Steel is still not a very popular choice when it comes to building structures and that is one area where there is definitely a lot of scope for progress and Abhijit Shah, Principal and Managing Director, Walter P Moore India, hopes to be a part of the revolution. Excerpts from the interview…
Q Working overseas has given you a whole new cultural perspective. What are the differences at the outset, between the work ethic in India and overseas?
One of the main differences that I see is the fact that Walter P Moore as a company, is an organization which is not only focused on clients, but, also on our employees. We started hiring here in India about two and a half years ago, and I believe that is one of the things that separates us from other companies. Having the flexibility of work hours, access to recreational facilities like a table tennis, etc. – basically a work culture where people have fun while working is what attracts a lot of talented people to our firm as well.
Q Having the flexibility to interact is yet another area that differs between here and the west?
From what I have heard, in a typical Indian company setup, there are restrictions and issues of propriety when it comes to addressing seniors and managers, while at Walter P Moore we call each other by first name. Everybody calls me Abhijit and I like it that way. Likewise, we call our seniors by name, which makes interaction a little bit more personal and “human.” Also, everybody has the freedom to come up with different ideas, not just on the engineering side, but, for anything that they want done differently in the office. I think it makes a better work environment that is free, enjoyable, and more innovative as well.
Q Your stint in Dallas has enriched your experience. How do you translate that in your work in India?
One advantage that I have is that I am working for the same company, so the culture definitely remains the same. In fact, I believe one of my main jobs is to ensure that the Walter P Moore India office is just like any other Walter P Moore office. We do not want this to be like a backend office, but a fully functioning partner.
My 13-year stint in Dallas has definitely helped me gain ample experience. As a project manager, I had the opportunity to work on several projects, small and large – from high-rise buildings to performing arts centers and stadiums. My work has definitely helped me get the overall picture; so when we have engineers working on international projects, I can share my experiences on similar projects.
Q In structures like stadiums, the roof offers quite a challenge. As a structural engineer, how do you overcome it?
Stadium structures are inherently challenging to execute, especially the roof because of the long spans. As structural engineers, we try to make a lot of column-free spaces and fortunately that is a specialty of Walter P Moore. We have a wealth of experience when it comes to handling long-span structures, as we have designed over 100 stadiums. We have created an internal group of sports design experts and enthusiasts, which we call the ‘Sports Community of Practice’ that harvests information and best practices from all of our sports projects from across different offices. They are also up-to-date with all new products and technologies that are available.
Bringing efficiency to work is just second nature for us as a firm because we have a competent research and development team that is technically strong and can easily counter any challenges that crop up. If I don’t know an answer, I know where to go and whom to ask to solve the issue. Once again, this kind of freedom is company-wide and goes a long way in making working easier. On most of our big projects we don’t stop at design; we also provide erection engineering and connection design services. We have a separate team of engineers and Tekla modelers, called the Construction Engineering Group that is specialized in these services. We have this team in the India office as well.
Q What is Walter P Moore’s strategy when approaching the Indian market?
We started India operations about three years ago and initially, the strategy was to work on projects in India. We did not want to be the brand that has been around for 80+ years and bring all the experience only from the U.S. team. To supplement that in India, we began hiring from the top schools like IITs and other Indian institutions of repute; then we trained the entire team of engineers and Revit technicians.
We are working on several U.S.-based projects that include everything from buildings, stadiums, and airports. We now have a staff of 40 well-trained professionals that include young, enthusiastic people along with a few senior engineers. Currently, we are looking for projects in India which are in line with our area of specialization and have already started working on a few. At Walter P Moore, we do not believe in accepting every project opportunity that comes our way. We instead focus on those projects to which we can add value. So for 2015, we are looking for big projects such as airports, arenas, convention centers, and the like as we definitely enjoy working in India.
Q How much potential does steel construction have in India, taking recent and future trends into consideration?
