It’s Time to Relook Codes

Dr. Vinod Jain, Managing Director, Vintech Consultants

Once you get the design from an architect, what measures you take to further enhance the productivity of that project?

After the project is conceived by the Architect, as Structural Engineer, we assess the architectural drawings and decide the structural system. In order to augment the productivity, we suggest whether the structure should be made in traditional RCC structure, structural steel or composite construction. An effective choice of the structural system, column layout, placement of shear walls/bracings and the framing leads to the complete project efficiency and cost savings. An optimum framing maximizes the carpet area and compliments the architecture even more.
For RCC structure, we also make sure to suggest the best mode of construction i.e. mivan shuttering, slip form, precast etc. For steel structures, we optimize the connections and member sizes so that the beams, columns, bracings and connections are typical, and further time can be saved in fabrication and erection.

What does structural engineering with respect to steel mean to you?

A decade ago, steel was just used by us for large span structures, industrial buildings, rehabilitation of old structures or just in façade. Moreover, the steel building used to cost more than 40 per cent than the RCC structures. But now, with the advent of high strength steel options, reduction of steel costs, evolution of Indian Codes, rise of multi-storeys – structural steel has emerged as a perfect tailor-made solution. It liberates the structural engineer a great deal to follow their design, as it does not have site constraints like the traditional RCC structure. The detailing of connections is of utmost importance in steel, as a structure is as strong as its connections.

Since BIM aids in handling multiple fabrication drawing on multiple projects at a time, what is your take on this solution?

Building Information Modelling is a sort of virtual construction which predicts all the discrepancies in drawings, conflict with services and other construction related problems, as it merges all the disciplines of the building construction. Hence, after preparation of the fabrication drawings, if the 3-dimensional model is merged with BIM, it will lead to a near flaw-less construction.

Being associated with many large-scale projects, what is your take on high rises in steel?

Composite construction is the perfect alternative for high rise buildings. Having composite columns, steel beams with composite action and shear walls in the structure is an optimum option for design. It eliminates the weaknesses of both the materials i.e. the buckling and fire protection issues in steel, especially columns, and slow construction issues in traditional RCC structures. The structural steel can be designed to take up the construction loads and then concreting can be done. This way, both, economy and efficiency can be achieved, leaving to shorter project completion timelines and larger carpet areas due to thinner sections.

As a Structural Consultant, what would be your preferred choice – steel or concrete? Your reasons?

The choice of material is project specific and client specific. For a residential project, I would still suggest going for traditional RCC structure due to the project viability issues. For commercial and industrial buildings, structural steel is the preferable choice. If the commercial project consists of high rise buildings, then I would suggest going for composite construction.

What should be the much-needed measures taken by the government to promote steel construction?

The government should encourage the use of steel in government projects. Upgradation of old design methodology should be there, especially for government projects. Government should promote the usage of structural steel by developing the Indian Standards with respect to the new developments. The codes are very restrictive and stringent for using higher grades of steel and for detailing in accordance with seismic design. This should be made more transparent rather than just directives. Furthermore, there are no codes for the designing structures having composite sections i.e. composite columns and beams. This concept has been widely accepted throughout the world and the construction is followed. This, in turn, demotivates the Indian structural designer to go with this option.

Moreover, in the educational institutions, RCC design is paid more attention than steel. An awareness should be raised so that even the fresh graduates are motivated to foray in the arena of steel design.

Which would be the project that has touched the cords of your heart and why?

I believe, be it an architect or a structural engineer, all the projects are equally important for us. However, within the course of time, some of the projects have challenges and to conquer them gives a great deal of satisfaction. One of the projects in RCC is ‘Delhi One’ located in Noida. It has a vast area. One of the biggest challenge was that the framing of the structure was changing massively at certain levels. For that, we had to design for transfer floor which is India’s largest transfer floor having a height of 3.5 m supporting 40 storeys above. For that a lot of research and consultation had to be carried out. Another project is ‘Alphathum’ in Noida which is a composite construction. The beauty of the project is the optimum usage of material. The construction is exceptionally fast, and the structural steel usage is less than 4.5 kg/sq.ft. which is very efficient for composite construction in a 33-storey building lying in a high seismic zone as NCR.

