Filling the Gaps: The next generation of concreting equipment

Filling the Gaps: The next generation of concreting equipment

India’s organised concrete industry is nascent, barely 25 years old, but expected to see phenomenal growth on the back of the expansion of cities and infrastructure development. With manufacturers and consumers of concreting equipment alike beginning to learn from their mistakes, the improvemen...

India’s organised concrete industry is nascent, barely 25 years old, but expected to see phenomenal growth on the back of the expansion of cities and infrastructure development. With manufacturers and consumers of concreting equipment alike beginning to learn from their mistakes, the improvement phase has just kicked off, according to Anoop Arora, Director Operations, NS Arcus, Absolute Concrete. And so, whereas users have gotten used to a certain level of operations and breakdown of concrete equipment over the past couple of decades, as manufacturers introduce better equipment features, this situation is poised to improve.Here, we present features and practices that users identify as missing in the concrete equipment industry today.PlantimprovementsAfter the industry migrated from the use of river sand to crushed rock sand as a fine aggregate, batching plants see more dust pollution, observes Suresh Rao Marpally, Technical Director, Starcrete LLP. “If crushed rock sand is made wet or washed to control the dust, the material doesn’t flow easily through the fine aggregate hoppers, and actually needs to be poked near the discharge gates to facilitate theflow. Plant manufacturers should improve plant designs to ensure that no such manual intervention is needed.”“The design of batching plants should also be modified to facilitate the sampling of raw materials like cementitious materials and admixtures, a task that is an essential part of quality control,” he continues. “Also, many plant manufacturers don’t provide indicators inside the operator cabin to assess the workability of concrete inside the batching plant mixer, or else provide the indicator at a very high price, compelling customers to add their own ampere metre, but such add-ons are of low accuracy. Monkey ladders provided in the vertical storage silos of concrete batching plants have always been risky. Instead, manufacturers should provide safer dogleg stairs or spiral ladders to reach the roof of the silo to manage/service any installed safety valves and dust collectors. Modern concrete produced for very aggressive coastal environments is made of small quantities of multiple cementitious components in addition to Portland cement and fly-ash/GGBS. Plant manufacturers should introduce small quantity storage silos and weigh batches for such raw materials.”For safer batching plant operations, Marpally suggests that manufacturers should certify plant safety starratings based on the safety features the customer opts for. “Thereafter, local licensing authorities such as factory inspectors should enforce a minimum star rating to permit operations,” he says. “This practice would also help concrete buyers to select suppliers who adopt industry safety standard requirements.”Add-on washers“After the ban on river sand, we’ve been struggling to source crushed rock sand with no more than 15 per cent 75 micron passing (mostly considered to be dust) because of poor fine aggregate production control in crushers,” adds Marpally. “Essentially, manufacturers cut operational costs or avoid installing equipment like the hydrocyclone sand washer to extract excessive fines from the fine aggregate. What would help is end consumers insisting that only washed crushed rock sand is used to produce concrete. Alternatively, aggregate crushing plant manufacturers should introduce mini sand-wash plants to be installed in concrete batching plants at a competitive price.”Capacity increasesTransit mixer drums are usually mounted on a 2818 vehicle that can carry upto 7cum of concrete, observes Arora. “We’ve been running with the same homologation chassis for long; it’s time to increase the acceptability for higher-capacity transit mixers, that is, of 10 cum and 12 cum. Some manufacturers have started making higher-capacity mixers but they are still facing issues around the homologation of the chassis.”“We also don’t have enough high-capacity pumps capable of pumping upwards of 250m vertically,” he adds. “We have hardly one or two high-capacity models, which is too little considering the kind of concreting now happening in the country.”Blade enhancementsOne of the most commonly used concreting machines in India, used for individual house buildings (IHBs), is the 10×7 mixer; and in that, the mixing is improper because of the faulty design of the blades, according to Suneet Gupta, Concrete Technologist. “Most users enhance the performance by attaching an extra blade to the existing two blades or by adjusting the angle of the two built-in blades. Manufacturers have yet to address this design flaw.”