Pre-engineered buildings (PEBs), a popular concept in North America and Europe, have been gaining momentum in India also, since their entry 15 years ago.
The major reasons behind the growth of PEBs are reduced construction time, faster occupancy, earlier returns on investment, reduced labour at site, architectural/design flexibility, eco-friendliness and easy installation and maintenance. ´One of the greatest advantages of PEB construction is its ability to reduce construction time by at least 30 to 50 per cent as compared to conventional building methods. PEBs also offer unlimited flexibility in metal building design and provide aesthetic exteriors and excellent internal functionality to the user,´ avers N Srinivas, Mentor, Lloyd Insulations (India) Ltd.
The other major advantages of PEBs include assured quality as the components are fabricated in factory controlled conditions, less material wastage, minimised on-site construction and congestion. As a result, the market has been expanding, with leading manufacturers like Pennar, Interarch, Tata BlueScope, Everest, Jindal Buildsys, Lloyd Insulations, Tiger Steel, Kirby and Zameel Steel, etc., making significant contributions.
The increasing demand for modern warehousing is among the top demand drivers for PEB structures in India. ´The demand for PEBs in India is expected to be driven by the logistics and retail sectors, which require large PEB structures such as warehouses and retail space. The exponential growth of e-commerce in India has led to several players setting up large warehousing facilities and fulfilment centres across the country. Warehousing is the backbone of the e-commerce industry and the supply of modern warehouses in India is set to more than double by 2020, in turn driving the demand for PEBs. Further, the new potential application areas for PEBs in the next few years will include power plant structures, factory buildings, commercial buildings (offices and retail malls), and Metro stations etc., which would further increase the demand for PEBs,´ predicts Amol Kotwal, Director, Energy & Environment Practice, Frost & Sullivan. However, he adds that penetration levels are still low in India: ´As compared to developed countries, the PEB market in India is characterised by low penetration levels (approximately 25-30 per cent) which also indicate substantial growth potential in the mid- to long-term.´
The industry has no doubt opened up wide opportunities not only for the manufacturing sector, but also for project contracting, project construction, engineering design etc. Future potential application areas are likely to open up new avenues. Further, the 100 Smart Cities planned by the government, several infrastructure projects like Metro rail systems, airport modernisation and the emphasis on green building construction, etc., are expected to give a fillip to the industry.
Some of the commonly used prefabricated building materials are aluminium, steel, wood, fibreglass and concrete. However, steel is the most preferred material system as it is stronger, lighter, eco-friendly and flexible, with wide scope for integrating with other materials. ´Steel construction has found wide acceptance, as steel buildings have proven to be stable, fire resistant, energy efficient, and take less time to build. Steel construction offers better designs along with greater safety,´ states Gautam Suri, Founder Director and CTO, Interarch Building Products Pvt Ltd. Interarch has delivered over 6,000 metal buildings across India to organisations like General Motors, Toyota Kirloskar, Panasonic India, Tata Motors and Indira Gandhi International Airport (Terminal 3), New Delhi.
The emerging trends in the industry include a leaning towards steel structures, high rises, multiple business strategies and technical collaborations with international companies.
´High-rise buildings in steel, solar module mounting structures and structures for airports in appealing architectural shapes are all the latest trends,´ avers P V Rao, Managing Director, Pennar Engineered Building Systems Limited. ´There is immense potential in these segments, where we are currently executing some projects. In engineering, many companies have started using Tekla detailing software with 3D modelling.´ Pennar has supplied and installed 3.50 million square feet worth of projects. Some of the major projects include MRF (Trichy), Kannur Airport, Volvo (Bengaluru), Proctor & Gamble (Bhopal), Renault Nissan (Chennai) and Schneider Electric (Bengaluru and Chennai).
Use of computer-based tools is also gaining ground, says Srinivas: ´Design and detailing of Rigid Frame Structural steel is carried out using computer-based tools. Fabrication/erection drawings are generated similarly. Prefabrication of these elements to precise tolerances permits faster assembly in the field. Trends in overseas practice are towards hybrid or composite construction, e.g., steel encased in concrete. Since there are no national standards covering such concepts, Indian construction practice does not feature the same presently. We need to introduce such concepts at the earliest. As regards to exteriors, our practices feature metal panels or pre-insulated sandwich panels as envelopes in PEBs almost exclusively, while architects worldwide are more partial to structural glazing, non-metallic (e.g., stone) panelling and similar finishes for exterior envelopes.´ Lloyd Insulations specialises in temperature-controlled buildings like cold stores/frozen stores.
