Miles to go
BY Jayashree Kini Mendes
On paper, India has long claimed some of the world’s most extensive road and rail networks. That belied reality: roads were twisting, bumpy, crowded and dangerous. Railways were largely single-track, which caused delays, or narrow-gauge, which limited their ability to carry large loads. By car or train it was rare to sustain speeds of more than 50kph. Puzzled tourists wondered why distances that looked small on a map took forever to traverse.
But a lot of that is set to change, if plans by the government to build 83,677kms of roads at a staggering investment of Rs 7 trillion (including Bharatmala) are anything to go by. This largest ever outlay for road construction comes in the backdrop of the government implementing the GST which aims to create a common market by dismantling inter-state tariff barriers. A robust road infrastructure will help in that direction. Expediting the Bharatmala project, besides constructing roads & highways along with the NHAI and NHIDCL has been allotted priority. According to reports, RFQ tenders are in process and if all goes well, the first tenders should be issued in mid-2018.
Construction Week India speaks to road contractors and equipment makers to understand what has changed along the way and how equipment manufacturers are gearing up for the onslaught of contracts that are expected to come their way. Speaking of some of the changes in recent times, Arun Karambelkar, president & CEO, HCC Ltd, says, “There have been changes in the qualification criteria and payment conditions of the contracts. The threshold value of similar works executed by the contractor has been reduced to 25% of the tender value from the earlier 50%. Similarly, the threshold technical capacity of the contractor has been reduced from 2.5 times to 1.5 times of the tender value. These modifications in the qualification criteria have allowed more contractors to participate in the bidding process. In case of special structures, government agencies are now asking for specific qualifications from the contractor. Implementing these changes has resulted in improved quality output.”
Agreeing with this, Devendra Jain, CEO & executive director, Dilip Buildcon, says, “The government has considerably moderated the entry level for contractors. This gives room to more contractors to bid for projects. Moreover, the authorities have also put a ceiling on early completion bonus to 5%, which we are well known for.”
With majority of contracts being executed on EPC basis, the introduction of milestone/stage completion payment method has added to the financial stress of the contractor. To improve the cash flow situation for contractors, more stress is being given on further bifurcation of milestones. “Despite these changes, the payment processes still need revamp. The contractor would like to have a monthly payment system for the completed work,” adds Karambelkar.
With less drama, transport networks are being overhauled. Unlike in China, where the government has been able to build big roads at astonishing speed thanks, not least, to its ability to oust farmers off their land at will, in India a more litigious system makes it harder to appropriate land. Authorities need a more constructive plan that will allow contractors to work undisturbed.
Speaking about safety at job site, skilled labour, quality of equipment used, and productivity of the equipment that define the project to be executed, VG Sakthikumar, MD, Schwing Stetter Sales and Services, also chairperson of ICEMA, and chairman of mechanisation committee, BAI, says, “India has a massive backlog of highway projects since infrastructure development wasn’t executed for the first 60 years of our country’s development. The need for completing projects is high. It’s very important that we choose the equipment that have high productivity and one that will increase the level of mechanisation.”
Anup Nair, VP & business head, Hyundai Construction Equipment India, says, “The government has built up a rapid momentum of road projects. However, it would be helpful if factors like land acquisition and offering stringent specifications on modern technology and equipment were sorted out. Many a times awarded projects are stuck due to the hassles in land acquisition. MoRTH or government agencies must debottleneck this. Deploying modern technology and equipment will ensure speed and execution of the projects.”
Realising that cement roads will soon be the order of the day, Hyundai Construction Equipment has launched an unique experiment — a wheeled excavator for spreading the concrete, while marching on the polythene base without spoiling the same. The equipment is imported from Korea and has the latest technology like the ‘Himate’ remote management system.
Ramesh Palagiri, MD & CEO, Wirtgen India, says, “We work very closely with our customers/consultants/contractors on a regular basis through our application specialists and the feedback received on the performance of machines is given back to the R&D team on a continuous basis.”
Palagiri adds that products like surface miners, Vögele pavers, and cold recyclers have evolved in the last 10 years due to this close cooperation between users, the application team and the R&D team. This system has been in existence with the Wirtgen Group for a long time and has resulted in making it an innovation leader in the industry in road building and road rehabilitation.