The steel construction scenario in India is only recently on the rise. If you compare the steel industry in India versus any other developed nation, I believe we have a lot of potential to develop. Currently the use of steel is restricted to industrial structures and to some extent on the infrastructural side. However, steel is still not a very popular choice when it comes to building structures and that is one area where we definitely see a lot of area for progress, which I hope that Walter P Moore is a part of.
Q Could you elaborate on the grey areas when it comes to steel construction in the Indian scenario?
Fire proofing remains one of the main challenges, and the market still needs some educating on the topic. Despite manufacturers doing their bit, there is also the issue of not having enough sections; we still do not have the freedom of having structure-specific sections. In building structures where the use of composite steel is felt, we are not quite there, in terms of technology.
Even in engineering colleges across India, there is not enough training imparted for the use of steel. There are certain steel structures in India that seem over-designed because I feel that we do not train our engineers enough to handle steel in design. There seems to be a slight deficit in the propagation of awareness and with steel, a lot of knowledge comes from experience.
Understanding the stresses due to restraint conditions and temperature effects, the erection tolerances, the effect of erection sequencing on the structure, and other such parameters are a few areas where we are still lacking in India due to less experience in steel. I believe that with the wealth of experience that we bring, Walter P Moore can help overcome these challenges and make steel a preferred choice of material in India.
Q What does architecture mean to you and what is your philosophy when creating a design?
A The thing that drives me the most about architecture and creating something new is to come up with something that’s very beautiful and functional, but, has a unique reason for being that particular building based on the requirements that you’re given. Sometimes the requirements are very specific while at others, they are extremely vague. In the latter situation you have to dig and figure it out what is it that the owner or the client wants and from that you proceed to design.
The things that come to the surface are manifold, it is not one or two things; it’s what you bring as an individual designer to the table, it’s what your colleagues bring along with them and then the whole process starts. In today’s world it’s become a much more dynamic process where you cannot do it alone, in fact you almost shouldn’t want to do it alone. This is because there are many players, not just the traditional ones but there are sociologists, biologists, etc. In the broadest scope of design, the challenge is in a world that’s globally much more sensitive. So, you’re always part of a bigger whole in the design process. However, even so someone has to say, well I don’t think we’re going down the right road, so those judgement calls still remain in the hands of individuals. I’m a big believer in the fact that you’ve got to be a strong designer, you’ve got to know what the big picture is and keep that and the spirit of the project alive.
Q As far as working with materials is concerned, which ones are your favorites and why?
A Yes and no. There are many ways to hold things up. We’re fighting gravity all the time as designers. It is a challenge based on the particular application. If there is the need for an expression that is both functional and otherwise solid and heavy, you would use masonry for something that comes from the ground and goes up. If you want something light, you’d probably be inclined to opt for wood or steel where the expression of using sticks to support things is commonplace among our profession. So, I do not have favorite materials, I try to figure out what needs to be used for the purpose.
Q Steel construction has several advantages over conventional methods. Could you highlight the same from your experience?
A I’ve used steel for quite a bit of my projects. I think steel is the answer when you want to use something that is light, if you want to do something that can be erected quickly, something where the tracery of exposed steel is of benefit. In terms of solving challenges, we have used steel in my work in the States. Oftentimes, we’d do additions to buildings, renovations of old warehouse buildings; typically where you want to engage a new building to something that’s already been there, we tend to use steel. Very often, our design attitude was not to bang up the addition against the existing building, but to separate it. The separation could be something like a passage or a light giver or an entry and typically we use very lightweight steel to make that engagement happen. There are some really nice interventions that you can do in steel which would be more restrictive in other materials.
Q The acceptance of steel as a go-to material for construction is not very popular in India. What according to you are the reasons for this?
