Gaps and opportunities in the Indian structural steel segment

Gaps and opportunities in the Indian structural steel segment

Focusing on the creation of infrastructure and industrialisation has put the spotlight on the use of steel as a construction material and its availability. Beyond doubt, India’s steel sector has come a long way. “India is now the 3rd or4th largest producer of steel in the world, mak...

Focusing on the creation of infrastructure and industrialisation has put the spotlight on the use of steel as a construction material and its availability. Beyond doubt, India’s steel sector has come a long way. “India is now the 3rd or4th largest producer of steel in the world, making one of the bestquality steels globally,” observes Manish Garg, Chief Executive Officer, Interarch Building Products. That said, is the present installed capacity enough to cater to thescale and size of the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP), or do supply delays occur? Demand-supply gaps “We normally get the steel on time but the delivery cycles are long; for instance, steel mills supply once in 45 days,” shares Garg. “Demand-supply gaps in structural steel procurement and price fluctuations have delayed several of our projects,” says Abhishek Sanyal, Director, Force Structural Engineers. “Sometimes, the procurement of enabling structures like gantries was slower than anticipated, which delayed the execution. Or the price of steel saw sudden increases, necessitating the reworking of design and construction philosophies.” A point of concern surrounding the availability of steel in India, albeit minor, is the ability of countries like China to deliver high volumes of fabricated steel parts at relatively cheaper rates, adds Sanyal. “Indian manufacturers and fabricators need to counter this situation by boosting their capacity.” Capacity enhancements by companies like SAIL, TATA Steel, Jindal Steel and Adaniare ongoing and Anand Sharma, Founder Partner, Design Forum International,believes these will eventually ensure sufficient steel to meet the needs of the NIP. “After the current huge enhancements, India would be able to catch upwith the national infra projects pipeline,” agrees Garg. For now, to improve the availability of steel, he would like steel mills to start showing more flexibility when dealing with the domestic sector, and for them to start building inventories and storing steel close to usage locations so that they can supply on demand. “A lot depends on their order book and their wish to be a partner in domestic growth,” he says. Specialty steel Despite all the advancements in the Indian steel industry, until today, the country imports some speciality steels that are used in construction. For instance, “India is advanced in products like round bars, which have a high offtake, but we have a long way to go in rolled products,” according to Sailesh R Mahimtura, Chairman & Managing Director, Mahimtura Consultants.“H-sections that are needed for high-rises and commercial buildings aren’t readily available.” “We’re importing parallel flange rolled beams of steel grade E-350 and above due to scarcity in the Indian market,” shares Renukaradhya MS, Group Vice President, Shapoorji Pallonji Group. Also, nowadays designers are better equipped with advanced design software facilitating the design of complicated structures and high-rise buildings in diagrid steel structures with a vast range of higher-grade steel sections, which are not in the range of Indian steel manufacturers, adds Renukaradhya. “While the steel required for building bridges and flyovers is made in India, the steel for stay cables used in extradosed, cable-stay and suspension bridges and the associated anchorages is imported,” observes Sanyal. “India lacks an adequate supply of fire-rated steel,” adds Mahimtura. “Fire-rating is a process that adds to the cost of steel, and dissuades users from building in steel.” Specialty coatings make steel resistant to the latest fire code and national building code stipulation, points out Sharma. “As more construction shifts from conventional RCC to steel composite, the need for advancements in specialty coatings will increase.” His observation suggests the need for greater synergy between steel manufacturers and coatings and paint makers. Supply constraintsdissuade the use of steel in construction. “The limited supply of H-sections necessitates us to get them fabricated, which, in turn, delays the execution timeline of projects and defeats one of the aims of building in steel – speedy project execution,” points out Mahimtura. “Also, the cost of fabrication becomes prohibitive in a city like Mumbai, which is why you don’t see as many steel buildings in the city like you would in, say, Chennai or Bengaluru.” Towards Atmanirbhar Bharat The questions to ask are: Why is India facing a shortage of speciality steels, and what advancements in steel must we see to fulfil the Atmanirbhar Bharat mission? Imported steel products are made of significantly high grades of steel and go through very stringent testing and accreditation facilities, both of which aren’tcurrently available in India, explains Sanyal. “Focusing on these issues could really boost the Atmanirbhar Bharatmission.” Garg believes that speciality steel is still being imported because steel mills in India have always concentrated on producing what was being used. “Consequently, Indian steel mills have started producing high-strength steel such as 345Mpa and even 450Mpa for use within India, and parallel flange