Concrete Products: Shaping Cement's Future
Concrete products have the potential to transform the way we use cement.
Although this may sound funny or even out rightly outrageous, cement in itself can not be called a building product per se, unlike steel, glass or aluminium. It can, at best, be called a building material intermediate, because when cement is used, along with other ingredients, to produce concrete, then and only then, a finished building material is created, that can compete on equal terms with peers like steel or wood. To strengthen this argument with an example, when it comes to compare the Carbon Dioxide intensity of competing construction materials, cement is not pitted against steel or wood or glass, but CO2 emitted per unit weight of concrete is compared with other alternatives. So, buildings require concrete, while concrete requires cement. That's the linkage.
Whenever we think of concrete, we think of casting in position, which is technically called cast in-situ. All the concreting that we conventionally and regularly encounter around us, in most cases, are concrete poured and cast and cured in position. To the lay person like us, concrete means beams, columns, roof slabs, foundations, lintels, and alike. This situation is now a thing of the past. There are a lot a of concrete items which are cast previously and sold as castings for later use in position. In broad terms, these are called concrete Products, also loosely termed as 'Pre-Cast Concrete'.
The global precast concrete market was valued at approximately $100 billion in 2016 and is projected to expand at a CAGR of more than 5 per cent from 2016 to 2025, according to a new report titled, 'Precast Concrete Market - Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecast, 2016-2025'', published by Transparency Market Research. The report concludes that the application of precast concrete in construction reduces the lead time and provides better properties such as durability and sustainability to the construction as compared to the use of conventional in-position casting processes. The report says that such advantages will drive up the precast concrete market during the forecast period, viz. 2016 to 2025.
Asia Pacific and Europe are reportedly the leading markets for precast concrete. Interestingly, the precast concrete market in Asia Pacific is expected to grow at a CAGR of greater than 6% during the same period owing to rise in investments in residential and infrastructural projects in the region. Such projections regarding the prospects of Concrete Products for the Indian market are not readily available, but perhaps one could safely extrapolate from these reported global trends, that directionally, pre-cast concrete will do well in India as well.
In order to better understand and analyse any product-market configuration, there is a need to segment the market/products in an effective manner. The segmentation of Concrete Products can be done in various different ways, some of which are as follows :
By structure system
- Beam and column system
- Floor and roof system
- Bearing wall system
- Fatade system
- By end-use
- Building works
- Civil works
- Hydraulic works
- Transportation works
- Power plants and communication works
- Specialised works
- By geography
- Asia Pacific
- Africa, etc
However, the one way of categorisation of the concrete products that we like, is standard products and customised/tailormade products. Examples of standard concrete products are like paver blocks, concrete railway sleepers, concrete pipes, decorative balustrades or grills, etc.
On the other hand, customised products are designed and cast specifically for the needs of a customer or a given construction project. These are normally large concrete castings, requiring casting yards to be set up near the project sites, but these help speed up on site construction. Pre-cast beams, slabs, columns, lintels and aerated autoclaved concrete blocks.
All concrete products have the advantage of delivering better consistency and quality, because these have the benefit of controlled manufacturing conditions like in a factory, as against the harsh conditions prevalent at a construction site.
Previously, larger cement companies thought that having control over downstream cement consumer industries was very important, in order to have influence over the delivery channels. On the basis of this strategy, some global cement companies acquired or developed upstream as well as downstream businesses such as aggregate mines, ready-mixed concrete plants, and concrete products, both standard and custom-made. In time, they discovered that scale and technology are not competitive advantages in these industries, but proximity to the markets is. Today in India, most of these industries downstream of cement are mainly served by small and medium sized companies or larger construction companies.