A I think a lot of this hesitation comes with the culture and tradition. If you drive through the city, country or small village and you can see small concrete structures coming up everywhere; it’s almost like masonry. The use of concrete is sort of second nature and I think it’s going to be a while before the acceptance of something that’s made in a factory and brought to the site in a precise dimension, that could either be welded or bolted together using heavy machinery – I think those are the restrictions. People take a long time to switch to something new from what you’ve done that works, it’s just a fact of nature. Steel can do different things, but concrete is a very strong competitor just in terms of how it has been used. So, I think it is going to take some time and evolve. Tall buildings, for example, which are done in concrete but are typically done much more successfully and quicker in steel would help. As more and more tall buildings in steel are made in India, probably that will drive in a change.
Q What measures, according to you, should be undertaken to create an impetus for steel based constructions in the Indian scenario?
A I think more of conventions, conferences that talk about the current and probable use of steel, more conversations about the challenges of construction that steel can better solve than say, concrete. Basically, more exposition, more evolution of demonstrating ideas, showing that steel works at all levels be it the tall, mega level structures or the more poetic expressions when it comes to smaller projects, at the artists’ level by way of sculptures instead of engaging with materials like wood. Propagating the whole notion of strength, utility, beauty, flexibility in being able to use small sections versus big timbers; everything has its place. It’s a question of selection and evolution and putting it out together.
Q What advice would you give to young architects who are starting out?
A To them I’d say, just spread your wings and be informed. Use anything and everything that makes sense, but, more than anything, do it studiously, and I think steel falls in that category.
M. P. Naidu, Project Director, L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Ltd. is of the opinion that steel’s inherent adaptability and flexibility also means that future changes or extensions – even vertically – can be carried out with minimal disruption and cost. Read more for the full interview…
Q Why was the need to opt for the metro mode of transportation?
A About 40 per cent of the population of 600 million people are expected to live in cities by 2031, with about 30 cities having a population of 2 million. Having said this, growing cities, growing population and traffic, with each passing day, has invariably called for a shift from private modes of commute to public. The metro is the preferred choice of Mass Transport System for cities worldwide, offering a viable solution to the infrastructure challenges that accompany urban expansion. Hyderabad’s Metro Rail will feature several commuter-friendly advantages. Hyderabad’s transformation into an infotech hub provides the setting for another hi-tech initiative – the unique Hyderabad Metro Rail Project. The project integrates multi-modal public transportation with urban spaces, and undertakes infrastructure development of Hyderabad. The metro is an urban rejuvenation and redesign effort to transform Hyderabad into a people-friendly ‘green’ city.
Q According to you what are the distinct advantages of a metro rail?
A To begin with, the Metro Rail System has proven to be most efficient in terms of energy consumption, space occupancy and numbers transported. Such MRTS, if appropriately developed, would carry as much traffic as 7 lanes of bus traffic or 24 lanes of car traffic with reduced journey time by 50 per cent to 75 per cent. More so, such mode of transport causes no air pollution, much less sound pollution and reduces energy consumption – 20 per cent per passenger km in comparison to road-based systems. Metro rail systems are the mark of the new urban landscape. They speed commuters to their destination and add a distinctive element of style to a city. High-speed, high-capacity and hi-tech metros are here to stay.
Q What benefits does structural steel give to the designers involved in metro station structures?
A The versatility of steel gives architects the freedom to achieve their most ambitious visions. Steel structures can be erected speedily with accuracy. In fact, speed of erection is often one of the main criteria for selecting steel. In linear projects like Metro Rail, it also reduces disruption to nearby buildings and roads. Time related savings can easily amount to between 3 per cent and 5 per cent of the overall project value, reducing the client’s requirements for working capital and improving cash flow.
Steel-framed structures are highly durable, and do not age or decay as quickly as other construction materials, thereby, lasting longer before refurbishment is required. Steel’s inherent adaptability and flexibility also means that future changes or extensions – even vertically – can be carried out with minimal disruption and cost.
Q Being one of the largest infrastructure projects undertaken in the state, what are the real challenges faced by you during construction and how do you surmount those?
