Despite the volatile nature of construction and allied activities, the Scaffolding & Formwork (S&F) market is thriving in India and one can expect brighter times ahead. S D Khan takes a closer look.
With the government laying special emphasis on construction and infrastructural development in the 12th Five Year Plan, opportunities abound in the Indian Scaffolding and Formwork (S&F) Industry. Yet, there are some challenges like time and cost constraints. Moreover, the general paucity of trained professionals in this field is also a cause for concern. Nevertheless, with the demand rising in the wake of ongoing and future projects, S&F manufacturers are keeping pace with the Construction Industry.
The reasons for growth are aplenty. Firstly, the speed and uncertainty with which projects are awarded these days, a contractor has no choice but to ensure a quick completion and move on to the next one. Secondly, S&F provides qualitative consistency in construction besides good surface finish, thereby saving a lot of finishing time and plastering material. Furthermore, the usage of conventional scaffolding material is diminishing as labour safety is gaining considerable importance in India. And finally, S&F solutions have a longer life and can be re-used at various sites, thus resulting in cost savings for the contractor.
According to Mr. Eldo Varghese
, Managing Director, PASCHAL Formwork (India), there are a bagful of growth drivers; construction growth in India in all sectors, need of speedy and quality construction, labour scarcity in key areas of construction, extensive usage of concrete pumps and safety requirements. "These drivers necessitated the introduction of new technologies in almost all areas of construction. We see wonderful opportunities for all advanced formwork systems in India. The demand is in a growing pattern as there are several projects going on in all sectors and many more are expected in future," he says.
Stressing further upon the advantages of S&F, Mr. Varghese continues "Though it is in an initial stage of adoption, we have experienced the change of mindset from the top to bottom of construction workers and decision makers. Engineers & experts, who have returned from Middle-East and other foreign countries, also contributed to this technological advancement as they have experienced it in their career. Most of the top players in construction industry have formed a separate S&F division in their organisations by realising the importance of the system and its optimum utilisation."
Industry experts are unanimous in their views that all the big projects, which used to have a time frame of 2 to 3 years, are now being completed in 18 to 22 months. Mr. Vipun Rai
, General Manager - Engineering, Scaff India observes, "Well, the prime growth driver is the movement of the Construction Industry towards modernisation and mechanisation. Secondly, contractors are time and again facing scarcity of labour. And since projects are time-bound these days, quick and timely completion is a major criterion. S&F plays a major role in addressing these issues."
Safety on the site, a prime essential, is always on a labourer's mind. So much so that the lack thereof may discourage one from continuing his work. There are numerous instances when an entire lot of workers vanished from a construction site following an accident. With S&F, labourers rest assured that they will get a firm platform to stand, sit and work from. And this is good news for contractors as well who can ill-afford labour walkouts! Today, S&F is available in a variety of strong and lightweight materials, which enable it to stay even steadier.
Mr. Surajit Ray
, Country Head, Ulma Formworks India, points out that besides safety and timely assembly, the other major benefit of formwork is the flexibility it provides in concrete moulding according to shape and size. "The system involves assembling and de-assembling of standard components, thus ensuring less dependency on availability and workmanship skill of manpower. It can also be designed for crane handling or manual handling or even shifted to higher levels by hydraulic systems, according to the technical requirement and budgetary allowance of the customer."
Well, considering the benefits that formwork brings, it is rather certain that its demand will only continue to shoot upwards. Undoubtedly, a major helping hand has been lent by the Government, which is intent on taking the country to a new infrastructural and economical boom.
, Senoir Sales Manager, Key Accounts, Doka India, states that the Government is making several efforts such as curbing the lending rates, giving boost to power projects and high- rise buildings by churning out the clearance issues for reviving the growth in infrastructure projects such as airports, highways and power projects, which is in-turn driving the growth of system formwork market. "As for these projects, timely completion is imperative to generate revenues. Modernisation and mechanisation taking place in these projects have vital roles to play in achieving speed, increasing productivity and utilising economy of scale in bringing down the unit cost to meet the rising demand. One of the key factors ‘formwork' has to face is the challenge of completion of fast track projects. By going in for a system formwork, substantial savings are possible by faster return on investments."
Challenges and Client Concerns
Although clients are keen on quality, they are highly cost conscious and want the solutions to be provided in the least possible timeframe. And considering that building design variation is the order of the day in modern India, S&F is ought to be site-specific and requires constant re-engineering. Is this proving to be Herculean task for manufacturers?
Explains Mr. Srikanth, "A lot of highrise buildings are coming up in India with unique architectural designs and for these projects, automatic climbing formwork (ACF) becomes the necessity for timely, economical and safer execution. But, most of these projects have lots of structural variations, leading to the difficulty in designing of a single ACF system to cater the constantly varying geometry.
Speaking of client concerns, he tells, "One of the primary concerns always is cost effectiveness, which he can achieve by using these formwork systems and also whether he will be able to use these systems efficiently. As the cycle time for erecting a structure depends on several factors, if the client has adopted the best formwork system, but doesn't have good command on the other associated factors, than the formwork system alone cannot decrease the cycle time for erection of a structure. Moreover, the clients are always concerned about the lead time for delivery along with good training and after-sales support at site."