Many leading international and domestic companies are increasingly scouting for opportunities by venturing into engineering design and project contracting, apart from manufacturing. While many companies are leveraging both financial aid and technical expertise from their parent companies, others are entering into technical collaborations with reputed global players to enhance their expertise and their product qualities.
´We have technical association with NCI, which is one of the largest PEB companies in the USA. As a result, we supply Double Lok standing seam roofing system which is leak-proof. Roof leakage is one of the main problems in steel buildings due to screw down system. There are no screws in NCI´s standing seam roofing. There are single sheets from ridge to eave and the side laps are seamed to 360 degrees using seamers at site,´ states Rao.
PEBs can also play a vital role in the housing sector, particularly in affordable and mass housing projects. ´The main advantages of precast technology are quality, speed of construction, and a value-for-money product. Furthermore, the technology is very adaptable and suitable for all types of constructions. It is cost effective and can help in significant savings in the construction of any building by faster construction, since precast elements can be delivered just in time for fast erection, reducing unnecessary handling and equipment use,´ avers Arun Kashikar - Vice President, Head-R&D and Technology, Tata Housing, which is amongst the first few developers to introduce precast technology in mass construction. Its project ´New Haven´in Bengaluru in collaboration with Shapoorji Pallonji is one of the largest in India today.
But all developers are not open to this technology and hence the penetration of PEBs in this segment here has been sluggish. ´PEB penetration in the residential sector is relatively low, primarily due to lack of awareness, besides the myth that PEB may not be a viable option for the residential segment, especially for high-rise buildings,´ says Kotwal.
But going forward, the problems being faced by the industry will pave the way for use of pre-engineered technology, say industry professionals. ´Pre-engineered technology has many advantages over RCC construction. However, in the residential sector, the technology has not gained momentum due to developers´mindset. The developers are not ready to try new technology at the moment. But in the time to come, this perception will change,´ says Suri.
´Already problems related to sand mining and underground water harvesting have delayed many projects. Once the government passes more stringent laws, then the developers will have no choice but to shift to steel,´ he adds.
Concurs Kashikar, ´The real estate sector is grappling with several challenges like shortage of skilled manpower, escalating project costs and prolonged construction period. Technology holds the key to not only address some of these issues, but also a promise for the sector to react to the changing market conditions more effectively and efficiently. In coming years, we will not have any choice but to leverage technology to aid faster and efficient construction.´
Slow perception shift from conventional construction to pre-engineered, rising steel prices, high differential tax rates, shortage of skilled manpower, unorganised sector with questionable standards, transportation costs and conservative building codes are some of the challenges faced by the industry.
Kotwal elaborates on some of them, ´Absence of a governing body and lack of standards/codes is a constraining factor. Some of the other key challenges faced by PEB solution providers are fluctuating steel prices, which constitute almost 65-70 per cent of the PEB cost, shortage of skilled and trained manpower, creating awareness amongst customers about the advantages of PEB vis-a-vis conventional construction and transportation & logistics.´
To address some of these issues, the Construction Industry Development Council (CIDC), formed a High Powered Group (HPG) and appointed Pennar´s Rao as its chairman in April. ´The HPG will develop a policy paper on promotion of pre-engineered building technologies and to guide the implementation of the recommended solutions. To achieve this, HPG would network and liaise with other stakeholders such as project owners, statutory bodies, industry associations and others. We are expecting to submit our recommendations in six-eight months,´ says Rao.
PEBs have other challenges too. Steel has lower fire resistance as compared to concrete and other construction materials. It also faces issues of leakages at joints, buckling and corrosion when exposed to the environment, all of which are however being tackled effectively by the industry.
Evidently, the application of PEBs has a wide potential and growth prospects, but it is still a long way from making a huge impact. However the industry might soon come of age, with several studies already predicting that India has the fastest growing market in the PEB construction segment.
Some landmark PEBs in India