A Construction of elevated metro rail viaduct over 80 road junctions on three metro corridors is like building a number of flyovers over the busy traffic junctions without disrupting the vehicular traffic at the saturated junctions. However, junctions which have more than 34 metre of span length will have to be bridged through ‘in situ’ construction i.e. on-the-spot construction method. For allowing the traffic to pass through these junctions, a gap of about 50 feet will be left between the temporary supports, thereby, giving about three lanes on each side for movement of traffic.
Q Which are the other areas of construction in a metro project wherein steel can be used in a higher proportion for producing better results?
A Rail over bridges and viaduct over critical junctions is one area where steel is particularly important. The prefabrication of components means that construction time on site in hostile environments is minimized. The speed of steel bridge construction reduces the durations of rail possessions and road closures, which minimizes disruption to the public using those networks. The light-weight nature of steel permits the erection of large components, and in special circumstances complete bridges may be installed overnight.
Q What kind of safety measures are being adhered in the Hyderabad Metro?
A Hyderabad Metro, probably the world’s largest Metro Rail Project in PPP (public-private partnership), is in secant operational model. It is being implemented entirely on PPP basis, with the state government holding a minority equity stake. It has elevated world-class station buildings at approximately every kilometer. The advanced signaling and train control technology, communication based train control (CBTC), is adopted for Hyderabad Metro to control the trains. Hyderabad Metro would be first in India to claim train control by CBTC technology. The trains can run with headway of 90 seconds to meet commuters demand during office peak hours in morning and in evening.
The trains shall run on Automatic Train Operation (ATO) mode which is the normal mode of operation of trains. The Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system continuously monitors safe train operation and initiates necessary action, if a train doesn’t perform as desired. All vital train borne equipment’s are highly safe and redundant to avoid any unwanted interruption of train service. The station equipments e.g. computer based interlocking (CBI), wayside ATP etc. are vital signaling equipments, and redundantly arranged to ensure safe and uninterrupted train operation. Passenger emergency stop plungers are provided on each platform and in station control room (SCR) to stop a train immediately in case of emergency.
Q How do you assess the future of Metro Rail in our country?
A Every city is unique in terms of its history, design, architecture, transportation character and layout. A city has to grow and evolve through a coordinated effort aimed at progress, while conserving its history and heritage. Progress will become structurally purposeful, ethically meaningful and economically sustainable only when it is achieved through a people-partnered process.
Creating a world-class Metro rail infrastructure in a congested and regulation-heavy city like Delhi was a daunting task. With 2 million people hitching a ride every day, Delhi Metro Rail has become a new way of life. As the Delhi Metro covers more ground, more and more people have shifted to this mode of transport. Some 200 trains cover 70,000 km everyday on 190-km-long metro corridors in Delhi. The numbers can only increase once another 140 km in new lines are added by 2016. The Delhi Metro saves 2 million barrels every year by taking petrol and diesel vehicles off the roads. Given that the oil price averaged around $100 per barrel until a few months ago, this means an annual saving of $200 million or Rs 1,200 crore.
The Namma Metro is a truly global service. Everything about it is international class; the air-conditioned coaches, the stations and the lush green stretches through which it passes in gentle curves. Trains run from 6 am in the morning till 10 pm in the night. The trains run at a frequency of 15 minutes from 6 am to 8 am in the morning, and 8 pm to 10 pm in night, and with frequency of 10 minutes from 8 am to 8 pm.
Mumbai Metro can carry around 280-300 passengers per coach as opposed to the Monorail which has a capacity of 145-160 passengers per coach. It will initially run with 4 coaches, but, would later boast of 6 coaches. The Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar stretch has 12 stations and the trains will travel at an average speed of 60-80 kmph.
The metro fever is catching up in smaller cities, thanks largely to the success of Delhi Metro. Cities like Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Bhopal are making a case for metro, even though they don’t qualify because of the population cut-off.