What is your success mantra as one of the leading Structural Consultants of India?

I have always felt that in any consultant-driven profession, the involvement of the principal consultant in each project is of utmost importance. Even today, each drawing is issued at site after my inspection. Moreover, maintaining strict quality standards, availability to the client and adhering to the promised timelines is very important. Sincerity, devotion and time-bound delivery is a pleasing trait and takes one to the peak of success. Lastly, I feel being updated with the latest design changes, technological improvements and maintaining ties with academics and research is the final mantra for success.

Make in ‘PEB’ India

How would you compare modular buildings vis-à-vis traditional buildings?
D. Raju : Modular buildings also called as Pre-Engineered Steel Buildings (PEB) are constructed using off-site based construction method, during which individual building components are designed, engineered and manufactured in a factory, transported to the site and assembled at the jobsite using nut and bolt technology. Traditional buildings are constructed by using on site construction method where all the components are built at site step by step in a phased manner.

Modular buildings have many advantages when compared to traditional buildings such as single source responsibility, faster construction with savings in time of over 50 per cent, flexibility in expansion, factory controlled quality, environmental friendly, lower maintenance, earthquake resistant, faster return on investment, lesser project cost, green building features, etc.

Other advantages in technical terms include quicker design with changes easily accommodated even at execution stage, larger clear spans without intermediate column, simple and light weight foundations, lighter weight structure, easy and faster erection without any major field labour for site work, outstanding architectural design through standard features and interface details and many more.

How best one can economize the usage of steel to achieve optimum weights?
D. Raju : Offering optimized design comes from intelligent use of steel, form and experience. These in addition with use of high strength material, use of built-up/tapered built-up sections for frames, use of high strength cold form sections for purlins and other secondary members enable to come out with most economical design and optimum weights. All the buildings designed by Kirby are with high strength steel having the most optimized weight. The company uses it global expertise of over 40 years in PEB industry spanning across Middle East & Africa, India and South East Asia enables to provide designs for different types of steel structures through its Global Center of Engineering Excellence based in India with highly optimized weights for any type of application. Design optimization varies from project to project such as end use application, experience, type of design software, design codes, project location, wind speed, seismic zone and various other parameters taken into consideration for designing the structure to come out with the most economical design.

What change in the mind-set have you observed over the years as far as using steel in construction is concerned?
D. Raju : In late 90s, when Kirby introduced this PEB technology and pioneered the concept in India, there was lot of resistance in acceptance of steel as a construction material except in some simple buildings and warehouse applications. But, with Kirby’s continuous efforts in pushing this technology across all the industry segments resulted in huge success immediately after its six years of operation where in another 3-4 companies entered this all together completely new segment citing Kirby’s phenomenal growth in such a short span of time. Currently, Kirby has designed, manufactured, supplied and constructed over 16,000 buildings across India spanning different industry verticals for wide range of applications.

This has resulted in change of mindset among the people in acceptance of steel construction as an alternate construction technology. Other major reasons behind change of mindset are faster construction, earthquake resistance, ease of re-location, resale value when sold as scrap, lesser project cost, etc.

Today, this can be widely seen as PEB is being used across all the industry segments for different type of applications such as multi-level industrial buildings, warehouses, workshops, shipyards, aircraft hangars, exhibition centers, showrooms, supermarkets, offices, malls, college buildings, schools, etc. This has also further resulted in creation of more than 30 companies across India which created additional employment and further enabled in changing the mindset towards steel construction.

What new innovative areas of business are being explored by the PEB and structural steel building industry today?
D. Raju : PEB and structural steel building industry have grown by leaps and bounds over last 16+ years in India, but, yet to achieve its full potential. Steel construction is still not completely accepted across all industry segments when compared to its level of acceptance in developed economies such as USA, UK, Middle East and other European countries.

Kirby has always been at the forefront of innovation by investing in new production technologies and enhancing the performance through continuous product development. Integrating the company’s strength and expertise along with innovation has helped the company lead the Indian PEB market. Kirby is the first PEB company to venture into unknown geographies and industry segments where PEB was never heard of and laid the roadmap for steel construction technology. Some of these segments include metro rail, shipyard, power, steel, pharmaceuticals, etc.

