The Metal with Mettle
Despite being tagged element number 13, aluminium is proving to be lucky for the construction industry, given its multiple uses.
BY Mitalee Kurdekar
Look at the fast changing skyline of our cities and one clearly notices the contribution made by aluminium, be it small structures or tall skyscrapers. Whether it is glass facades or internal skeletons, most of them rest on aluminium frameworks, right from doors and walls to basic support angles. The metal has become a darling of everyone from architects and designers to developers and customers of present day construction.
Compared to its competitor mediums like steel, plastic or wood; aluminium scores hands down as a user-friendly medium for the creation of all kind of structures. This is because of its light weight, but comparatively strong character and capacity to be shaped into any size or form, without hindering the creativity of designers and architects. In addition, the versatile metal is also non-corrosive, largely non-toxic and durable in nature. With technological upgrades, its use has only rocketed sky high, and today, as much as a quarter of the aluminium produced gets consumed in construction activities.
The Indian Scenario
The per capita aluminium consumption in India is very little when compared with other nations. India consumes 1.3kgs per capita, compared to about 12kgs in China, 28kgs in the US and 39kgs in Germany. The world average is 7.8kgs (the figure includes other industrial applications as well). Having said that, the production of aluminium in India is on a healthy growth trajectory, which is much better than the world average.
Also, in India, the aluminium industry for building construction is highly unorganised and lacks standardisation. One cannot deny the advantage of using branded and technology-supported products as compared to those assembled at construction sites or even in unorganised production units, from the viewpoint of uniform and consistent quality and therefore increased value delivery in the long run.
Explaining how Schüco is working to change this scenario, Rajeev Antony, MD, Schüco India, says, “Schüco is putting in efforts to educate the industry about the advantages of using branded systems as compared to locally assembled products. We have executed numerous projects in India, which exemplify the quality standards and customers can see the difference in finished products, which is incomparable to local solutions. State-of-the-art products with a high level of performance and ease of fabrication are some advantages of using Schüco systems in the building & infrastructure construction industry.” The company provides systems for windows, doors, sliders and facades, all of which are tailored to suit any requirement and offer customisation possibilities, hence giving design freedom to architects and developers.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Madhabendra Banerjee, MD, Reynaers Aluminum, says, “Recently, we have witnessed that the skyline of Indian metro cities have undergone a metamorphosis as towering buildings have sprung up in multiple locations, achieving iconic status and completely changing the city panorama. These tall buildings, in their wake, bring about the need for bespoke products and solutions to meet the unique challenges posed by the sheer height of the buildings and the rapidly changing design requirements.”
In response, Reynaers has introduced high performance and energy efficient windows to meet challenging façade parameters. Its product line up consists of state-of-the-art window systems that have the exclusive capacity to withstand high wind velocity, water and air tightness, making them best suited for high-rises. “Aesthetically, we have introduced lesser sight lines to accommodate design requirements. With these products, we are able to provide larger and lesser panels to accommodate maximum sunlight. These specifications make our product meet the requirement of increased environmental and aesthetic efficiency,” proclaims Banerjee.
One of the reasons for the popularity of aluminium within the construction industry is the sheer value it offers. This value has been delivered by products resulting from continuing research and technological advancements that have taken into account changing user requirements, be it quality, durability, environment friendliness or aesthetic appeal. Vendors have been proactive in understanding customer needs and then striving to meet them meticulously. Like any other industry, there are challenges, but the success lies in overcoming them and delivering value to users.
Kushal Bajaj, executive director, Geeta Aluminium Company, speaks of one such challenge, stating, “The biggest challenge in the current situation is providing energy efficient solutions. With air-conditioning being a basic requirement these days, we have designed our windows to be completely air-tight, with multi-chambered profiles that are properly insulated with gaskets, avoiding direct transfer of heat or cold air to impact inside conditions. We also offer Thermal Break windows, which cater to extreme climates.”
