India has only recently begun to focus on the growth of its infrastructure. There is still a long way to go in adopting the latest and best technologies for their design, construction and management.
Whether it is metro rail projects, large, swank airports, ports, roads and highways, bridges or smart cities, India has never had such a large pipeline of physical infrastructure projects awaiting construction.
A number of global companies have recently struck deals in India in areas such as defence, rail and clean energy and the interest continues unabated for the national missions such as Smart Cities and Digital India, among others.
While these foreign companies will, no, doubt, deliver the goods, what is important is for Indian companies to also start using more technologically advanced equipment with better capabilities and adopt advanced technological procedures and methods. For instance, today, there are a number of metro projects that are ongoing in a few cities across India. For such large-scale, complex projects, located in densely populated urban locations, the challenges are vast. Right from the design stages and feasibility studies, there is scope for using and incorporating advanced equipment and technologies.
For the design of such projects, simulation has been widely used globally. Dimple Shah, VP, Worldwide Sales, SIMULIA, Dassault Systemes, says, ´Our products are used to do the seismic assessment of rail road corridors because you have to ensure that you prevent or minimise derailment in disastrous events. People use our software to do crash simulations, survivability and things of that nature. People use our software in the rail industry today to do mechatronics and multi-body simulationsàwith this initiative that´s going on in India I envision that there is going to be a lot of partnerships with global companies that´s going to make this a reality.´ Dassault has a strong foothold with global firms who use its SIMULIA brand - a 3D simulation platform - to model complex real-time situations in the virtual world. ´A lot of best practices and best methods that have been developed in the rest of the world are going to come to India as we bring this to market quicker,´ predicts Shah. Similarly, in the nuclear energy industry, which has already been using simulation for over 30 years, new and stricter regulations are driving further the increased use of simulation. With enhanced regulatory standards worldwide with respect to safety mechanisms, the importance of simulation has increased as the need is to be able to design structures with an increasing level of confidence with minimum risk. ´You need a very predictive fracture and failure capability to model the damage in power plants. In the areas of welding simulation, for example, the integrity of the wells, pressure vessels and things of that nature become important. Also of importance are managing nuclear waste and transporting it, containing that nuclear waste; the technologies that we have can help model and simulate that, and also concrete.
Concrete is not a very appealing material, yet it is very core to the integrity of power plants. Being able to model concrete damage and its interaction with soils, with geo technical models, is very important,´ Shah says.
Designing a project, choosing the type of equipment for construction and the method of construction itself are aspects that need greater scrutiny in India. For instance, the metro project launched earlier this year in Chennai overshot time and budget deadlines. To start with, the detailed project report (DPR) got its soil analysis wrong and omitted to mention the presence of a layer rock, harder than expected. As a result, the two Indian contractors assigned the particular stretch where the rock existed, had to buy new equipment from a German manufacturer.
Mostly, Indian companies do not even have such equipment that can cut through rock that is harder than normal. ´India is way behind other emerging markets in using tunnel boring machines, (TBM),´ agrees Manoj Garg, Managing Director & CEO, Herrenknecht India Pvt Ltd.
Dr Sunil Basarkar, General Manager, Technical Services, ITD Cementation India, believes as more and more companies develop their portfolio of projects along with their expertise, it will become easier to procure more technologically advanced equipment. ´Right now,´ says Basarkar, ´the costs of such equipment are too steep to justify their purchase for use in just one or two projects.´
However, with the kind of plans that are being put in place to beef up the country´s infrastructure assets, a whole host of foreign equipment majors can look to India to provide their products and expertise. ´With the Government´s renewed focus on infrastructure development, we expect to see a sustainable demand of TBMs in India in the coming years,´ says Garg.
Along with equipment and technology, there´s no doubt the coming years will also see an upgrade in civil engineering methods in India as the country increasingly partners with the more developed and technologically adept economies and companies of the west. Construction methods will become increasingly more efficient as metro rails and other such urban projects will need to be completed within tighter schedules, without disrupting traffic and settlements.
The learning, though, will have to be quick. And not just with respect to design and construction. The primary purpose of all construction is the user. And the government needs to start focussing on this aspect sooner rather than later. Take for instance, the most commonplace, everyday occurrence of driving through a toll booth. In India, this simple act is a disaster with respect to both pollution as well as the user experience. While there is lane based electronic tolling, weigh-in motion and a whole host of features for toll management, free flow traffic is still a distant dream. Sachin Bhatia, Chief Executive Officer, Metro Infrasys, says, ´Free flow traffic is something that was started in the west more than 15 years ago.´
However, with the focus currently on construction, fine-tuning the user experience may still be some years away. Whether with respect to roads and highways, metro or high-speed rail, the government has taken the first step. A number of deals have been signed, partnerships struck, developed countries and global companies have been roped in and the government is, in short, walking the talk.
With roads and highways construction positioned at the forefront of infrastructure development, the total roads network is expected to increase in leaps and bounds. For these road projects to be sustainable, they will need to be well-maintained and the user will expect a certain quality of service.