Mr. Rajesh Nambrath
, Director - International Business, Indigo Multitrade, also feels that cost is the first criterion in a client's mind. "In the business of formworks, how does one equate the heavy costs of formwork; should it be done on a single project basis or various projects should be considered? Some clients also see the escalation costs of projects over the period of time. Even today, there are some clients who see investment costs of innovative formwork as a deterrent to their purchase decision."
Interestingly, Mr. Rai echoes a similar sentiment, "The most important challenge for us is the clients' tendency to compromise with quality in favour of price. A sizeable chunk of capital costs in a building are incurred on S&F and people are looking for cheap substitutes which can be used for multiple activities. This is something like a catch-22 situation for manufacturers as they can neither afford to displease the client nor can they be oblivious to revenues."
Prioritising Customer Support
In spite of these challenges, S&F manufacturers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure client satisfaction. It's rather understood that cost is the major concern and in order to address this issue, S&F companies are devising sale modalities based on this aspect. In fact, the products being supplied are a wonderful blend of cost effectiveness and quality.
However, customer support doesn't end merely on cost flexibilities. They enjoy a gamut of post-sale assistance as well; training, education, supervised installations, and repairs and maintenance. Ulma, for instance, ensures that its technical team is present at the site to guide and oversee the assembling and de-assembling of the system and train the customer's engineers and workmen. Indigo, on the other hand, offers services like stage-wise formwork drawings, training at site, and repairs and maintenance. Doka too, is living up to its leadership position by offering a complete range of comprehensive services along with sales. Meanwhile, Paschal also provides its service after material delivery by facilitating onsite training. Speaking of Scaff India, the company provides complete assistance in assembly and operation under the supervision of a qualified team.
The Rental Route
Interestingly, the rental option is also turning about to be feasible. Since we know that a client is hell-bent on cost minimisation and a manufacturer needs the money to keep his business going, treading the rental route sounds sane. Builders and contractors want to bring down the investments on S&F and are therefore happy to hire the systems at feasible rates for a stipulated time. Also, there's always a lurking uncertainty in contractors' minds that a project can come to halt at anytime or maybe get delayed inordinately. Some S&F companies are also finding it lucrative to adopt the rental model.
Mr. Rai informs, "People are opting for rentals in-order to curtail investments and storage costs. The Construction Industry has been plagued by uncertainties and it is not uncommon for projects to suddenly come to a halt. A contractor will therefore think twice before purchasing S&F and would rather settle for a rental contract. Scaff India is open to this sale modality."
And according to Mr. Nambrath, Indigo's rental model has been fairly acceptable to most of construction companies. "In this model, we also provide them an option to purchase the material. So it's like pay as per use and purchase when you like it. We are confident that with the huge repetitive usages, savings on time, and lesser amount of labour, a customer would eventually purchase the system, provided other factors are not deterrents."
Keeping the other factors aside, is it the current slowdown in the Construction Sector that is making the rental option more feasible? The answer is yes, if some industry experts are to be believed. Ulma is one of those companies, which is of the view that recessionary trends have given a boost to the frequency of rental contracts. Informs Mr. Ray, "With the slowdown, customers are unwilling to go for heavy investments on formwork systems, and therefore, Ulma provides the required formwork system to the customer on rental basis. This helps the customers in adopting the modern system for their projects, but at a cost budgeted for that specific project only. On the customers' part, this also ensures maximum utilisation of the system with no provision required for carry over cost at the end of the project."
Dearth of Professionals
Well, as much as it's needless to say that where there's construction there's scaffolding, it's equally ironical that knowledge dissemination of the same is not given much weightage at the undergraduate and university levels. The pinching reality is that whatever knowhow an engineer gains about S&F, it's through experience. Laments Mr. S. K. Grover
, Managing Director of Slipco Construction, "It's very shocking that we hardly find an exclusive S&F engineer in India. We feel that S&F should be included in the curriculum at engineering courses." Notably, Slipco runs the Global Institute of Construction Management & Research (GICMAR) in Delhi and has recently sponsored a distance learning programme. "We are inviting all the major S&F companies to participate with their salient designs and literature to help future S&F engineers."
He takes a rather contrasting view that a majority of the construction companies are concentrating on heavy investments in batching plants, concrete pumps, and boom placers, but fail to address the essential requirements and planning for S&F. "Also, some companies are making impulsive buying of these products and dumping them without realising the future usages. S&F are not one time usage items; they should be properly designed, planned, purchased, and rotated by versatile and efficient usages. Equally important is the maintenance and upkeep, whereas the tendency to auction should be overcome."
By the virtue of being a pioneer in this industry, Mr. Grover offers a word of advice to the S&F companies, "Awareness about safety in construction and proper usage is critical. If companies adhere to this mantra, then our industry will scale great heights. Furthermore, trademarks and registration of design also need to be looked upon." Notably, Slipco's services to end users start right from the project commissioning to completion. The company makes concerted efforts to train the client's manpower.
Equally concerned about this paradox is Mr. Rai who opines that if S&F in India were to be at par with the global norms, then its nuances should be inculcated in an engineer's mind right at the college level. "If this happens, it would be a real boon for the industry and would lead to better building designs and efficiency. Sadly, the knowledge gap is quite broad, and needs to be filled in a systematic manner. In fact, Scaff India is more than intent on addressing this issue."
Clearly, concerns abound but what cannot be overlooked is the fact that the Indian S&F Industry is treading an upward trajectory. Rampant construction and Governmental impetus on infrastructure kept aside, it's perhaps the spirit to build that proverbial skyscraper that will stand the industry in good stead!