Q. How do you evaluate the current scenario of stainless steel industry in our country?
A.The demand share for stainless steel rests at approximately 4 per cent of the total steel demand in India. If accelerated substitution strategy continues to replace carbon steel, a surge for the same is definitely expected. Our current over-capacity in long as well as flat products are likely to get used up in the next five years. The future for stainless steel is bright, as the material is quickly gaining popularity in terms of preference over the last few decades. This is on account of properties like corrosion resistance, aesthetics, and health as well as safety aspects for humans and low life cycle cost.
For Outokumpu, the outlook is brighter. With its ever widening product portfolio, we keep offering new innovative products and applications to provide competitive advantages to the customer. We take pride in being the leader in innovations and feel happy to see the competition emulate us in India. The Indian economy is not so robust at the moment, but, there are strong positive indications, thanks to the infrastructure and power projects that are being taken up. However, despite the weak economic scenario, we are looking at incremental growth in 2015. This will be achieved due to our efforts to eliminate corrosion in industrial applications with improved materials. It is an ongoing activity since our inception in India in 2006. From a slow start initially, we now have steady, successful milestone achievements.
Q. What is your mantra to maintain profitability even in a tight situation?
A.Depending on the operational environment, there are over 400 grades of stainless steel which can be used for a diverse range of applications. In India, the dominant demand comes from utensils and kitchenware application segment, which is as high as 65 per cent. This is the low end application being catered to by over three dozen induction melting route manufacturing units as well as four integrated manufacturing plants. Outokumpu does not focus on these low end and low priced segments.
The industrial and infrastructure applications constitute 35 per cent of the overall demand (around 700,000 tons per annum). Since the range of production capability of domestic integrated plants is rather limited at this point of time, imports are vital to meet demands for high end advanced materials for accelerated infrastructural growth. Outokumpu’s presence in India is primarily relevant for high end grades and higher dimensions which are not manufactured in India. Being the oldest and largest stainless steel player in the world, we have positioned ourselves as an organisation with an intent on educating the domestic end users on new grades and applications.
Q. What are the major challenges faced by a stainless steel producer in today’s scenario?
A.There is over-capacity in the domestic sector in the low end and vanilla grades of stainless steel. Since stainless steel is the fastest growing metal in consumption (about 10 per cent annual growth in India), it is hoped that the over-capacity will get filled up in the next four years. The tendency to drop prices to chase a demand that is much smaller than the supply hurts producers in the long run.
The current increase in import duty and rupee devaluation impact is definitely beneficial to domestic players providing them with an opportunity to improve their domestic selling prices and also a greater opportunity in export markets. The domestic players surely need to follow a responsible pricing strategy to improve their bottom lines.
Q. What suggestions in the current policies would you like to bring to the table? Why?
A.Since Indian producers can only cater to the low end applications, the government should not increase the import tariffs which makes the special grades imports very expensive for investments in the critical areas of infrastructure. Our 7000 km coastline makes corrosion a serious issue, so it should be mandatory that all steel related infrastructures being built on coastline must use stainless steel. Almost 4 per cent of our GDP is lost to corrosion, and being a cash-starved nation, we do not have the luxury of allowing infrastructure to corrode and replace or frequent repairs.
In order to make the domestic steel industry grow profitably, stainless steel should be taken away from all FTAs with the developed world. Import of substandard, second choice or materials non-conforming to International standards should be banned. Domestic mills should also not be allowed to sell such defective and non-standard materials in the domestic markets or export them. The import duty structure should not be beyond 10 per cent peak rate of duty, as decided in the WTO Hong Kong agreement and the rate should not be inverted. Raw materials must be at 2.5 per cent, semis at 5 per cent and CR at 7.5 per cent. Inverted rate of duty will only end up killing the downstream industries first and then the steel producers.
