Building good roads is an art
Road building and earthmoving equipment will be in plenty of demand when infrastructure projects resume
The thirty-fifth US President, John F Kennedy is believed to have said that America was rich because of its roads. While the statement could have been made a century ago, it holds even today. Road infrastructure will play the most important role as India readies herself to fight her economic battles in the post-COVID-19 era––within months if not weeks from now.
India’s recent focus on road infrastructure under schemes such as Bharatmala Pariyojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), is not new. While the government plans to spend Rs 50,000 crore on building 4,500 km long road network in 2020, under the Union Budget 2019-20, it has already allocated Rs 1.12 lakh crore for road construction projects across the country.
The success of its ambitious road infrastructure build-up projects and the rapid economic development it hopes to achieve through them will largely depend on, among other things, the quality of the roads being constructed. Adherence to standard processes and practices in addition to advancements in equipment technology, the material used, and processes determine the build-quality of roads. At the same time, factors such as traffic density and weather conditions determine the longevity of the roads constructed in a given area.
Types of roads
The type of equipment used for road construction may differ by road type. While city roads (and inside city roads) constitute around 20% of the total road network in India, rural roads comprise nearly 70%. Wirtgen Group MD & CEO Ramesh Palagiri classifies road construction activity into two types: Building a new road, and rehabilitation or repair of existing roads. “Some of the new road construction applications employed in the case of expressways and the national and state highways include the construction of base layers, asphalt paving, asphalt compaction and inset and offset concrete paving. Road rehabilitation applications for city roads must include replacing a pavement, fine milling, paving thin layers hot, paving thin layers cold, hot recycling, cold recycling in-situ, and cold recycling in-plant,” he adds.
Urban road construction generally involves the use of advanced equipment, methods and materials. Continuous traffic places time and space constraints on road construction activity in urban areas.
Describing how the type of road determines the equipment to be used, Vivek Hajela, general manager and head – construction equipment business, Larsen & Toubro says: “The high-density traffic movement and congested spaces in urban centres restrict the use of large machines. Basic machines like a Paver and Compactor complete the resurfacing. Many city roads need to be milled so that the height of the road doesn’t increase when more bitumen layers are added to an existing surface. This becomes pronounced when a resurfacing job has to be done on a flyover. The city roads challenge the engineers as the material to be used has to have a much longer life.” These considerations, he says, have led to use of mastic asphalt, concrete roads (also called white topping), etc. to extend the road life.
Typically, a road has an embankment, base layers and bituminous layers. In the case of expressways or national highways where the traffic density is high and the roads much wider, the range of machinery and the construction method involved would be much different. The embankments there will be constructed by deploying excavators, dozers, and graders. Rural roads, on the other hand, are generally narrow, single-lane or two-lane roads requiring the use of small graders.
Rural roads are typically built by small contractors, who, due to financial constraints and limited availability of work, tend to employ manual labour rather than machines. Lastly, in rural areas, the transport and availability of materials also pose additional challenges.
Adarsh Gautam, national head, sales & product support, road construction equipment, Action Construction Equipment, suggests a general casualness of rural bodies when it comes to the road construction activity. He says, “The major consideration in building these kinds of roads is the project cost. These bodies aim to minimise the construction cost and therefore often compromises on the built quality, construction process and the usage of modern / heavy machinery. Because of low traffic & less surface thickness, these roads lacks enough strength, durability and therefore deteriorates quickly in comparison to highways or expressways. They are also not much resistant to climatic conditions like heavy rainfalls.”
The equipment used in road construction is largely customised as per the needs of the build structures. According to Sanjay Saxena, senior vice president, heavy equipment business unit, Sany India, the choice of equipment is governed by specific requirements. “Small excavators play a vital role in building specific structures like drains, underpasses, and small carriageways. The bigger ones are used for building broad roads. Similarly, the kind of graders are used depending on the different road construction requirements and same is followed in top layering machines like concrete and asphalt pavers,” the spokesperson says.
“Equipment manufacturers have come up with the latest machinery to tackle toughest site conditions as in tunnels, inland waterways, metros, etc,” comments Gautam. “Usually in these applications where there is a space constraint, low air volume, high water content and other potential health hazards, construction becomes very challenging. Tunnel boring machine, piling rigs, long boom excavators, light compactors are some of the machines used in such applications,” he describes.
Specifying equipment attachment as a popular trend, Hajela informs that many specialised attachments are deployed for handling a variety of jobs. “These include long boom and arms (long attachments) mounted on excavators that help in desilting of the waterways, the breakers fitted on excavators for breaking rocks in a tunnel, or the specific tunnelling booms fitted on an excavator to work in confined tunnel spaces.”