Some of the new application areas being explored by the industry include heavy industrial structures, high rise buildings – commercial & residential, multi-level car parking structures, cement, chemical, solar power, rack supported warehouses, etc. Many of the segments such as power, steel, etc. are witnessing increasing preference towards factory controlled fabrication when compared to onsite fabrication, thereby, leading to new design innovation for these complex structures.

To what extent is the recent slowdown affecting the PEB and structural steel business? How do you anticipate the market in coming few years?
D. Raju : Indian economy has grown by over 7 per cent over last 5 quarters and is the fastest growing economy in the world surpassing China. The economy was going through a lean phase in 2013 and 2014 with GDP growth of less than 5 per cent because of many factors. During this phase, PEB and structural steel industry were also affected because of lesser number of project finalizations and witnessed a decline in overall demand. Despite all these, Kirby was able to maintain its overall volume growth because of its complete solution offerings.

Changing economic conditions over the past few quarters because of various reforms announced by the new government such as Make in India initiative, development of 100 Smart Cities, likely introduction of GST in 2017, increase of FDI limit in defense, etc., major changes in ease of doing business, etc. are expected to result in higher GDP growth. In addition, promotion of manufacturing sector through Make in India initiative and increase the overall manufacturing growth and contribution to India’s GDP from 16 per cent in 2015 to 25 per cent by 2022 and create 100 million additional jobs. All these will create huge demand for PEB in coming years and catapult the industry to high growth trajectory path and will exceed the current growth rate, thereby, building a sustainable and environmental friendly future.

What are the prime reasons behind PEB technology being adopted in metro rail projects?
D. Raju : All the metro rail projects are built in a city passing through busy roads and junctions with heavy traffic congestion where traditional mode of construction is not at all possible due to lack of space and other site constraints. PEB technology is the only ideal option for construction as they are pre-fabricated in a factory controlled quality environment and transported to site for erection. There are no site related works, as different activities are simultaneously implemented at the same time such as building fabrication at factory and civil works at site, so that civil activity is completed by the time building components are transported to site for erection thereby leading to faster project completion.

Most of the upcoming metro rails are using this technology to build stations, workshop building, repair bay, inspection bay, stabling yard, etc. The major reason behind PEB technology being adopted in metro rails is because of maintenance free, environmental friendly, earthquake resistant, longer life span, recyclable, no sound pollution, saving of natural resources, etc.

Kirby became the pioneer in metro rail system way back in 2005 by installing most of the stations for Delhi Metro including the workshop and stabling yard buildings. This also laid the foundation for other PEB players to enter this segment where PEB became the preferred mode of construction. Delhi Metro was the first-of-its-type with curved rafters and the first metro rail to use PEB technology which was followed by Bangalore Metro with installation of sheeting using reverse rolling methodology. The entire box shaped support structures for Delhi Metro stations were also made of pre-fabricated steel and supplied by Kirby instead of RCC. Currently, Kirby is executing most of the metro stations for L&T Hyderabad Metro and is in pursuit of various other metro rail projects across India.

Why is PEB construction still limited in its application in the residential sector?
D. Raju : PEBs have hit the construction market in a major way owing to the many benefits they possess. Steel is a more versatile material than concrete and can cater to a wider range of applications. However, it is still not completely explored with the engineering and systems because of different type of architectural requirements for residential purposes though it is widely being used in the industrial spaces.

PEB penetration is very low in the residential sector and is in the nascent stage of development. But the concept is fast catching up in the commercial/office buildings as the scope of growth is guaranteed looking at India’s huge infrastructural requirements. Kirby has already executed some projects for residential sector such as G+13 building in Jammu, G+7 buildings in Mumbai and is currently executing similar other projects for both commercial and residential sectors across India. Change in market dynamics where faster completion, immediate occupancy, more aesthetic features with combination of different architectural features, etc. are fast becoming the norms of the industry. Though this may take some years, but, we are sure that PEB will become the preferred mode of construction for the residential sector as well in coming years.

PEB construction can also be used to fulfill government’s dream of providing housing for all through affordable and low cost housing which can be very well achieved only through this technology.