There is a glaring lack of R&D capability in the domestic stainless industry. Government should encourage co-operation between the major global players and local mills to upgrade domestic capabilities in the long run. Lastly, India should not seek imports as per BIS standards. Instead, we must follow international standards to ensure that product availability and investments are not hampered.
Q. Even today there are a few clients who opt to import some specific steel sections from abroad. When and how will we be able to witness these import percentages decreasing?
A. The ideal way to reduce and ultimately curb these import percentages would be to encourage co-operation in R&D. The government must also play its part in this regard by encouraging localisation of advanced products through partnerships or collaboration.
Q How does stainless steel provide design flexibility to structural designers?
A Looking at the rapidly changing realm of design and innovation, there has definitely been a shift in options from concrete to other form, and stainless steel is one preferred choice amongst structural designers. All high rise buildings and construction in cities currently utilise carbon steel structural elements. No matter what you do in terms of coating or painting, carbon steel will corrode after a certain period of time. Stainless steel is a cheaper alternative as structural element or as reinforcing element in concrete structures. However, several hurdles arise because building codes do not exist for stainless steel usage, but, we can follow international codes and standards. The new urban cities and rural townships will have to opt for stainless steel to have a long maintenance-free life and lowest life cycle cost. We cannot afford to spend money on maintenance frequently which also leads to inconvenience to the citizens due to disruption during repairs.
Q. How equipped is Outokumpu to cater to the growing demands of infrastructure?
A. India has extremely ambitious growth plans ahead. The long Indian coastline is a highly corrosive environment, and we are committed to make India corrosion-free. Duplex stainless steel is the answer and there are plenty of global success stories where duplex structural elements and reinforcing bars have been used to achieve more than 100 years of maintenance-free life.
Duplex storage tanks have also been made to store oils and corrosive chemicals in tank farms at sea ports. Stainless steel is preferred for desalination of sea water into drinking water, and also for drinking water storage and distribution for humans in safe and hygienic manner. Railway coaches, metro coaches, wagons will become maintenance-free and lighter to save on haulage energy as well as wear-and-tear costs. Railway bridges along coastlines will also become maintenance-free with the use of Duplex stainless steel. As the nation upgrades to Euro VI in auto exhaust emissions, there will be a need for micro alloyed heat resisting grades of stainless steel from Outokumpu.
The per capita use of stainless steel in India is less than 2 kg as opposed to that of 10 kg in China. The “Make In India” campaign will improve our manufacturing base and the need for stainless steel for industrial equipment will increase. Hopefully, in the next decade we can aim to achieve per capita mark of 5 kg.
The Outokumpu vision is to create a world that lasts forever; and we are pursuing this vision aggressively in India as well. With the largest R&D set up, a wide range of high performance grades makes us a standout amongst the competition to cater to all process and environment conditions. Our willingness to share our 100 years of experience with end users is yet another impactful differentiator in the competitive arena.
Q. What new areas of construction would you target to explore in the future?
A. Our outlook for the construction world is extremely positive. We want Outokumpu to be differentiated and known among customers in three ways. First, we are the leading stainless steel company when it comes to sustainability. Second, we take pride in being the best experts to advise our customers on advanced materials; and thirdly, we are the most customer-friendly and customer centric company in the market. These three points are crucial for any new idea to build into a form of a structure – be it a foundation of the structure, bridge, monument etc.
The developed world is exceptionally in sync with the use of materials that have a minimum life cycle of at least 1000 years. As the face of a global brand in India, we would like to bring the same perspective for all the new constructions. We have two prestigious projects coming up – Statue of Unity in Gujarat and also Statue of Shivaji in Mumbai. It is important that such tall statues of great leaders should be able to withstand the vagaries of the environment and should stand tall for 1000 years. It is the responsibility of designers and engineers to design such structures for a longer period, so that the future generations are able to relate to the history and culture of the country. Nowadays worldwide, the monuments, iconic structures are being built for a very long life, from a minimum of 300 to a maximum of 1000 years.
