He heads a firm that dates back to pre-independence India & is a formidable leader in the Indian steel construction industry… he has a long withstanding love story with steel & his knowledge & experience is unfathomable… he has a great vision for India & works towards achieving that goal everyday…
it is an absolute honor to get a small glimpse into the mind of such an enigma…
Dr. C.N Srinivasan
C.R. Narayana Rao (Consultants) Pvt Ltd.
C R Narayana Rao & Associates dates back to the pre-independence era. How has the company’s journey been in the last 70-plus years? What are the developmental changes have you witnessed after taking over the leadership reins?
I am a prime servant of steel. In the first 25 years of my profession, I gravitated towards steel. Back then, there was very limited availability of steel sections. The biggest section available was ISMB 600 along with 3-4 steel angles, 4-5 channels and 4-5 tapered flange beams and there was only a single specification IS 226 and IS 2062 which was reserved for only defense and railways.
There was a time when we had to go hand-in-hand with foreign players to make to adopt our design. Once there was an issue with one of our sites in Tamil Nadu for a casting plant. The Government of India had appointed Indian Validators and I was on the team and our office was in collaboration. After going through the Russian design, we realized and pointed out that the Russians had taken Snow load for design in Chennai which did not sit well with them. When we designed the steel crane girder, IS:2062 was not available, so instead, we designed with IS:226 which is incidentally not meant for dynamic structures. Hence the Russians refused to accept to erect cranes stating that the welding was not proper, there was no proper welding code in India then. There was no proper preheating technology for plates thicker than 20 mm. We had to defend that material and our designs; so, we offered to do some X-rays and some spy work. We incorporated the crane bridge structure that the Russians sent and integrated them into our X-ray. Eventually, when the Russians rejected this design again, I pointed out that it included some of their own crane structure. Even though they were really furious, they were caught on the wrong foot, so they had to accept everything.
I would like to mention is from when BHEL started a building school for their boiler plant. There was no proper welding technology available as mentioned before and wire brushing technology was only available for preparation for painting. We had no idea what shot blasting was.
Upgradation to international levels was with the PEB building that was being implemented in India in 1985. The Americans didn’t put much faith in our steel design and decided to import the PEB structure from Butler Building System. The building was shipped, brought to the Chennai harbor where it got stuck and rusted because our customs department did not know how to pass that material and what level of tax to apply!. We rejected the structure and went back to our Indian technology.
We as a country sustained ourselves against such strong players and obstacles by sheer perseverance and knowledge.
Today, we have got several grades of steel available, very large size plates and three-plate construction has taken strong roots and we have millions of tons of fabrication capacity here with all our leading PEB vendors. We started as a handicaps and we have come a long way but we have a much longer way to go. I am looking for to the day that India will become the manufacturing hub of steelwork for the world.
As a highly-learned structural engineer, you have written numerous research and technical papers and have designed numerous noteworthy structures across the world map. When did you see the major shift from concrete to steel happen and what is your take on concrete vis-à-vis steel buildings?
AAs far as I can see, in the Indian industrial structural market, steel has always had a prime spot. Back in the day, we had to dismantle buildings from other countries like England, Pakistan (Karachi), etc. and had even tubular structures manufactured in Stewart and Lloyds in the U.K., transported here and then assembled. When we started building PEB structures in India in 1995-96, we had to worry about transportation not only from across the globe to India but also within India. Today, we have overcome such logistics issues. There are also some good developments in India today. Fire protection is one of the major additions even though it has brought out a considerable increase in the cost of steelwork to the extent of nearly 50 to 60,000 Rupees per ton for fabrication.
I foresee a situation where precast concrete will continue to give us a run for our money and in another 5-7 years, they will be a force to reckon with. We have to arm ourselves by in our enhancing our fabrication, design, technology, cost-effectiveness, mechanized manufacture, quality assurance, variety of steel, intermixing of the different grades of steel, etc. For example, the top flanges can be of regular strength are bottom plants can be of high strength. As a country we are capable and we have to sharpen our skills and stay ahead in the steel-concrete competition. As of today, concrete is not a major threat to steel. Steel has a hold in industrial buildings.
In high-rise buildings, fire hazards, industries, urban road projects, over-bridge projects, etc., steel certainly has competition. It’s a tragedy that we are not capitalizing on it like China and other nations. Apart from the few steel bridges in some major cities, there is no vision to inculcate and create, we are not marketing our products. For example, In Chennai, Katipura Junction comes out of the airport which is an ideal location for a steel bridge. Yet no one is taking the lead to bring such projects forth. If precast concrete is going to invade our steel territory, then we have to equip ourselves and make a strong footing in the infrastructure industry.
