Mr. Harsh Pareek
The reverse migration of India’s daily wage workers in April and May this year, owing to a complete nationwide lockdown, was quite enormous in scale and led to the construction sector being deprived of its most valuable resource, human labour.
Construction is among the most labour-intensive industries and it is no surprise that it is also the second largest employer in India, after agriculture. As per CREDAI, prior to the lockdown, there were around 20,000 ongoing projects across the country, with 18,000 sites marked as active. Together, these projects involved 85 lakh workers, but by May 23, over 75 lakh all migrant workers had gone back to their homes via trains and buses. This reverse migration severely affected construction projects across the country.
While the good news is that with the lockdown relaxations, many of these workers are now finally returning to their worksites, the prevailing social distancing rules and guidelines still means that the construction companies can’t push the full throttle on their pending and already delayed projects. As a result, many construction companies have actively started exploring alternative ways to get work going, despite the shortage of manual labour at construction sites.
As with most other labour-intensive industries, deploying cutting-edge and tech-enabled processes is a powerful enabler of reducing dependence on manpower in construction too. These processes also have an additional advantage of boosting quality of output along with overall productivity and efficiency. In the construction domain, some of the most powerful modern processes and tech available today include precast concrete, prefabricated construction, and pre-engineered buildings (PEB).
Embracing Precast Concrete
Most buildings in India are still built with conventional methods, including in-site (in-situ) concrete pour and wet trades with high labour requirements. The inadequate mechanization of the construction process has several other drawbacks apart from needing high number of workers on project sites, including poor productivity, human errors, and risks of injury to workmen.
But this scenario appears to be changing in favour of precast concrete, now accelerated by the pandemic. Industry estimates peg that the use of precast concrete helps in saving up to 64% of the time taken for similar projects, as compared to using conventional construction methods. In other words, if normal brick-and-mortar method takes one year to complete a project, the precast method takes about four months. It can also reduce a project’s construction cost by 10-15%.
Given that precast concrete structures are manufactured in a factory environment and then sent to project sites for assembly, use of precast structures directly reduces the dependence on non-specialist workforce. Combined with other time and cost advantages, it is no wonder that leading real estate construction companies are already signalling their intent to increase their use of precast construction. Godrej Properties, for example, noted in its latest annual report that the company’s strategy “to shift from labour-intensive forms of construction to precast construction would help reduce project-completion timelines,”
The Case Of BDA Mass Housing Project, Bhubaneswar
Across India, the affordable housing projects are among the early adopters of precast concrete with an obvious goal of keeping project time and costs under check. When the Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) awarded Inventaa Industries, a leading precast buildings company, with the construction of a large-scale affordable housing project, the latter managed to successfully deliver the massive project not just on time, but with 10% additional carpet area in the same budget!
The BDA project involved construction of 1,320 individual apartments spread over 33 blocks of 5-storied apartment complex in Bhubaneswar city. The structural system for the project was the precast wall-frame system, which consisted of precast reinforced solid concrete structural walls, room-size slab solution, beams, and staircases. Besides precast, reinforced pergolas were provided at the terrace level as a unique architectural feature of the building and the foundation arrangement was of strip footings for all structural precast walls. While the footings were a cast-in-situ system, the walls were made of prefabricated elements for the more controlled, site-based execution requirements.
Precast concrete is one of the latest construction technologies that is increasingly becoming popular for new building projects for speed and superior quality of construction along with reduced project delivery time, lesser manpower and lifecycle costs. With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, more builders, developers, and contractors are turning towards precast concrete structures.
For Inventaa, Tekla was the definitive choice to successfully deliver this project that came with a multitude of challenges. Tekla enabled the stakeholders to control the project in a centralized manner right from efficient design to planning, monitoring, and improving upon the execution of the project on-site.
By enabling the stakeholders to schedule the complete project timeline elaborately, Tekla helped in time-bound project completion and saving a significant number of work hours. The ease of project scheduling and controlling also enhanced the on-site work-efficiency. For example, erection sequencing, which would typically take 4 days for a typical tower, took less than a day to complete.
Many similar projects by other construction industry leaders have amply demonstrated the value advantage of using precast concrete in delivering projects faster and within budgets. The ongoing pandemic is now only accelerating the industry’s shift from conventional in-situ concrete construction to precast concrete structures, a transformation that will not just effectively ease the burden of the labour shortage, but also ensure that the projects are completed on time and are more profitable.
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