Crushed by the pandemic, looking for a recovery route
ROADS & HIGHWAYS

Crushed by the pandemic, looking for a recovery route

Photo courtesy: Proman Infrastructure Services

The pandemic has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on demand for crushers and screens.

“COVID-19 put the focus on health and social welfare projects, thus delaying the tendering and planning of road and mine projects, two big drivers of the industry,” observes Venkataramana, Vice-President, Puzzolana.

With government offices as well as contractors not working in full capacity, bidding and allotment have been adversely affected for a couple of months, adds Viraj Parthi, Country Manager, Terex Finlay.

The silver lining is that this upheaval should be “a short-term impact”, according to Vadiraj Pappu, Business Head, Mining & Construction Equipment Division, Voltas (A Tata Enterprise), Terex Powerscreen Business.

Photo courtesy: Proman Infrastructure Services The pandemic has undoubtedly had a detrimental effect on demand for crushers and screens. “COVID-19 put the focus on health and social welfare projects, thus delaying the tendering and planning of road and mine projects, two big drivers of the industry,” observes Venkataramana, Vice-President, Puzzolana. With government offices as well as contractors not working in full capacity, bidding and allotment have been adversely affected for a couple of months, adds Viraj Parthi, Country Manager, Terex Finlay. The silver lining is that this upheaval should be “a short-term impact”, according to Vadiraj Pappu, Business Head, Mining & Construction Equipment Division, Voltas (A Tata Enterprise), Terex Powerscreen Business. Business revival With the lifting of the lockdown and ease on movement of people from one state to another, tenders are now getting finalised, observes Venkataramana. However, he is of the opinion that it will take another three to four months for the situation to normalise and demand for equipment and machinery to revive. “June was a good month, July too but not as much; maybe some demand from April and May spilled over to June,” says Ramesh Palagiri, Managing Director and CEO, Wirtgen India. “We’re in the monsoon now and this sluggishness is expected to continue until September.” “Since mid-June, sales have picked up as road and infra projects that need to be completed within a stipulated timeframe have resumed,” says Pappu. “It cannot be called an increase in demand but, yes, noticeable numbers have been sold. Border road projects are progressing on schedule, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and state highways are gradually picking up although migrant labour issues remain but Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and interior road projects are running slow.” Mining is another area that has not been much impacted by the pandemic, especially the coal sector with mines that have been running at 70-80 per cent and policy changes allowing the private sector into the commercial mining of coal that could cause a flurry of activity, adds Palagiri. Future opportunities Going forward, Palagiri expects demand for road building to emanate from big-ticket EPC road projects such as Bharatmala, the Amritsar-Jamnagar highway, the Ganga Expressway and the Samruddhi Project, all of which are moving along at a good pace. Border roads is another area where projects are lined up, and now their execution may improve with the role of border roads and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MORTH) being better defined and border roads getting more independence to execute projects independently. “Border roads in the East and North East and the thrust of the federal Government to develop infrastructure in the Northeast have seen some major developments, for which we have increased our supplies of crushers and plants to that region,” agrees RS Raghavan, Managing Director, Proman Infrastructure Services. Considering the aggregate segment has been the major demand driver of late and that demand was primarily dependent on government infrastructure spending, Parthi is looking forward to Bharatmala and other projects initiated by MORTH under the NHAI, the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation and the Border Roads Organisation. “We have supplied a few plants for the implementation of projects in Sikkim, Himanchal Pradesh and the Northeast, working near the border,” he says. “The Government’s plan to complete 23 new expressways by 2025 could also become a major demand driver in the near future.” Parthi is also hopeful of some demand arising from new iron ore mining leases in Odisha. Pappu expects activity in the 19 iron ore mine leases in the East, which have already been awarded, to start after the monsoon; this will boost demand. However, operations in mines in the South and West have been flat for the last four to five years, and these are unlikely to contribute to growth. Pandemic effect on crusher demand What crushers have the brightest prospects in the current climate? With the pandemic, many customers have changed their options and preferences, observes RS Raghavan, Managing Director, Proman Infrastructure Services. “The preference in these challenging times is for suppliers who can provide total solutions with the capability to offer process, spares and service support. This is challenging in these times. We are trying to work closely with our customers on after-sales; for this, we are reinventing how we work to effectively be available with our customers for any support. Proman has been able to win the market’s confidence in this context.” “Border road projects have created a demand for crushing plants in the Northeast, in particular demand for smaller capacity 150 tph plants and crawler crushers, which we hope will boost business,” says Venkataramana, Vice-President, Puzzolana. Venkataramana expects to see more demand for crawler crushers and quick install wheeled plants such as Puzzolana’s Speed Bharat, which can be erected and put in position in 10 days, with minimal civil works and minimal labour requirements. “Restrictions on the movement of technicians from one state to another and health norms to be followed make models that require minimal manpower for erection and commissioning appealing,” he opines. “With the increased focus of the Government on improving the road network near border areas, we hope demand for track-mounted crushing and screening plants will grow,” opines Viraj Parthi, Country Manager, Terex Finlay. New releases Parthi sees the present time as opportune to reflect upon and improvise existing offerings. Terex Finlay has recently introduced a new heavy-duty screener 883+ and hybrid jaw and cone crusher, which are getting a lot of traction, he shares. “Another new addition is interlinking cables to sync the jaw and cone. Digital marketing is also a priority area as face-to-face customer events have become a complete no-no in the current situation.” The industry will see the release of BS VI machines with effect from April 1, 2021, and products with more telematics and eco-friendly features, opines Ramesh Palagiri, Managing Director and CEO, Wirtgen India. He expects manufacturers to go easy on new product launches in view of the 10-20 per cent higher cost entailed in manufacturing BS VI-compliant engines, and the current low capacity utilisation of production facilities. However, “Wirtgen will be bringing out new models fitted with John Deere engines, a step up from outsourcing engines,” he adds. Proman Infrastructure Services has launched a new dry sand plant in view of the increasing scarcity of water as well as a dry-mix mortar plant. The dry sand plant yields an essential input for the dry-mix mortar plant. “To give customers a more cost-effective solution than diesel-driven engines, Terex Powerscreen will soon introduce electric versions of track mobile crushers and screens,” shares Vadiraj Pappu, Business Head, Mining & Construction Equipment Division, Voltas (A Tata Enterprise), Terex Powerscreen Business. “The screening of municipal solid waste is the need of the hour under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan; the Powersceen Warrior range of products (track screens) have been a big success in this segment.” But, by and large, Pappu believes the markets are not in a mood to test anything new because of poor cash flow. Hopefully, the tide will turn soon. Industry woes: Labour shortage, skewed projects, insufficient finance What’s holding back the demand for road-building machinery and crushers and screens? “For our industry, demand uncertainty is a bigger challenge than supply chain issues,” says Ramesh Palagiri, Managing Director and CEO, Wirtgen India. “Our road construction company customers have sufficient work in hand but availability of labour to execute projects is a concern. However, this activity is mostly in the North and Northwest; there are hardly any projects south of Maharashtra and in the East (Bengal, Bihar, Odisha). This was always the case but it is more pronounced now. At this moment, no one has any idea how long the peak of the pandemic will last. We’re hoping things will normalise by October.” The pandemic aside, demand for crushing and screening equipment has been adversely impacted by the slowdown in funding from NBFCs and the availability of operating teams, observes Viraj Parthi, Country Manager, Terex Finlay. “With the renewed focus of the Government on infrastructure, we are hopeful of a surge in demand later this year. But a lot depends upon the availability of finance from NBFCs and banks, which are very conservative at present.” - CHARU BAHRI

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