Experience has shown that when it comes to infrastructural development in India, clear availability of land is the most critical factor and often the stumbling block. “In order to materialise the ambitious plans of MoRTH, it is necessary for the government to acquire the entire land prior to bidding and placement of orders. This should be accompanied by other necessary clearances, like forests, environment or those for defence/railways/municipalities, as applicable. There was an earlier proposal wherein the government was considering the bidding out of a deck of pre-approved projects. This is worth revisiting. It is encouraging to see the government innovate on various models of development, which can be a win-win situation for both the government as well as EPC contractors. The government must proactively embrace newer technologies, with a focus on quality and productivity,” says Raj Shrivastav, executive incharge, crushing, screening & HMAP, TIL Limited. If India is to have world-class roads & highways, the government must encourage, if not mandate, the use of world-class road-building equipment, he adds.
If one were to analyse the reasons for NHAI’s decision to award projects on an EPC basis, it was for exactly that — to kick-start the sector. “Under this, the contractors get paid by the principal for the work completed. The government has also awarded ample number of projects under the Hybrid Annuity Model (HAM) under which the principal pays a lump sum amount to the contractor after the completion of the project. This mitigates risk for the contractor. Once this momentum picks up, then projects on DBFOT (Design, Build, Fund, Operate and Transfer) model will also find takers. The risk on the contractor is high in such models as the revenue depends on the traffic. The clauses with regard to dispute resolutions have also been strengthened,” says Vivek Hajela, GM & head, construction equipment business, Larsen & Toubro.
Interestingly, when it comes to bridge structures for road projects, the trend in designing these days is focused on saving cost and time. As a result, more cable-stay bridges are being planned and regular bridges with longer spans are being designed. This reduces the foundation works in the river. Other initiatives include use of fly ash, which is used in certain percentages as replacement for cement and soil. This brings production cost down by 15% without affecting the strength of the final product. In the hilly regions, due to insufficient width of land, a special technique of RE wall is used which offers higher stability than conventional methods. The techniques of soil stabilisation has seen improvements with sophisticated anchors, rock bolts, and soil nails to improve the weight bearing capabilities, tensile strength, and overall performance of in-situ subsoils, sands, and other materials in order to strengthen road surfaces.
The current state-of-the-art is rooted in 2D paper based workflows that have been around for decades. Dustin Parkman, VP, civil and reality modeling, Bentley Systems, says, “The industry has struggled to move into progressive digital workflows but we are not seeing shift. OpenRoads purposely built for this change combines the latest component based 3D workflows with deliverables that feed construction including construction automation while still providing a 2D view of data that’s familiar. With OpenRoads, detailed 3D models can be created during design and carried directly into construction for 4D/5D simulation as well construction modelling and field based decision making.”
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Going by the industry responses, Construction Week India understands that land acquisition continues to be a sore point for those associated with the project. Sandeep Singh, MD, Tata Hitachi, lists out a to-do list that could be helpful for all parties involved. He believes that importantly the government should secure all clearances from agencies like MoEF, Railways, defence, state government agencies before awarding the contract. “A separate pre-work tender should be awarded to complete tasks like shifting of utility lines. Pre-clearances from financial organisations regarding funding of HAM and BOT projects will minimise delay in issuance of appointed date. Large packages of over 200km under HAM/BOT must attract global construction companies with best-in-class construction capabilities. And finally, benchmarking of construction practices (over and above IRC standards) in advanced countries and implementation in India will increase capacity and capability of contractors,” adds Singh.
Then there are other factors that some key members of the industry also believe matter in a sound project. Apart from land acquisition, other factors that must be adhered to is affordable mechanisation thus leading to uncompromised and high quality output. Sachin Nijhawan, VP and business head, Mahindra Construction Equipment, says that there is a need to develop products and equipment that cater to the unique needs of the country. In India, current road building machineries are dominated by imports where the products are made keeping in mind the needs of the developed world. “Whilst in the developed world 60% of roads fall in our category of the multilane express and state and national highways, they constitute only 6% of overall roads when it comes to India. The equipment available are large and expensive and hence grossly unutilised. They are also non-viable for rural and unsurfaced road projects which constitute 58% of total roads in India. Absence of tailormade equipment suitable for our needs lead to sub-optimal methods with limited mechanisation and large labour force deployment. This leads to bad quality of roads and affects speed of road making apart from availability of a large labour force,” he adds.