Duplex Stainless Steel Rebars (200 tons) used for the foundation of Swaminarayan Temple in Eastern India is a progressive attitude and definitely needs replication in other parts in India as well. The spiritual Guru wanted the temple to have a life of over 1000 years as a source of inspiration for future generations. The Chedi Temple in Thailand, rail and road bridges in Australia, USA, Spain, Sweden and Hong Kong are other shining examples of sustainable building structures. The Chrysler Building in the US was built in 1930 and still looks new and fresh. The infrastructure development government body in Western India have specified duplex stainless rebars up to the splash zone for the new upcoming road over bridge project. This is a good start which needs continuous push, and that’s how we would like to witness this progressive revolution in the construction world.
Q Since taking over the baton of Zamil India, how has been your journey so far?
A For me the journey has been truly fantastic. Although Zamil has been one of the top brands around the world, but, now we are considered to be amongst the top players in India as well, and that is a major achievement. We are in the process of enhancing the brand reach – from 13 cities we plan to expand to 24 cities across India – and this will give Zamil a far greater reach than before, which in itself is a big boost. As per the current trend, with the business sentiments going up, the inquiry generation is also on the upswing. We are quoting for around 5 lac tonnes and hope that with the quote conversion, even if we go by the integral factor of 2 percentage point rise, we will be sufficient to meet our budget.
Q What is your corporate vision for Zamil three years down the line?
A As a corporate vision, we already have our three-year plan in place and we need to grow almost five-times in this field. This five-fold growth will obviously not come from PEB alone, so we are augmenting our business. We are conducting a lot of pass-through transactions wherein if someone has a requirement, for example, a building with a glass cladding, they need not source the material involved from separate sources. We are also venturing into turnkey solutions as well. We plan to begin modestly for now, and if in the future, the payment settlement is good and the fund-flow is even, then we will venture into bigger projects.
We have already undertaken a study for the sandwich panel, though am not sure whether we will be actually investing in a facility. However, we are ready to buy out a facility in the long run, around 2016-2017; and that should be augmenting our business portfolio. We have already entered into the green buildings and the cold storage segments. As of the vision, we have decided to brand all of our products under Zamil, including the buyers and those sent to the market. So, the customer sees Zamil as the face of the whole building.
Q What are the certifications that you have acquired in recent times? What do these certifications, eventually, mean for a buyer?
A Recently, we have got ISO 14001 and ISO 18001 certifications. Basically, we have the total EMS plus Quality Certification in our portfolio. So, we have ISO 9001, ISO 14001:2004 and OHSAS 18001:2007 certification. None of the other steel fabrication units bear this level of certification. The certifications are, in essentiality, nothing but compliance to certain systems and procedures. In the coming days, more and more green norms will be implemented as legislation, so these certifications reiterate that we are not polluting the environment and are also taking care of the health and safety of our employees.
Q With the new government promising a lot, what are your expectations from them? Where do they need to pay heed to on an immediate basis?
A Firstly, the consumption needs to increase. The government is of the opinion that growth can happen only if the consumption goes up, otherwise the sentiments are so low that even if I have money, I will not spend it, I’ll postpone my purchasing. If you look at most of the services, for example, the manufacturing sector was not growing, as a result of which the ‘Make in India’ concept has been initiated. Consequently, business will be added in terms of newer areas rather than the automotive sector, but, different sectors will be opening up, and newer sectors such as food and beverages will have a 20 per cent year-on-year input. The Safaai Abhiyaan, despite the politics and controversy surrounding, did not bring about a change overnight. Instead, through this movement, the government was successful in driving home the point that waste cannot be injudiciously dumped as one pleases. In fact, as a result of this, state governments too are actively looking at waste management and exploring options to gainfully use of the waste in the form of fuel, energy, fertilizer, etc.
