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The $10-trillion construction sector is expected to become the third largest market by 2030, contributing around 15 per cent to GDP and achievingthe highest employability after the agriculture sector. The conducive policy ecosystem, FDI and ambitious projects, like smart cities, industrial corridors and Housing for All, further expand the prospects for the construction sector. Amid the enormous potential of digital transformation in the sector, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has named fiscal year 2019-20 as the Year of Construction Technology. On this and more, Christopher Wilson, Director of Engineering Segment, Trimble Solutions Corporation, in conversation with SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN,elaborates on how digital transformation will help the construction industry overcome presentday challenges.
Looking at it from a global perspective, how important is India as a market for Trimble?
Outside of the US,Trimble has our highest employment number in India,1,100 plus at the moment.Across the globe, Trimble has over 11,500 employees, so India has around 10% of the global Trimble workforce. This itself is an indication of what the Indian market means for us. We develop software and hardware along with services, and a lot of this is done through India. Trimble spreads itself over four main franchises at the top: buildings, geospatial, civil engineering construction and agriculture. Right from architecture and engineering to cost programme management and planning, through to mechanical engineering, planning design and then into actual building lifecycle,this is what Trimble Buildings brings to the industry. Now, how important are our products for India? Looking at global challenges, over 90 per cent of projects run overtime, 70 per cent of projects exceed budgets. Going by estimates and numbers that float in the market, almost half the annual construction budget is consumed on overruns. This is the opportunity for us. The solutions we provide clearly focus on reducing overruns because projectsare designed in detail in the office before they get to site.And getting that information from office to site efficiently is where our opportunities lie with our software.
What is the key challenge faced by the company?
One challenge we face is thatas labour costis cheap in India, a lot of labour is deployed on site and, hence, there is less than optimal use of technology in the sector, though engineering skills in India are second to none. With opportunities prevailing in the international offshore market as well asthe domestic market, India is certainly investing in technology. Several big construction companies are driven on profitability, and they are looking for technology that delivers the right kind of value. We can help these companies to not only reduce the amount of labour used on site but deliver better quality projects by designing the projects in office so that on-site work can be planned intime and scheduled correctly and there is less site-related work because the right materials get delivered in the required cuts and shapes. The market is cost-sensitive but this is only till the time the technology is used and the RoI is felt.
IIT-Madras has received a gift from Trimble to establish a state-of-the-art Technology Lab for architecture, engineering, construction (AEC). Please tell us more.
Trimble has over 50 Trimble Technology Labs (TTLs)across the globe. TTL works in conjunction with a university predominantly from our Buildings franchise as well as Civil engineering construction and Geospatial. We partner with universities and train them in terms of everything they need from us for technology adoption at no cost. We give them all the licences we have such as SketchUp for architectureand Tekla for detailed design and modeling plus the MEP solutions, all the way to hardware.Robotic total stations, hollow lands, virtual reality, site vision technology, and our whole range of cloud scanners… we give them all the support and it is built intothe curriculum. Students are taught how to use these gadgetsand when they get out, on to the site and workplaces, they are more valuable to the companies they are working with. This is what we have given to the Trimble Technology Lab in IIT-Madras and it is properly implemented. If you want technology usage to spread, it is better to go to universities.
What role can your technology play in encouraging sustainable construction in India?
Our solutions enable engineers to make better decisions about the buildings they are creating in terms of design and detailing. If we over-design buildings, we are either ordering too much material than we need, wasting materialor using more material on site.This has quite a few implications with regard to sustainability. We want to enable engineers to make better decisions about materials and their usage in applications.By helping engineers make better decisions and improving accuracy in reducing waste, our software has to go through cultural changes in organisations. Our systems bring accountability among people.Trimble Connect, for instance, brings different stakeholders together on the Cloud. This basically brings accountability; because of that, there is less material wastage and lessbudget and time overruns and all of this addsup to greater sustainability.
How do you see technology as an effective enabler to fulfil the various missions and announcements by the Government targeted towards infrastructure growth?
To achieve the Government’s initiative of Housing for All by 2022, Tekla solutions will have a key role to play.The Tekla solution basically covers two major materials: steel and concrete. Steel detailing is prefabrication in its earliest form.It needs to be detailed in the office first; when it goes into the factory,the steel is cut and the plates drilled. That is the simplest form of prefabrication. Our solution is also relevant for concrete that is going to be castonsite, or precast. This is for modular construction using light gauge, climate framing and aluminium structures.
What is your growth objective for the India for the months to come?
Speaking of Trimble Buildings and Structure business in particular,the Tekla business enjoys 25+ per cent year-on-year growth in the Indian market. We hope to continue with this growth. Globally, our expectation is not that much per market. We are proud to say that the more revenue we get from India, the more investment goes into the products and teams and services into transforming the construction market. Then, talking about the size of our Structures business, after the US, the Indiamarket is becoming our second most important market. If you look at the growth in India, over the pasttwo to three years in particular, we are seeing a significant ramp up. Our technologies are being recognised as market leaders and the benefit from our solutions are helping to change the market. If we continue to enjoy 25per cent year-on-year growth for another few years, India will be our biggest market by a long way in Structures division.