Hajela also informs that a diverse set of demolition tools are attached on excavators. “For example, MOVAX is a specialised pile driving tool which is mounted on an excavator.” These attachments, he claims, have a lot of specialised engineering involved and are tailored by the manufacturers to suit specific excavators.
Debasis Bhattacharya, head, marketing, sales & product support, AJAX Engineering, says, “We have always strived to be a 360° concreting solutions provider to its customers. The company is moving towards artificial intelligence and other advanced manufacturing concepts. Our self-loading concrete mixers are versatile and have hydraulic sensing, meaning a pressure transducer and a device to add the weigh batching of aggregate, cement and water. AJAX has been focusing on improving the accuracy of weigh batching that is very critical in the quality of the concrete. Of late, we have come up with a load cell-based weigh batching system (patent pending). We add value to our customers, close to over 18000 satisfied customers.”
Its slip form paver SPX1204, the first indigenous paver designed and manufactured in India, has been incorporated with high-quality components and features on par with any of the pavers offered by the global players. This paver has flexibility to offer paving width varying from 3.5 m to 12 m.
The equipment manufacturers also underscore the importance of security aspects when it comes to building and maintenance of road construction equipment. The security features range from the build of the products to provisions made to ensure the safety of people working at the sites. For instance, CASE India’s brand leader Puneet Vidyarthi cites the in-built safety features of CASE India’s equipment. His company’s crawler dozers, backhoe loaders, skid steers and excavators, he claims, are equipped with a closed HVAC cabin with rollover protective structure (ROPS) and falling object protection system (FOPS). “ROPS and FOPS designs help to protect equipment operators from potential injuries caused by machinery overturns, rollovers or from objects falling from above,” Vidyarthi informs.
Palagiri says, “We introduced the Cold Milling and Cold Recycling and these two technologies are reasonably well accepted in the market. Soil stabilisation is also becoming very popular and all these technologies result in saving resources, faster construction and cost economical solutions. Vogele has introduced several innovations like the High Compaction Screed with pressure bars & first electric heating of the screed, Niveltronic plus operating concept and ergo plus operator features. On the compaction side, HAMM is continuously serving its customers with digital solutions like HCM (HAMM Compaction Meter), HTM (HAMM Temperature Meter), HCQ (HAMM Compaction Quality), HAMMTRONIC and so on other many solutions.”
With digitalisation offering opportunities for disruptive, fast-track growth, equipment manufacturers can be seen busy incorporating new features in their products. In addition to improving the speed of operations, digitalisation helps boost the productivity of every organisation. For instance, right from the basic switching of the machines to the internet of things (IoT), there are many different technological advancements done. Saxena cites an example of Sany’s EVI app, which is connected to the GPS circuit installed in almost every Sany machine. The app helps in giving real-time data to the contractor and the service provider on performance, service alerts, fuel efficiency, etc. This helps the contractors to monitor on the machine during its working scenario and act accordingly, he says. “The call centre is a backup system to support our contractors to ensure maximum uptime of the products for optimum usage,” he adds.
Stating that L&T’s equipment incorporates customer-feedback, making them sturdier and rugged, Hajela informs that inclusion of telematics into the equipment makes them more productive. “Several attachments make the machines versatile. Quick Couplers help users change attachments on the excavators within a short time. Design innovations help in making machines versatile and suitable for the Indian market. Designers now have a wider choice when it comes to material selection and this also has helped in making the equipment sturdier,” he says.
“CASE India’s equipment,” informs Vidyarthi, “incorporates smart features like Eagle Eye Telematics solution, which provide information and alerts regarding the equipment and comes with a Geo-fencing feature to control and monitor the movement of the machine.”
The next milestones
Going forward, many technological and process innovations are likely to be incorporated into road construction equipment. Continuous development is key for the construction equipment industry, and such (continuous) development has brought a host of improvements in equipment––sturdiness and versatility being the prime examples. Versatility has been accomplished by the use of a plethora of attachments. In the last few years, the CE is striving to be cost-effective as well as reliable. Therefore, sturdiness and ruggedness have not been at the cost of excess machine weight. Instead, it has come from design improvements and a better understanding of the failures that commonly occur in the field.
Vidyarthi observes another important trend that will impact road construction equipment segment. As small towns and rural areas are getting connected with wider roads, this has been leading to development and industrialization, he says. “We believe that due to the government’s constant support and focus on the infrastructure sector we will be looking at more developments of this type in the road construction sector in the upcoming time.”