Good walls make good homes
Editor Niranjan Mudholkar recently visited the Philippines to check the claims of new building technique originating in that country and recently introduced in India
An innovation can be considered worthwhile only if it meets three basic criteria. It should be economically viable; it should be easily replicable and it should also deliver consistent results over a period of time. Moreover, if an innovation claims to address a critical issue like housing then it needs to be tried and tested against factors like weather and liveability.
When Fabtech Sterling Building Technologies Pvt Ltd (FSBT) introduced Plaswall and claimed it was an innovation in building technique, Construction Week decided to check it against these basic criteria. (FSBT is a JV between Fabtech Technologies International Pvt Ltd and Sterling Construction and Development Corporation).
The product was initially introduced to Construction Week at the Mumbai office of Aasif Khan, Director of Fabtech Technologies. “This technique is basically a unique ‘lost in place’ formwork that does not use bricks and produces a complete load bearing wall when rendered.
It is easy to transport, and the production facility can be assembled at the construction site itself. The very nature of the product makes it wastage and pilferage proof and thus the preferred construction technique in all the markets it has been launched,” he said.
Of course, Construction Week had some basic questions. Is it safe and durable? Is it ecofriendly and energy efficient? Is it economically viable? Will it withstand India’s diverse weather conditions? Does it require skilled labour? Does it consume a lot of time for construction? Does it comply with standard building codes? “Either I can give the answers here verbally or you can experience them first hand in the Philippines. The technique was born in that country where conditions are quite similar to that of India,” Mr Khan said.
The drive from the Manila Airport certainly confirmed the last part of his claim. The city felt so familiar that it could have been anywhere in India. The visit to the factory as well as to a couple of project sites was quite interesting. One site was a sprawling colony of luxury villas while the other was a compact township for the LIG section. Same technique, same materials and same quality; only design and size were different.
Mark Taylor, the inventor of this new building technique, explained the production process briefly. “We use the patented James Hardie fibre cement boards for the outer structure of the walls. Two such boards are connected using HIMI (High Impact Moulded Inserts) spacers made from recycled plastic in situ and erected to produce a straight-to-finish wall. A monolithic structure is then created by filling the entire structure with concrete.
Additional load capacity can be obtained by providing extra reinforcing bars and/or increasing the grade of the concrete,” he explained. Earlier, he had promised that it would be quite simple and yet effective. An onsite demonstration proved he was on the ‘mark’.
“Evolution is what defines human civilisation. Everything that we humans do goes through a transformation over a period of time. Unfortunately, the way we build our homes hasn’t really changed in the last 100 years or so. We have been using the same technique for decades. What you saw at the site has been my endeavour towards bettering our construction technique,” Mr Taylor explained.
He further informed that his evolutionary technique allows easy installation that is three times faster than any conventional construction. The site assembly of the main components can be done faster, reducing financing and labour costs. Framing, masonry, insulation and other such skilled trades are reduced or eliminated. So, most of the work is done by unskilled labourers in lesser time. Wastage is minimised as it is prefabricated to order.
The concrete and other materials’ volume usage is exact and predictable. “It is also completely scalable in terms of deploying multiple sets of equipment. One setup can produce enough numbers of walls for the simultaneous erection of up to 23 houses a day,” he added.
Mr Taylor also explained the technique eliminates the need for rendering finish to the wall surfaces. Durable finish eliminates re-work and repairs. A house built with this needs low maintenance and there are no issues of cracking or chipping. These walls are non-combustible and have fire resistance for one hour as determined by ASTM E 119 tests. Moreover, these walls have excellent thermal and sound insulation and do not allow flaking or crumbling due to moisture seepage.
Of course, there is one more important test for any innovation. Would the inventor utilise it for personal use for a consistent period? The answer came later during the evening over dinner at Mr Taylor’s home. For years, he has been living in a house built with his own technique. “This could be the fastest and the cleanest concrete construction system in the market, ideal for both hot and cold climates.
It has been approved by Accreditation of Indigenous Technologies for Housing (AITECH), a Filipino committee that evaluates and accredits innovative technologies/systems,” he said. “Back home, FSBT is already a member of the Indian Green Building Council,” added Mr Khan. Besides Philippines, the technique has been used in other diverse geographical conditions like Australia, Oman and Qatar.
In India, FSBT is relying on the franchisee model. There are two key reasons behind this approach. This will give FSBT a better and wider reach. It also makes better sense from the business perspective since investing in franchisee considerably reduces the chances of failure and also saves on valuable time and resources. “The franchisee package would primarily include a factory set up, manufacturing equipment, jigs & fixtures, start up stocks as well as training of manpower for assembly and installation,” informed Mr Khan.
The factory can be fixed at a site or it could also be a mobile factory. FSBT has signed its first franchisee in India with the Karnataka based Time and Space Engineering Construction Pvt Ltd. Operations would start in November 2010. Interestingly, FSBT is not in a hurry to sign new franchisees. “We are very selective and want people who share our vision.
We sincerely believe this technique will prove to be a boon in addressing the enormous housing requirement faced by India. While we definitely see this as a business opportunity, we also look at it as a social responsibility. A home represents security, comfort, hope as well as dreams for every human being and we respect that,” Mr Khan signed off.