Specials

Ensuring good quality steel in infrastructure

February 2019
Quality gains more prominence in an era where built infrastructure has to be created in a short span of time, with the ability to sustain loads much higher than the original intent. In essence, speedy road construction is important for GDP growth, but quality is needed to ensure sustainability and keep O&M costs under control in the longer term.

The infrastructure sector plays a major role in propelling India’s overall development. With intense focus, the Government has initiated policies to ensure time-bound creation of world-class infrastructure in the country. It plans to build 50,000 km of roads worth $ 250 billion by 2022, of which Rs 1 trillion will be spent during 2018-20. A total of 189 port modernisation projects, involving an investment of $ 22 billion by 2035, has been envisioned. Also, housing is a major opportunity in terms of growth. The Indian real-estate market is expected to touch $ 180 billion by 2020. Affordable housing alone is an opportunity worth Rs 6.25 trillion by 2022, as an additional 25 million units will be needed and the average cost of such houses is Rs 25 lakh.

With the above mentioned plans, infrastructure development is expected to result in many changes like rapid urbanisation, improved standard of living, and last-mile connectivity. If this is the case, it is necessary to pay attention to the quality of infrastructure and materials used. The recently held roundtable discussion, titled ‘Quality Pays Off!’, jointly organised by FIRST Construction Council and Joint Plant Committee, Ministry of Steel, addressed this issue.

In his inaugural address, Pratap Padode, Founder & Director, FIRST Construction Council, emphasised upon how China has mentioned the mandatory use of steel in construction and infrastructure projects, which has resulted in higher steel consumption as well as helping small steel players to grow and become global leaders.

During the discussion, Avinash Bhandari, Joint Managing Director, Electrotherm, elaborated on the fact that ladle refining furnaces (LRF) are an integral part of steelmaking through the BF-BOF and electric arc furnace (EAF) routes. They are also necessary for induction furnaces to meet quality norms. He further brought to notice that induction furnaces are used to produce high-precision castings, aerospace engineering components, turbine blades, etc, using steel scrap as major raw material. These components are more critical compared to construction steel. Thus, quality production is not a limitation for induction technology.

Manish Beriwala, Owner, Shyam Steel, pointed out that the bridges that collapsed in Kolkata recently were 40-50 years old. In those days, induction furnaces were not being used for steel-making. “Obviously, the steel was supplied by primary steel producers,” said an outspoken Beriwala. The failure of any construction is not solely attributable to steel quality as other parameters like water and cement quality, cement-to-steel ratio, maintenance, etc, can also contribute to failure. “The route of steel-making in such cases should not be blamed,” he insisted.

Rajiv Nehru, MRICS, Head of Product Development & Training, South Asia, RICS, strongly put forth his views on the availability of cheaper-yet-quality steel for the construction industry. He also mentioned about longer time for testing and validation of quality measures. “Construction companies insist on production and supply of only quality steel in the market by any steel maker.”

B K Arora, General Manager, Afcons Infrastructure, laid emphasis on the use of high-strength steel products to compete with concrete structures. “This will arrest the use of substandard steel in high-rise structures or high-valued infrastructure projects.”

K Sitaramanjaneyulu, Chief Scientist, Central Road Research Institute, raised a valid point on the use of scrap for steel production as it has quality issues, hampering the final output of steel. Here, Dr Susmita Dasgupta, Joint Chief Economist, Economic Research Unit, Joint Plant Committee, Ministry of Steel says, “As scrap has become gradually scarcer over time, the use of coal-based, direct-reduced iron (DRI) increased, which was a cheaper raw material. Eventually, today, ste Dr Susmita Dasgupta, Joint Chief Economist, Economic Research Unit, Joint Plant Committee, Ministry of Steel says, “As scrap has become gradually scarcer over time, the use of coal-based, direct-reduced iron (DRI) increased, which was a cheaper raw material. Eventually, today, steel is being produced through the induction furnace route using about 40 per cent scrap and 60 per cent DRI. At some places, DRI is used for about 90 per cent of the total charge mix.”

Meanwhile, Dr Anup Kumar, Head - Technical Service, Tata Steel, expressed his concern about the supply of steel from various steelmakers, making the point that steel of a particular grade should comply with corresponding physical and chemical properties. To this, Sanjay Pant, Head - Civil Engineering Department, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), said, “Considering the importance of steel in the infrastructure sector, we already have standardisation; hence, the steel produced should meet corresponding quality norms as per BIS standards.”

Moving forward, Sanjay Sahni, Chief - Marketing & Sales (Branded Products & Retail), Tata Steel, suggested a combination of various routes to produce quality steel at a competitive cost. And Satyajit Mohapatra, General Manager - Sales & Marketing, Essar Steel, was in favour of growing consumer awareness of steel products, considering limited education about steel as a material. “If there is standardisation for the automotive industry, why can’t we have set standards for the construction sector?” he additionally questioned.

The panel discussion ended on an affirmation on the need for quality steel production by all the steelmakers, irrespective of the steelmaking route. Essentially, once a steelmaker is manufacturing steel as per a particular grade set by BIS, it has to strictly meet quality norms in terms of physical and chemical properties.