20 December 2022
The ongoing global trend towards the adoption of alternative construction practices is well documented, including in Linesight’s recent Off-Site Manufacturing Report . For India, in particular, a similar article on modular construction highlighted that the overall growth of the construction industry, including increased demand in housing and infrastructure, has influenced stakeholders to adopt alternative practices to achieve faster, cost-effective and more sustainable construction.
In this article, Linesight Country Director – India, Ameya Gumaste , shares his insights around the alternative construction practices that are on the rise in India, as well as considerations for adoption of the same.
With off-site manufacturing, programme savings of up to 50% are possible compared with traditional forms of construction. We have seen time savings in India when production runs simultaneously to other site activities (e.g., production of columns being completed off-site while laying the foundation on-site).
In comparison with building on-site, off-site construction which involves a controlled indoor factory setting, offers a number of other benefits:
Despite these benefits, there is still limited uptake of offsite construction in India, and it is usually restricted to urban areas or specific projects such as data centres, high-tech manufacturing and warehousing. Mass housing projects also are seen to adopt technologies like pre-cast. One of the possible reasons is that the cost is not always lower – I.e., unless the project involves high repetition and mass volumes of the same components, modular construction may be more expensive than traditional options. However, for markets like India, the speed to market advantage, which can reduce construction times from 18 months to 12 months in sectors like data centres, tends to outweigh the additional cost. At the very least, it provides cost assurance, which is particularly valuable, especially in consideration of price volatility for some materials due to a variety of global economic and industry trends, as covered in Linesight's latest Commodity Report.
This is the most prevalent type of construction adopted in India, which designers, contractors and other players in the supply chain alike are well set up to deliver. With the advancement of formwork, pre-tension and flat slab design, and accessibility of ready-mix concrete plants, the speed of construction is increased. From a cost perspective, this is more economical and predictive.
We have seen steel structure used for the construction of large mixed used developments, high rise commercial buildings and data centres. Steel allows for construction to be faster and more modular, as well as have better grid size, higher floor loads and slimmer sections, which augers well especially for data centre buildings. However, steel construction has always been close to 15% more expensive in comparison to the conventional RCC building. We have also seen fluctuation of steel prices from 2021 to 2022, which needs to be a consideration. In addition, supply chain challenges still remain – i.e., long lead times in production of profiled sections, fabrication, erection, and crane capacity constraints at site as well as consideration for factor and site location transport costs. Further, additional costs need to be accounted for the fire-resistant intumescent paint in consideration of the local fire protection norms in the design and construction of steel buildings in India.
The technology for pre-cast and its adoption in India is very limited, mostly used in mass housing schemes where volume production can bring cost efficiency. It is encouraging however to have seen some prominent global hyperscale data centre providers successfully used pre-cast wall panels recently. Pre-cast factories and the standard production of modular units is still not as prevalent in the local market place. As such, the supply chain is not as evolved and reliable yet. The process is also likely to become a ‘proprietary’ system, which adds the risk of a single point of failure. This means that it might be more expensive and time consuming to change the design midway if the pre-cast suppliers fail to deliver. The other important consideration is compliance to the earthquake and fire standards as per local codes and the capabilities of the design firms to undertake pre-cast design and peer review also need to be taken into account.
The adoption of alternative construction types presents clear benefits with respect to speed to market, improved cost certainty, reduced wastage, water consumption and improved sustainability and thus should be a key consideration at the start of any project. However, to assist in making a more informed decision, it is important to note that there must an in-depth understanding of the project priorities and risk appetite for adopting new technologies. We would recommend undertaking a benefit analysis of the construction methodology to be adopted on a project in the very early design and planning stages.
 ACE Update (Architecture, Construction & Engineering) – Modular Construction: Changing the face of construction in India – https://aceupdate.com/uncategorized/modular-construction-changing-the-face-of-construction-in-india/
 Civil Engineering & Construction Review (CE&CR) – Offsite And Modular Construction - https://info.cecr.in/offsite-and-modular-construction/