The first such project in India, came to us – the Karnataka Renewable Energy Development Ltd (KREDL). Such is the impact of a simple thought that can propel an entire chain of business. There will also be other segments that are likely to open up on account of the way the business will be conducted, retail will move on to become e-tail, but, the latter will always require a warehouse. With the new online shopping concepts that are now emerging, the ordering and delivering process is now compacted to as little as three hours.
Instead of the current infrastructure, there will be a need to install warehouses that are both, small and big, at certain intervals throughout a particular area. The warehousing segment, therefore, will become a lucrative area where Indian entrepreneurs will actually be investing a lot of space and money in. With the imminent arrival of GST, the tax structure is bound to change and a lot of new facilities will emerge in most parts of Central India, which was perennially underdeveloped. Overall, it seems that the growth will happen on a pan-India basis unlike before.
Q Zamil recently has set a benchmark in investing in different industries, attempting different projects. Which are the other untapped sectors that you wish to explore into?
A We have already broken the 50-metre height barrier and untapped segments in steel per se do not really exist. The challenge is not in fabrication or the design, but, in erection. At Zamil, we are trying to build a capability where we can erect structures with the proper erection methodology. If you consider on-site work from the aspect of safety, equipment availability, to trained manpower, there will always exist a learning curve, and the faster you overcome it, execute and deliver, it will be the key to being successful. In India, typically, a 10-storey building with 30-metre height will take three years to complete, but now the same timeline has to be shortened to about 10 months for execution. For a 30-storey building with 100-metre height, the time required for completion is almost 9 years, which is extremely unviable. The need of the hour, therefore, is to find ways and means to quicken the entire process.
Q How much emphasis do you lay on human resource? What initiatives are being taken up at Zamil India to retain the talent?
A As the leaders of the industry, I believe it is the right time to groom and bring in new people from outside the industry. If you look at our recruitment plan, we have stopped recruiting from other PEB industries or other fabrication industries. We are recruiting people from sectors that are not directly related to our kind of business, so that we can bring in a better talent pool in the industry. Our main aim is to keep the existing workforce happy and also try and induct new people in the system who are fresh from colleges, straight out of IIMs or engineering colleges and then groom them accordingly. With this, there will be new ideas that will come in the industry, which is the need of the hour. New ideas bring with it a new perspective that are a departure from normal thinking. It creates a platform for debate and ideation which will ultimately be beneficial to all.
Q Do you think there are some areas where we have a shortage of skillset as far as fabrication is concerned?
A These kind of problems are localized and area specific. The kind of skilled manpower required for a plant, especially in a place like Pune might be an issue. In Pune, primarily, people prefer the automobile sector which is a much lighter job. However, business is business and you will have to venture out, explore new avenues, tie-up with ITIs to get fresh manpower. We are sub-contracting our activities in a big way so that the customer does not suffer due to something we don’t have. In terms of skilled manpower from the point of view of workmen class, there is bound to be a shortage unless we train people for the skills we desire and this needs to be done at the village and block level. In a situation like this, the government needs to take the necessary steps and the Maharashtra Government is well on its way in this area. It is important to note that it is essential to train people from within the area, bring in locals, failing to do which will lead to the onrush of migratory labor which poses a bigger challenge in the long run.
Q According to you, what factors contribute to the growth of the fabrication industry?
A Once the government starts spending more money on the infrastructure, growth across all spheres is bound to happen. The concept of smart cities or new cities is an important step in this regard which will contribute to the overall growth of all industries. It is just a concept today, but, probably in 10 years’ time, the fruits of these efforts will be visible.
Q What message would you like to give to the younger lot of engineers and designers who look upon some of the renowned names in the industry as their role models?
A To them, I have only one thing to say: in the coming days, all the degrees and lessons learnt will not hold good for the next 40 years. You will have to make yourself relevant with the current trend at any given point of time. And this process of upgrading yourself has to happen continuously, where you adapt and reinvent yourself according to the situation.
RAOUL KARP, VP – Structural & BrIM Products, Bentley, Inc.