beams and high-strength steel,but the latter products have limited takers,” he says. “It is upto steel mills to market special-grade steels well so that users understand their use and benefits. Increasing their market would make it viable to produce advanced products that are still not being made here in India.” “Demand versus supply is a major issue as is the long delivery time as only one player in the Indian market manufactures different ranges of parallel flange beams,” adds Renukaradhya. “So, the alternative solution for these beams of higher range is to import them from other countries, which is a time-consuming and costly affair. India needs to facilitate customers by increasing the manufacturing capacity of such special rolled steel.” “Steel is a protected industry, which dissuades makers from introducing newer products to further the construction of taller buildings,” opines Mahimtura. He believes that large steelmakers are dragging their feet over introducing H-sections for structural steel. To turnthis situationaround, he believes that the political leadership must develop the vision to build taller and along-term masterplan. Also, industry feedback must be acted on. “We’re sharing feedback with policymakers but, somehow, our experience isn’t being incorporated into action,” he adds. Stainless prospects Stainless steel is a wonder material for being durable and almost maintenance-free and, therefore, protecting infrastructure for a very long time, in Garg’s view. “However, it has seen very limited usage in India.” Going forward, he foresees a huge boom in the use of stainless steel in construction, with façades, roofing, cladding, gutters, architectural claddings, railings and reinforcements being some of the available options. Sharma reckons stainless steel will find greater application in areas where the steel is exposed or visible and in geographic locations where the chloride content in water or the atmospheric moisture and salt content can cause rapid corrosion. However, this application will not be very significant, at least not in the building segment. “The cost of stainless steel is still too high to warrant its use beyond the external element of a building,” opines Mahimtura. “I personally think the use of stainless steel should be made mandatory in remote areas and wherever you cannot afford to redo the construction of infrastructure. Consider the Vashi, Navi Mumbai, first connector bridge to the Mankhurd region, which was rendered ineffective for heavy vehicles, necessitating the creation of a second bridge. If the first bridge had been made in stainless steel, it would have catered to heavy vehicles as well as light motor vehicles.” Stainless steel can and should play a major role in extending the life of concrete and steel structures and reducing the lifetime maintenance cost, agrees Sanyal. “The corrosion of structural steel or reinforcing steel is the main reason for the degradation of reinforced concrete and steel structures. Concrete on its own is much more durable than steel but as we provide steel reinforcement, corrosion causes significant deterioration of its design life. We should embrace stainless steel to get more bang for our buck in public infrastructure spending.” Good tidings India’s 76kg per capita consumption of steel is well below the 233kg world average and lowest among the BRICS countries. That said, from the perspective of the overall consumption of steel, India is fast gearing up to become No. 2, overtaking the US, observes Sharma. “India still consumes only 15-20 percent of the steel that China does for the kind of infrastructure it has been able to create.” So, there is plenty of scope for expansion, something the industry is clamouring for as well. Steel: Vital for railway projects Coming to the rail segment, you especially see a greater use of steel for rail sections because steel is the only material to withstand the speed of the train, points out Sailesh R Mahimtura, Chairman & Managing Director, Mahimtura Consultants. “Also, in infrastructure, the lifecycle costs aren’t calculated so you see the greater use of steel,” he adds. “Steel sections for the high-speed rail will not be a concern because that is a special project where price isn’t a constraint. In fact, the high-speed rail project is being funded and guided by JICA and, hence, appropriate steel will be used.” Are the high grades of steel needed for, say, the high-speed rail project, available in India? Those will not be challenging to produce considering that the country has the best research facilities in the world, responds Anand Sharma, Founder Partner, Design Forum International. “Jindal Steel has got RDSO [Research Designs & Standards Organisation]approval for the 60E1 1175 HT rails that are equivalent to the European R350HT grade, and started supplying these to the Kolkata Metro Project Joka Esplanade,” says Sourajit Mukherjee, CEO, e2ERail. “This profile is apt for the metro rail, high-speed corridors, and bullet trains. SAIL has also started to manufacture head-hardened rails from a new rail mill in Bhilai as that grade will be used in most projects in India. However, all these vendors/products still need to undergo a one-year trial to get fully qualified to supplyto the major projects.” The key takeaway is that the scope for product advancement is huge. “Indian Railways has currently projected a requirement of 1.8 lakh mt a year of the high-grade rails, a superior grade to 1080 HH,” adds Mukherjee.

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