cast and finished in the factory are quick to install on site. “Magicpod technology saves 50 per cent of the finishing time, besides enabling multiple design possibilities using the same components and making the process of waterproofing, tiling and plumbing convenient for builders,” he explains.
Precast elements are usually of better quality than concrete poured in situ, prevent waste, are more eco-friendly and great time-savers, observes Batria. “In real estate, common precast concrete elements used are hollow core slabs, wall panels, boundary wall columns and boundary wall panels.”
Precast underground tanks from a minimum 6,000 litre up to 25,000 litre capacity and precast drains, trenches, cladding walls, columns, beams and hollow core slabs for industrial building and warehouse logistics parks are a new offering from VME Precast, which is seeing the highest demand for walls and hollow core slabs for commercial buildings, and precast walls like internal, external and boundary walls, hollow core slabs and drains for industrial and logistics parks.
“Walls and hollow core slabs offer speedy construction and insulation at a better cost,” explains Karthik.
“In the infrastructure development segment, the use of precast stormwater drains, cable trenches, box culverts and boundary walls, is catching up fast for enabling speedy construction of higher quality, with greater safety,” says Sharma.
“In roads and highways, precast kerbs, road medians, prestressed beams in bridges and pre-box culverts are finding use,” says Batria. “In railway projects, prestressed concrete sleepers are used. In water projects, drainage pipelines and culverts are precast; and in metro projects, major structural elements like girders are precast.”
RDC Concrete supplies concrete to manufacturers of precast segments for the construction of the underground sections of metros, a segment that is being driven by work in Kolkata, Pune and Mumbai.
- Charu Bahri