MATCHING WITH EQUIPMENT
Then there’s the equipment that plays a vital role in roads building. Equipment makers, on their part, are offering the most advanced technological products that are suited to the basic Indian requirements of high fuel efficiency and productivity. Manufacturers emphasise on continuous product development to improve the equipment’s performance, operator comfort, boost productivity and increase fuel-efficiency.
“Generally speaking, there’s an understanding among road contractors that innovative, efficient, and productive equipment is going to be essential if companies are to meet the ambitious set targets. While there is still some hesitation from contractors as they may tend to avoid sophisticated and expensive machinery, we offer a thorough understand of the technology that comes with modern equipment and reduces the machine’s overall lifetime costs while adding to productivity,” says Dimitrov Krishnan, VP and head of Volvo CE India.
With cement roads becoming the norm today, Volvo CE offers equipment for constructing the base layer of such roads. Its tracked paver P5320B ABG can provide 7m wide and 150mm thick dry lean concrete (DLC) layer in a single pass. The P5320B features automatic track tensioning, heavy-duty oscillating rollers. After DLC paving, for compaction Volvo’s DD90B offers high centrifugal force. For constructing the subbase and subgrade, the company has on offer a complete solution with the SD110B soil compactor and EC200/EC210B excavators for road side cutting works.
Jain of Dilip Buildcon says that the company has accumulated the largest number of equipment assets, which are mainly imported. The company has ardently bought pavers, batching plants, concrete road building machines from Wirtgen, Caterpillar, Volvo, among others.
Shalabh Chaturvedi, head marketing, CASE India, says, “For high quality roads we have graders that are used mainly for levelling and shaping a surface to very fine measurements. CASE graders are engineered for long product life. Equipment uptime is what matters most to customers while deciding on the machine. Time bound projects need reliable machines and considering that our graders feature an FPT Industrial 6.7-litre engine (with triple horsepower ranges on the 865B model and dual horsepower on the 845B), it matches the power requirements of various applications and delivers optimum fuel efficiency. The grader is offered with an Automatic ZF Transmission. The machine has a multi Curvature Moldboard which reduces resistance on the engine and fuel consumption.”
In compactors, CASE has on offer 1107EX soil compactor fitted with an FPT engine, mini compactor 450 DX fitted with a Mahindra engine and the recently launched 752 EX vibratory tandem compactor fitted again with an FPT engine
With the Indian government’s push for road- and highway construction, there is demand for more efficient and reliable machines. Wheel loaders transport material on site and play an important role in road construction. Sanu George, business head, SDLG India, says, “Our wheel loaders come without the bells and whistles of premium machines and are simple to use. This means less training time needed. In addition to reliability, it aids productivity.”
George adds that motor graders are another piece of essential equipment. Good motor graders are required for a flat and even surface. SDLG offers two types of motor graders and the larger G9190 has enjoyed greater success in the region. The newer and smaller G9138 is highly-manoeuvrable and gives an operator precise control through a fully-digital instrument panel that includes electronic monitoring. “Adding to its operability is its swing frame, which lends flexibility to the machine. The articulating swing frame’s movements allow the blade to generate more power and carry a heavy windrow,” he adds.
Adoption of novel technology is attracting companies to look for innovative ways to build roads. Admittedly in India there are few companies that offer unique solutions to construct roads that can aid in better health of the citizens. Dust is the main air contaminant and an environmental hazard and poses significant risks to everyone. These conditions take years to develop and both employers and regulators don’t take them as seriously as workplace injuries. “Today there are state-of-the-art dust technologies available to alleviate dust problems on roads, from major highways and freeways to haulage, industrial and rural roads, tarmacs, hardstand areas and water repellent pavements. It can be easily applied to clay, silt, sand and gravel materials, immediately creating safer, sustainable and cost-effective infrastructure. Our environmentally and safety friendly products offer dust prevention and higher quality, more durable roads, says Ben James, CEO & founder, Global Road Technology.
GRT has expertise for mix design used in road construction i.e granular sub base (GSB), wet mix macadam (WMM), cement treated base (CTB), soil/murum/waste rubble/stabilisation (with cement, lime, flyash, polymer, etc), and concrete mix design.
With concrete pavement roads becoming the order of the day, Karambelkar says that although they are being built for a long time now, the demand for such roads is increasing due to an increase in the overall pie of the transportation segment. “Here the contractors must follow IRC (India Road Congress) guidelines set by the client in the contract conditions, leaving little scope for innovation on behalf of contractors. The geological challenges can be addressed by hiring special equipment and experienced manpower,” he adds.