UltraTech currently operates over a hundred RMC plants in 35 cities across India; all the plants have world class IT systems, quality control and vehicle tracking systems. UltraTech, a part of the Aditya Birla Group, holds an unrelenting focus on safety and quality standards. All of its state-of-the-art automatic plants are capable of producing the entire range of concrete including UltraTech Concrete Plus, Lite, Duracon, Colourcon, Fibrecon, Thermocon, Hypercon, Pervious, DTcor, Freeflow and Stainless. Prabir Ray, Executive President, Ready Mix Concrete, Key Accounts and Building Products, in an exclusive interview with ICR, throws light on a range of issues that dent the growth of the industry. Excerpts from the interview.
Where is the current demand for RMC coming from, metro cities or from infrastructure projects, and in what ratio? RMC demand is driven primarily by the real estate sector and is supported by the infrastructure and industrial sector. Around 76 per cent of the concrete demand originates from housing construction. The infrastructure sector (roads, power, airport, urban infrastructure, railways, etc) accounts for 17 per cent of the total RMC demand; it will continue to be driven by these sectors and will depend on the construction opportunities presented by these sectors. Around 79 per cent of the RMC demand is driven by Tier I cities in 2012-13. This can be attributed to higher awareness of the benefits of RMC usage, higher concentration of large scale projects coupled with focus on quality, timely delivery and control of wastage. Also, space constraints, along with government and municipal bodies ´ initiatives to control pollution, have encouraged the use of RMC. In 2012-13, the overall economic slowdown, sluggishness in construction activity, liquidity crunch and policy hurdles resulted in a lower demand growth of concrete.
Why do you think the demand for RMC in India not as high as it is in developed countries? RMC penetration is low in India, at around 9 per cent as of now. However, the penetration has almost doubled from 5 per cent in 2007-08 to around 9.3 per cent in 2012-13, primarily due to increasing awareness of the benefits of RMC. As against this, in developed economies such as the USA and China, RMC penetration is at 65-70 per cent. This high level of penetration in the USA and China can be attributed to the pro-active policies undertaken by the respective governments. In 2004, the Government of China implemented Decree #341, which banned on- site concrete construction in over 200 cities across the country. The RMC Research Foundation in the United States commissioned the development of LEED reference document for use by architects, developers, clients, builders, manufacturers, suppliers and others in the construction industry, to determine how the use of RMC can contribute to sustainable buildings by optimising energy performance, use of recycled contents, and reduction in the use of Portland cement.
What are the challenges in transporting RMC? The key challenges in transporting RMC from the point of mixer to the point of placing are timing and methods that will maintain the required workability and prevent segregation, loss of any constituents, or ingress of foreign matter or water. Generally, the concrete is transported in a truck mixer and required to be discharged within two hours from the time of loading; thus, the constraint is not the distance travelled but the time taken, and the limit is two hours. The worsening traffic conditions and the municipality restrictions in cities are continuous impediments to the supply chain movement of truck mixers. Concrete, being perishable in nature and having a limited shelf-life, should be permitted to be transported uninterruptedly.
Is there any specific reason why the conversion rate of cement to RMC is still in single digits? In the current environment, the low penetration of RMC in India can be attributed to:
Do you face any challenges due to unstructured supply of aggregates? Aggregates are one of the critical components of RMC and form about 70 per cent of its overall volume. However, availability of quality aggregate is a concern area for the industry. Factors affecting the qualities of aggregates are traditional crushing technology, lack of organised players, business controlled by the local players, etc. Recently, the government has imposed a ban on mining of natural river sand for sustainability reasons. Now, the alternative is to switch over to manufactured sand, which is possible only through a modern three- stage crushing configuration. As this is not readily available in all the markets, it poses a lot of challenges for the switch- over. In order to mitigate this challenge, our company has developed integrated mining and crushing facilities so as to provide quality concrete matching international standards.
How do you assess the availability of RMC equipment such as batching plants, transit mixers and concrete pumps? In India, the RMC industry has started with a self-sufficient asset building approach and as a result, the industry players manages, by itself as well as through dedicated suppliers, all the assets including batching plants, transit mixers and concrete pumps. Today we have international vendors for batching plants, transit mixers, and concrete pumps like M/s Simem Italy and M/s Liebherr Germany, apart from the indigenous vendors who have products that match international players; however, there is a gap in the industry for dedicated organised players working in each area of operation to enhance the delivery standard and improve the ecosystem. Going forward, we expect exclusive organised players with assets and knowledge specificity in each areas of operation to join the sector as it has happened in the developed countries.
Are skilled technicians an issue, especially for batching plants and concrete pumps? Concrete being an engineering product, training is one of the essential aspects, in the full supply chain of the material, right from the batching plant operator who produces it, transit mixer drivers who deliver it, to the concrete pump operator who pumps it. In all these areas, availability and retention of suitable manpower is a key challenge for the industry. In order to address the challenge, we have taken initiatives to continuously upgrade the knowledge and skills of our workmen through cross-functional training, safety training, and workshops, etc. Recognising this fact of continuous upgradation of knowledge and skill, we have come up with a customised training centre under the name of `Gurukul Training Centre.´
Are we stuck with the minimum range of grades of concrete? What are your views on the shift to performance based specifications for concrete? Yes, we are presently stuck with the minimum range of grades for concrete. It is further accentuated by the existing market- based design specifications for concrete which sets prescriptions like minimum cement content, and specifications like pure OPC concrete only or limiting supplementary cementetious material to 15 to 20 per cent only, and so on.
This leaves serious RMC players with no scope to demonstrate their understanding of making good concrete with optimum OPC contents matching the strength requirements of the grade or having a better control in terms of QC/production manpower, emphasis on training, research and development facilities. We have to consider durability- based specifications to harness the full potential of the material.
Concrete Solutions from UltraTech UltraTech Concrete has a deep understanding of customer ´s need for application oriented concrete and has come up with various specialty concretes in its portfolio. UltraTech specialises in delivering the expected product performance using local raw materials. The company offers an array of products for the design and construction industry.
Says Prabir Ray, Executive President, Ready Mix Concrete, Key Accounts and Building Products, UltraTech, ´Recently, we achieved a new landmark by supplying M80 self-compacting concrete UltraTech Freeflow and M80 high grade concrete, UltraTech Hypercon. In India, UltraTech Concrete takes pride in being the first commercial supplier of M80 self-compacting concrete UltraTech Freeflow. Apart from these, we are constantly working on new products which will be introduced in due course of time. We partner with our customers for developing new products to suit specialised needs which give architectural freedom in designing and construction of sleek structures with superior finish and higher durability.´