Stressing that the cost/value to customer is never overlooked in doing this, Bajaj adds that their Research & Development team is working with renowned aluminium extruders to make aluminium system windows at reasonable or lower costs, without altering the quality. The collaboration between vendors, architects and designers is imperative, if one has to deliver value.
Outlining this approach, Kapil Chikodi, head, business development, Glass Wall Systems, offers, “Considering the scope of our façade works, the detailed scope is well determined by consultants for products like aluminium curtain wall glazing, aluminium louvres, aluminium doors/windows, etc. We always keep ourselves updated on emerging new systems which can be offered as easy solutions in terms of fabrication and installation. We also do customised design for various aluminium curtain walling system and doors/windows as per the needs of the architect or project specific requirements.”
The contribution from proven branded products in delivering value is enormous as they are backed by well researched technology, large scale production and commitment to ensuring quality. Sapa offers a huge range of products via its flagship brand – Technal, which caters to varied construction requirements. Their product range includes doors, windows, roofing, cladding, curtain walling & structural glazing, sun controls, balustrades, shop fittings, partitions etc.
“We have introduced multiple upgrades to facilitate the building and construction industry. One of these is a unitised curtain walling system that brings together the benefits of factory production control and speed of installation on site. Modular units, including glazed units, are manufactured in workshop conditions, where quality can be strictly controlled. The fixing lugs are built into the perimeter, ensuring ease of handling during transportation and arrival on site. The slim frames and large glass areas of our curtain walling solutions allow for an uncompromised urban architecture,” says Amit Bhadu, communication and marketing manager, India, Technal, Sapa BS India.
The company has also introduced products that combine the highest thermal insulation levels with unparalleled weather performances to support low energy, passive and sustainable architecture.
Such features are winning the battle of choice over pricing. As Antony explains, “Pricing is an important deciding factor in understanding this paradigm of value for money spent on branded products. More and more developers, builders and architects are now open to the idea of using high quality systems for their projects as it increases the product durability, aesthetics and design freedom by many folds at a slight premium. Windows, doors and facades are not fast moving or frequently replaced items; hence the importance of quality over cost is easily distinguished.”
The Indian market for aluminium doors & windows comprises of conventional products and new holistic systems. Banerjee predicts optimistically, “India is a potential market for all players in the façade industry, especially more competitors from overseas are vying for a slice of this pie. What makes it interesting is that each player brings along an innovative approach towards window solutions & design and further enhances the existing product line.”
In the coming years, one would notice a rise in the standard of living and earning capacity of people, with customers demanding a ‘one stop solution’ for all their aluminium solution needs. Companies that provide everything from measurement to installation with an after sales service will have an edge over conventional vendors in the future. Recognising this, Geeta Aluminium Company is setting up Geeta Gallery – Window Display Centers across the country, in order to increase awareness among consumers. They plan to have around 50 such centres by the year 2018.
Currently, there are a few international system companies who are trying to get a foothold in the Indian construction sector and are doing notable projects. There is scope for multiple players, which increases healthy competition and gives consumers a choice to pick between the best. This also raises awareness about the proper usage of systems as compared to local solutions that lack in consistent performance standards.
Antony is hopeful when he says, “Since the fenestration industry is directly in sync with the construction industry, a government impetus for growth in real estate and construction is directly beneficial to us. For instance, a robust implementation of the real estate bill would benefit system companies like us as it would ensure that developers and other planners will go for higher quality standards for the products used.” Commenting on the gap in per capita aluminium consumption that India has to bridge, he feels, “From a fenestration perspective, we expect a growth rate of anywhere between 7-8.5% in the next two years.”
Supporting this positive outlook, Banerjee comments, “The Government’s initiatives like smart cities, national highways schemes, new airport zones, trade corridors and port development initiatives are set to give a massive thrust to construction, and subsequently the façade industry. Further, tighter environmental and safety norms advocated and enforced by the Government of India would provide an impetus for better window and façade solutions, providing the customers with a key shift in their window experience.”
With so much in store, the industry is on the threshold of seeing changes that would translate into a welcome value proposition for its customers. Of course, this will result in a positive contribution to India’s construction sector, too.