How has Vollert grown in India?
Vollert has been active in India since 2011; it initially started with a sales office and in 2015, had its first precast client - Sobha Ltd. We had to import all the components to India, including the steel structures, which was not an easy task. We started operations in North India in 2017 and were going strong till the Covid -19 pandemic put a stop to almost everything.
Post pandemic, infra development in India is picking up, so, we have decided to invest and expand our workshop to cater to large projects. We have optimized our workflows for cost-effective state-of- the-art production; we have set up intra- logistics systems for steel and aluminum industries; and we now have an in-house design department. The new installation is already operating full steam - producing high quality precast moulds, and from May onwards, this unit will also start catering to our customers in other parts of Asia.
This will not be the end of our journey here, more investments will come as in the course of this financial year. We have grown pan-India and GST has further simplified our business processes.
Vollert has in its credit many projects in the NCR, in Bangalore, and other southern parts of the country. We see a lot of potential in housing projects where we could design nice homes. We are providing certain equipment modules to PSP Projects, and have done projects with Starworth Infra, Sobha Ltd., Teemage Precast, and Precast Infrastructure India.
However, Vollert is now eyeing the infrastructure segment given the impetus being given by the Government to infra development and its acceptance of precast construction. In terms of infrastructure, we are supplying customized solutions to many customers such as National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd., and many other prestigious projects.
Which other countries is Vollert India catering to?
From Vollert India hub, we are serving to South Asian and Southeast Asian region (exporting to Philippines and Indonesia). Vollert plans to intensify its market for exports of simpler products. We want to set up a strong sales division in India to cater to the Middle East and Africa markets, keeping in mind the lower cost value ratio, plus, the products we would offer from India would greatly benefit customers in these markets.
India is our focus hub from where we are not just serving the country’s growing demand but also the markets of South Asia and South East Asia. We have an ambitious target of growing 10 to 20% in the next two years here.
Is the Indian government supportive of precast construction?
There is a growing acceptance and inclination towards precast construction in India. We have clear cut recommendations and approvals from the Government that the precast technology is authorized and has passed quality tests. This has boosted our confidence and that of the developers too.
Precast technology is also being used in the construction of roads and the metro rails. We think infra construction will soon start using mostly precast components. These could include high-speed rails like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad express and many more projects which are in the pipeline. The Government aims to increase the infrastructure across India and we are here to support its national building activities.
What are the key challenges the industry is confronting?
There are two contradicting things in India: we have a lot of manpower, but skill development is lacking. Another is the lack of wide road infrastructure. So we need a road infrastructure that can transport entire structures from factory to site which are of bigger size. If the infrastructure is good, our cost will also come down.
Another issue is handling of precast elements. PPVC’s (prefabricated precast volumetric concrete) are three-dimensional modular units produced in controlled factory conditions prior to their transportation to project sites. Modules can be brought to sites either as a basic structure or with all the internal and external finishes and services installed, and ready for assembling.
The challenge is that of the heavy weight of the components, so they require huge cranes for lifting and installing. Logistics, proper tools and lifting equipment are a must. The initial cost of construction is also higher, but the pay back is fast.
How does Vollert react to issues like cost and competition in India?
Since India is a cost-conscious market, we have to indigenize the solutions; we have to design and localize products, especially when clients want customized products.
Germany does not face power breakdowns, but in India, we often have to deal with unscheduled shutdowns. So, we have to work around such situations, and, fortunately, our Indian engineers are capable of resolving such issues.
Labour cost is also low in India, so we can have economical commercial production in comparison to developed countries.
Competition for us is a driving factor; it drives us to innovate and be customer- centric.
How is Vollert bringing awareness on new construction technologies like precast amongst developers and contractors in India who may prefer conventional construction technologies? The way of construction is still conservative in India; to change a conservative approach can take ages and even generations. For instance, the US has a very long generation of timber-based homes with hurricane shelters built under the staircase. It is like a precast box where people sit in when a hurricane strikes and think they would be better off in a concrete house!
Yes, we do see some reluctance in India but there are also customers who understand the benefits of precast construction such as good quality construction, and time and cost savings. For instance, Sobha Developers’ original plan was to hand over their Dream Acre project within three years to their customers, but they did it within 12 months by using the precast construction technique. No doubt, with precast, there are issues of logistics and need for skilled manpower, but the benefits are far more.
Vollert is now eyeing the infrastructure segment due to the impetus being given by the Government to infra development and its acceptance of precast construction.
Krishan Mohan Sharma
We are spreading awareness on precast technology through social media channels, and demonstrating its benefits like reducing carbon footprint, saving time and money through speedy construction. We organize seminars and conferences, hold talks with architects, real estate developers, consultants, and civil engineers.
What skill development training does Vollert provide?
Despite the promising outlook of precast in India, Vollert is encountering challenges in finding the right talent and skilled manpower to support its operations.
The company is prioritizing training and upskilling its employees to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the job.
Our HR undertakes a quarterly training program driven with a proper TNI (Training Need Identification) in place. For initial training and induction of key members, they are trained in Germany. We also train our vendors, and we are aiming for ISO certification. We are conducting training from Germany for our subsidiaries, employees, and our suppliers through video conferencing on a daily basis.
How do you ensure quality maintenance services?
We have a service initiative in our subsidiary countries. We provide services not only for our own machinery, but also for other brands. We are also setting up a service department in India. So, to provide affordable service locally, we train our personnel in collaboration with Vollert Germany. This is definitely a field for growth in our agenda. We have done the same in Brazil and in China, and it really worked well.
What practices has Vollert India adopted to reduce waste and cut carbon emissions?
Vollert is an energy compliant engineering company. We have a STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) and a water softening plant at our factory; we follow a zero discharge policy; and we maintain the most energy efficient machines with the lowest energy consumption. To further reduce carbon footprints, we consider the reduction in environmental impact by our products beginning from design stage throughout manufacturing and in service operations of our products.
Do you think precast is the future of the construction industry?
Yes, it is the most effective and quality- oriented way of offsite construction. In fact, quality is the best with precast. Labor on site is always a hassle as you have to accommodate the workers with food and facilities.
Actually, precast came 10 years back primarily in residential and commercial sector in India but with no awareness while in developed countries like Singapore, Turkey, and America, around 40% of the buildings are precast built whereas in India it is only 3%. In China, the average lifespan of a building is 30 to 40 years. In cities like Shanghai, and Beijing, to demolish many big buildings and build new ones, precast is the only way if they want to build stronger and slimmer buildings. We have developed an earthquake-proof building in Uzbekistan and in Kazakhstan and are in discussions with Turkey.
What are the company‘s plans for growth?
We have an ambitious target of growing 10 to 20% in the next two years. India is our focus country, but India is a somewhat reluctant to enter free trade agreements with other countries. In my opinion, there is a lot of room for India to enter free trade agreements as it will benefit the country in the long run To realise our growth, we have strategically taken decision to expand our facilities with state-of-art technology to meet the economical customised precast solutions for local and global markets.