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Sachin Sandhir
September 28, 2016

Cost is not the only factor - evaluating emerging construction technologies

As India starts to become more global in its approach to business, the construction industry in India is also catching up with global technologies and starting to keep pace with this change. Construction is a behemoth industry—it accounts for over 7.5 per cent of India's total GDP and directly or indirectly employs over 40 million of India's workforce1. Thus, while change may be slow to take place, it is most certainly on its way. In a transformation being led by industry leaders, emerging construction technologies are now being implemented across the construction process chain— especially in the planning and design and execution stages.

The Benefits of Newer Construction Technologies

It is crucial that managers in development and construction firms stay up-to-date, not just with the features of these technologies, but also with the pros and cons of each in order to make decisions and select technologies that will provide the best outcomes and efficiencies for their projects. Some construction technologies (at the execution stage) that are making inroads in India are precast and prefabrication,  light gauge steel framed structures (LGSF) and glass fiber reinforced gypsum (GFRG). While it can be tempting to stick to existing building technology, newer technologies can provide benefits in saving time and effort—thereby increasing productivity and reducing overall cost.

Moving Beyond the Initial Hurdle of Cost

It can take time and effort even to get over the inertia of abandoning current construction technologies in favour of more novel methods. The most common starting hurdle is understandably cost. It can seem intimidating, especially the first time, to select the technology that will fit best, and to decide if the new technology will be worth the investment required.

However, what should be considered is not just the initial investment, but the overall cost across the project life-cycle. While most developers might only look at the initial cost required to acquire and set-up a new technology, any benefits associated with the technology will percolate down the process chain—resulting in savings in time and productivity. This can help decrease the final or overall cost of the project along with shortening the delivery time.

Project Requirements Dictate Technology Fit

Many criteria should be considered when deciding if a technology is a good fit for a project. These criteria include (but are not limited to) design flexibility, constructability, finish quality and sustainability. Other parameters to be considered are whether the technology has compatibility with existing machinery, existing types of foundations and so on. The skill level required to implement certain technologies is also a factor to be thought through. Some new construction technologies will require employee or labour training. Based on project requirements, all of these parameters should be measured in a holistic framework to ensure that economies of scale are working in the developer's favour.

Proper awareness of such technologies and their benefits is an essential first step in getting them implemented. Only with awareness and sufficient knowledge can you make such a decision—and perhaps more importantly—convince all stakeholders of the rightness and value of your decision.

An Investment for the Future

Finally, affordable housing is the need of the future. It is estimated that approximately 20 million houses will need to be constructed by 2022.

"In order to achieve efficiency at a mass level, a focused approach needs to be adopted, which would combine construction with design processes to create standard components which could be easily transported, easily erected on site and, at the same time being locally sensitive and culturally acceptable.” ­- Dr. Anil Sawhney, Associate Dean and Director, School of Construction, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University.

All signs point towards early adopters of emerging construction technologies having an edge over their competitors. They will be the winners in the long run.