Technology Intervention in Roads and Highways
ROADS & HIGHWAYS

Technology Intervention in Roads and Highways

The roads sector has witnessed a strong growth trajectory as the government has awarded projects spanning about 50,000 km in the past five years, doubling the pace of construction to about 32 km per day. Though the pandemic has had a serious impact on this sector in the past two years, a number of measures have been announced to mitigate the impact of the crisis.

Today, the sector continues to offer significant opportunities as a total capital investment of Rs20 trillion has been planned for the road sector during 2020-25 under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP).

In the current scenario, has the pandemic impacted faster adoption of technology in road construction? And are Indian roads contractors, developers and investors ready to adopt global technology advancements for better quality?

This was the topic of one of the panel discussions of the 11th India Roads Conference at the 7th India Construction Festival held on October 22, at Hotel Four Seasons in Mumbai.

Technology

The roads sector has witnessed a strong growth trajectory as the government has awarded projects spanning about 50,000 km in the past five years, doubling the pace of construction to about 32 km per day. Though the pandemic has had a serious impact on this sector in the past two years, a number of measures have been announced to mitigate the impact of the crisis.Today, the sector continues to offer significant opportunities as a total capital investment of Rs20 trillion has been planned for the road sector during 2020-25 under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP).In the current scenario, has the pandemic impacted faster adoption of technology in road construction? And are Indian roads contractors, developers and investors ready to adopt global technology advancements for better quality?This was the topic of one of the panel discussions of the 11th India Roads Conference at the 7th India Construction Festival held on October 22, at Hotel Four Seasons in Mumbai.Technology for speed and qualityModerator Rajshekhar Saha, Director-Capital Projects and Infrastructure, PwC, opened the discussion stating, “Approximately 18 per cent of the Rs111 trillion investment targeted over fiscals 2019-25 is expected to be for road construction. Therefore, it is important to know how to complete this enormous task, given the timeline where quality is non-negotiable.”NHAI has been at the forefront in the adoption of technology, whether it is in terms of construction materials, methodology or digitalisation in planning or monitoring, he added.Here, Anshumali Srivastava, Chief General Manager/Regional Officer-Mumbai, NHAI, took us back to 1999 when the actual journey of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) project began, saying, “We had three major phases – DPRs, execution and operation. All three stages were done manually. From that manual phase in 1999 to now, in 2021, we have shifted to digital in each phase. Now in the DPR stage, we have adopted GPRS, radars and even drones. The planning or approval stage has shrunk from two years to nine months.Recently, we could complete DPRs for the Mopa road in Goa within four months by using technology. Similarly, we have compressed the timeline for construction as well. Even for bidding, everything has shifted online. Long ago, NHAI started a system of submitting soft copies of technical bids online. We have tried to bring the time down in every possible way so that the process, from concept to commissioning, is faster. We are giving two years’ execution time to projects now and our industry counterparts are meeting that expectation. All challenges are equally taken by our industry counterparts. Earlier, construction of bridges would take many years, but now it takes two to three years for a bridge to get completed. For tolling, we have shifted to 100 per cent electronic toll collection (ETC), which has helped bring efficiency with industry support. For operation and quality assurance, we are using drones. And for lab and data monitoring, everything is digitised. The decision-making process has become faster. And we have compressed the project time from five-seven years to two-three years.”Industry embracing technology“As an industry, we should evolve our management practices, which include preparation of project plans with heavy support of parametric modelling pools such as BIM, that allow a complete overview of the project such that there can be clash detection with utility management for hindrances and a few elements of the site can be planned progressively to constrict any delays, opined Hardik Agrawal, Director, Dineshchandra R Agrawal Infracon. “Using modern technology in initial surveys will enhance planning.Detailed drawings will also help the team at site to carry on the project with more precision.” Construction companies should strongly consider hiring skilled technical manpower rather than outsourcing the entire concept of vendor supply, he added.Bridging the gapFor big infrastructural projects, things that have to be kept in control include quality, time, cost and worker safety. “We need a good innovative solution to keep a balance between these,” averred Ajay Mishra, President, Dilip Buildcon. “For megaprojects, be it a Rs20 billion project or a Rs40 billion project, the timeline is the same. In such projects, technology is required to reduce the errors. The construction industry involves a lot of labour, which results in employment, but when we go in for a technology, it is a counter to employment generation. We need to monitor the role of technology minutely to increase cost-efficiency, time management and quality management. There is a big scope for the use of technology.”First in India, and the futureFor his part, Vishal Thombre, Executive Engineer-Roads, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), said, “We have come up with the mono-pile technology for the Mumbai Coastal Road project. We are using this technology for the first time in India; it will save time and money.” Generally, any bridge on a sea or river is built using group pile technology. But in mono-pile technology, a single pile is used instead of four piles for supporting a pillar. “We have gone all digital and are using drones for monitoring and software such as BIM in the project,” he added. “As far as the coastal road is concerned, we had given full freedom to contractors in our RFP, where they could use their technology and methodology. We have given only parameters and guidelines; in such cases, we get good results in record time with the use of latest technology.”When asked which new technologies will change the landscape of projects, Atul Bhobe, Managing Director, TPF Engineering, responded, “In the next decade, I see 3D printed bridges and stainless steel bridges in India. We will see improvements in pavement quality concrete (PQC) works as well.”New technologies in construction equipmentHow is quality control being managed by bringing in new technologies in the construction equipment sector? Saha asked. Indrabhushan Gokhale, Country Manager, Terex Powerscreen, responded, “Technology is driving us in every aspect of our life and its importance has increased post-pandemic. We are working on using technologies like IoT, which will help owners sit in the office and monitor projects from a longer distance. In our industry, human resource is a major asset that cannot be denied. Along with using new technologies, we should also lay emphasis upon training labourers to use them.”Government and other supportFor a contractor, it is beneficial to complete a project in as fast a timeline as conducive, said Agrawal. “If the handing over of land and coordination at the local level is proper, there is no stopping the construction industry.”For the construction of roads, the contract is made between two parties: the authority and the contractor. There are certain constraints from the authority as well as the contractor’s side, pointed out Mishra. “But a lot of constraints come from other agencies that are not part of the agreement. That derails the project and technology involvement. There should be some agency that can streamline such things for smooth working.”“When we plan a road, we have public consultations; but, as we know, not everyone can come for such consultations. The public at large are not aware of how the construction will take place and, hence, we face many challenges during projects,” observed Srivastava. “We engineers have to come up with solutions to different problems and make changes that suit all the parties. That said, land acquisition is faster compared to earlier. Slowly, we are improving our deficiencies by taking feedback from the industry. Even the states are supporting us. These small improvements are cumulatively showing in our progress.”As for PPP and EPC contracts, Srivastava said, “As an industry, we need to adopt the spirit of partnership.”Technology assistance in maintenanceRadars and drones are already operational. In future, you will see the application of remote health monitoring systems, where you can monitor the structure by sitting at home or office on your laptop or phone, said Bhobe. This technology will help in the evaluation and implementation phase. “Soon, we will start getting results. We are already doing a lot of data mining that will help us getting to AI (artificial intelligence) and predictive mechanisms for maintenance. For roads, there is already a mechanism with the NHAI and MoRTH – the Road Asset Management System (RAMS) – which has been implemented on a large scale by NHAI. In terms of user experience, fast-tags are already being implemented.”The roadmap for technology implementationSkilling is the most crucial aspect.We must start to look at management of labour through the lens of technology. Talent management and skill upgradation of employees are imperative. While the industry is aware of what is happening in our country and abroad, it needs an enabling environment to make these more cost-effective and implemented on a larger scale.

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