“Pan mixers that are a part of batching plants also have a problem with their blades; the blades wear out but the mixer continues to function, leading to improper concrete mix, causing the pipeline to choke and concreting delays,”he adds. “The arms, blades and lining of the mixer need to be inspected by the plant in-charge every 15-20 days and preventive measures taken.”Live monitoringAll the control systems that operate the batching plant and the concrete pump should be centrally monitored in realtime, using the Internet, by the agency that manufactured the plant/pumps so that the user can be alerted if something isn’t right as per the parameters, suggests Arora. “Pre-emptively knowledge of an impending breakdown would help customers to a large extent. It is high time vendors started to offer this feature. Some manufacturers are offering monitoring but not in realtime, which is the need of the hour.”Quality controlThe quality of many batching plants available today, even from reputed brands, is not commensurate with the technology stated to be incorporated in the machine, opines Shailesh Pandey, Consultant with Novocrete India. “Plants break down too frequently, branded spare parts are unjustifiably expensive (costing much more than comparative spares from the open market) and need to be changed too frequently. Service has become a parallel business for manufacturers causing customers to suffer because of overdependence on vendors. Mixers should deliver upto 200,000 cum without breaking down but that doesn’t happen. Brands should focus on delivering highly robust machines and helping customers to run plants independently.”Finance & pricingSpeaking of equipment finance, R Prabakaran, General Manager, Plant and Machinery, UMSL, believes poor networking of the OEMs with financial institutions delays equipment loan procedures. Also, special incentives or schemes to finance the import of hi-tech concrete equipment are non-existent. Coming to pricing, excise duty on concrete equipment hasn’t been reduced, he points out. “Consequently, small contractors who execute over 90 per cent of the construction work are now lacking funds for the modernisation and expansion of their fleets.”Prabakaran also calls out the high ownership cost and operating cost of boom placers as preventing the use of that machine despite the fact that “site teams (especially highway teams) prefer a boom placer over a stationary concrete pump as the former is easier to use and more productive for pouring concrete slab culverts, highway structures and bridges in multiple locations on the same day. In contrast, stationary pumps need a hydra crane, truck and labour gang to assemble and disassemble pipelines and the time involved in coordinating their shift and setup makes it difficult to work in multiples locations on the same day. Time overruns invariably cause the project cost to overshoot.” But in the case of boom placers, the pricing often overshoots budgets, making it a tough call to choose between these machines.The operation and maintenance costs of imported used equipment also tends to be high, besides which that category of machines is unregulated, and can compromise pollution levels and safety standards, he adds.In an increasingly competitive concrete equipment market offering higherpriced as well as low-priced models from key domestic players and foreign players including Chinese companies, Prabakaran cautions against buying low-cost equipment complying with the minimal functional requirements needed, however attractive the option, because it works only in the short term. “In the long run, factors such as the frequency of repair, cost of replacement and equipment downtime due to failures, accidents and malfunctioning would adversely impact the RoI as well as users’ morale and productivity,” he explains. InformationdisseminationBoth owners and operators have information needs. Prospective owners learn about machines from word-of-mouth publicity as well as advertisements and exhibitions; the latter are great to actually see machines.In India, vendors are doing a good job of exhibiting their concrete equipment at large-scale events that draw the industry but such displays include very limited live demos, which would help users better understand the technical features of machines, tools, etc, observes Parminder Singh Bhalla, Founder, Concrete Planners.Information dissemination for operators includes training, which is lacking too.“There is a dearth of trained operators,” affirms Arora. “Users do whatever possible to train their operators but manufacturers are actually the best people to train operators as they have complete knowhow of the machines. A good operator can give you an excellent life in terms of the cubic metres done by the machine apart from keeping it in excellent shape.”“Professional training to use equipment is a pain point,”agrees Bhalla. “Most operators are trained by other operators as opposed to undergoing formal training. Neither do contractors invest in training nor do schools to learn exist. Skill development isn’t keeping pace with the development of new features.”Prabakaran suggests laying down standards of amenities for operators because “in many instances, skilled operators aren’t getting the amenities they need to perform optimally and, hence, the productivity of the equipment falls and operator turnover increases.”If you’re in a quandary about what machine to buy, Arora offers a few words of wisdom: Established manufacturers with market experience or market leaders are more likely to know the usage pain points and have incorporated features to improve machine reliability and decrease downtime. 

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