The GoI is actively backing up the infrastructural development of the nation and numerous private and public-private partnership (PPP) projects are underway. Where will this construction development lead in the near future and what role do you think steel-based construction has to play in it?
A If we factor in the dislocation to traffic and the corresponding rupee loss wasted in traffic, time and fuel wasted in unnecessarily idling on the road crossing and red lights, the cost of building infrastructure will steel will be justified. We need to make our policymakers in the government understand the time implication and its cost and promote steel in the infrastructural development of the country. The steel construction industry has potential and a market but our social marketing efforts are lacking and I also find that some of the stakeholders of the industry are also not as cooperative as they should be. Most of our issues are self-created like the steel prices keep increasing due to energy consumption which automatically increases other costs.
For example, the cement industry shifted from a wet process to a dry process which has brought about a cost benefit for the cement companies. We have to find a technology or knowledge to minimize the energy consumption in steel plants, thereby bringing down the cost. Europe is reeling under the energy cost; that is why they are shifting industries to India due to the Ukraine war. We should not be caught on the wrong foot under such a scenario especially when the transportation cost is going up. If we tighten our belts on our stakeholders then the sky is the limit for us.
If you can change one thing in our construction practices in India, what would that be?
One change that I would like is the annihilation of the dominance of theoreticians in code writing. The codes are being written by theoreticians and teachers who don’t know which direction the steel industry in India is going. The codes are bulky documents, with a lot of unnecessary words in print that are redundant; the bulkier the document is, the poorer the quality.
The PhD thesis on columns by Chandler was just 27 pages; he wrote only what was necessary. After that America changed the column design completely; it was a perfect marriage between the Euler long column and the short column, then the column Research Council was set up in America. It has changed the subject Structural Stability Research Council that pioneered all American design as well as the American fabrication industry.
There is a definite need for people who like your organization, are trying to actively get onto the board of the committees and guide its direction. Another change I would like to see is mechanized manufacturing and reducing the dependence on manpower.
There is a steady growth in awareness in terms of steel-based construction which will lead to an increase in the demand for structural steel and other steel sections. According to you, will the price of steel will play a major role in the adoption of Steel in Construction?
The price of steel plays a major role in steel construction because roughly 70 percent of the total cost is the cost of steel and with the remaining 30 percent, there is not much one can do. Unless we can stabilize the price of steel, the manufacturing cost of PEB and building costs will not go down.
Recently I came across an interesting news of SAIL developing steel that can withstand fire for two hours. If this succeeds then the fire protection cost will be cut down drastically and in turn, will bring down the overall cost of building with steel. The steel industry should have a proper R&D facility; we have to look into our strengths and increase our efforts.
As a structural engineer, what are the challenges you face while designing and building with steel in India, as compared to other countries you have worked in?
I am a designer at the core and I have seen that unfortunately, the acceptance of the Indian Code of practices abroad is very difficult. We did a project in British Guyana, West Indies for Cricket Stadium and we insisted on adopting an Indian design of Indian courts, as opposed to British courts because steel was being manufactured in India. Fortunately, we were able to convince the Government to accept our Indian design and let us erect the structure. Even in the SAARC nations, acceptance of Indian designs based on Indian codes is not an issue but in other countries across the globe, we failed to get our Indian code-based design accepted.
India is going to be in the top economic order in a decade or less. The industry needs to redesign our codes to be internationally accepted and recognized as a seller country so that we can sell steel fabricated to Indian designs in the foreign market.
What is your take on sustainability and the future of green buildings in India?
Sustainability and recyclability are very important because as I mentioned before, in working with the real-life cost, we are at loss at moment with our high carbon footprint. We have to come up with technologies and techniques to reduce carbon emissions and make life pleasant for the public.
What is your plan for the next 5 years?
India has a strong intellectual strength. Our design capabilities and our understanding of engineering principles are far superior and we must capitalize on them and better our manufacturing, design, detailing, fabrication, erection and transportation sectors so that we can become a global leader in the steel industry.
What message do you want to give to the readers and students?
A Steel is like a child, highly malleable and totally straightforward. Pamper your child and the child will love you and abundantly repay the love we give to them. Enjoy steel, respect steel, and steel will respect you.
What is your favorite project in steel?
My favorite project in steel was designing a 250-ton /500-ton crane overhead traveling crane for a transformative facility for defense. It was a real challenge because the capacity of the crane was so high. It has a 3-tier crane with the lower-level crane at 20 tons, the mid-level crane at 250 tons and the top-level crane at 500 tons. It was one building with three different crane capacities with a pit of 12 meters deep and situated at a distance of 500 meters from the seafront where it had to withstand the fury of the sea and hurricanes. It was our toughest project and we had a very small team to work with but it was absolutely fantastic to face the challenges thrown our way and achieve our goal.