Technology: Vaccine for growth

Technology: Vaccine for growth

The pandemic of COVID-19 is fundamentally shifting the way people around the world live and work. I draw your attention to the news that in China two hospitals—with 2,600 total patient beds—were erected using simple steel frames and prefab techniques in just 10 days. It’s the best example for how factory-built, rapidly deployable emergency buildings can be put to use to save thousands of lives in a critical period.

Conversations among the project consultants and construction firms on large EPC projects have shown that using prefab structures has kept work going at an even clip despite workforce falling by nearly a half. Basically in prefab, offsite production moves on to the jobsite to a collaborative digitally empowered environment. Fewer people are required on the jobsite — reducing onsite personnel and the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19. Social distancing becomes much easier. These kinds of structures have helped build new hospitals and quarantine facilities in record time through the COVID-19 pandemic. Tata Projects, for instance, is building a 400-bed medical facility at Kasargod, Kerala, with prefabricated structures manufactured in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, and then transported to Kerala by truck.

Prefab construction is much faster than traditional construction because different functions can be performed simultaneously. It is less labor-intensive and ensures better quality but there is threshold size of project beyond which it does not make economic sense. Wherever there is large requirement and there is standardization of construction elements and size, prefab is the best option, like in mass affordable housing projects, metro rail elevated corridor etc.

Talking about savings, with the right conditions, cost and schedule the savings can be as high as 20 percent when using offsite production and prefab products vs. their traditional alternatives. However, that level of savings often comes with trade-offs. It’s imperative that owners, designers and contractors work closely to identify offsite opportunities and manage potential trade-offs in order to deliver a successful project.

Does the use of prefab affect the cement consumption in any way? The answer is no. There is hardly any impact on cement consumption by changing the methodology of construction.

All the experts are of the opinion that prefabricated building market across globe is going to see upturn of around 8 percent post COVID-19.

Meanwhile, the economy has indicated that it is headed for a recovery. Aggregate revenues for 3,827 non-financial listed companies declined by 7 per cent this quarter compared to a 34 per cent contraction in April-June. Operating profit margins expanded by four percentage points and net profits of these companies grew 31 per cent in Q2, after an 80 per cent decline in lockdown disrupted Q1 FY21. Among the second quarter results, where cement has contributed an improvement of 68.38 per cent (UltraTech has jumped by 89.1 per cent, Ambuja Cement by 87.77 per cent, Shree Cement 77.06 per cent, Ramco Cement by 40.19 per cent, contributing to the larger absolute rise in net profits) where cement has managed to save costs also by moving material by rakes rather than by road.

Will 2021 be the year of recovery? Not just recovery, growth and covering lost ground too. Best wishes for victory in 2021!

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