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A concrete technique

The use of readymix concrete is slowly gaining ground, albeit belatedly, in this part of the country. The reasons why some prefer it.


Despite the penchant of people in this part of the State to try out new construction techniques, it seems to have taken a long time for the readymix concrete (RMC) technology to gain acceptance here.

In vogue since the mid-90s in other parts of the country, it took over 10 years for the technology to make an inroad in the construction industry here. It is only two years since the first readymix concrete plant appeared in Kerala. Even the country had been slow to pick up this mechanised mode of construction, probably because of cheap manpower availability. Internationally, readymix concrete has been in use since 1930.

Sensing a lot of construction activity a few more readymix plants have set up shop in Kochi and its neighbourhood in the last couple of months. On the low side, the size of the market is estimated at 70,000-80,000 cubic metres a month.

Attractive

Small constructions have found RMC attractive. The big builders are largely keeping away from it, says Sunil George, general manager of Neptune Ready Mix Concrete Private Limited in Kochi, which set up the State's first readymix plant. This may be because big builders have some kind of mixing equipment at hand, which they feel gives them enough cost advantage, he adds.

Since big builders arrange for raw materials at around the same cost of what the readymix companies do, the price difference for laying a cubic metre area with concrete works out cheaper, says Soby C. Mavathil, executive director of Contour Ready Mix Private Limited in Kochi.

On rough estimates, manually it may cost around Rs.2,100 for concreting a cubic metre area while RMC may cost between Rs.2,500 to Rs.2,600 a cubic metre.

Time and labour

However, the builders are coming around to realise the benefits of using RMC in terms of saving time and labour, Mr. George says.

A builder may be able to complete a 15-month project at least three months earlier, he says. "One of the big builders has started using RMC supplied by us."

The transportation cost is the variable in the pricing of RMC. With the price of raw materials and the cost of pumping remaining fixed, the distance between the plant and the concreting site decides the transportation cost.

The process

Readymix concrete is a simply factory-made concrete supplied at construction sites. The concrete is brought to the site in a transit mixer, which keeps the concrete mix in a state of agitation. It is pumped on to the concrete laying area and then spread out evenly with a vibrator followed by a finishing touch, before it is allowed to set.

The greatest plus point of RMC is its quality, says George Thomas, an agent for the L&T RMC plant set up in Kochi only a week ago.

"One can monitor the quality of the concrete mix at the factories while at the construction site it is difficult to get a consistent quality in the mixing," he says. There is no facility to test the quality at smaller sites, he adds.

Checking quality

Quality of sand, coarse aggregates, cement and water in the concrete mix can be managed better in the factories since there are facilities to check the silt content and biowaste level in the sand.

There is little wastage at the RMC plants compared to the high level of wastage at small sites. Computers installed at the factories provide the data to the mixing supervisor as to how much quantity of each raw material is needed.

This information is then fed into the machines that pick up the raw materials and mix these in the transit mixer. Time saving is yet another advantage of the ready-mix concrete.

Less manpower

While about 25 workers would be able to lay concrete in a 2,500 to 3,000 square feet area in a day, with RMC an equivalent area could be covered in about two hours.

The cost of getting the concrete mix would be high but in real terms it will be nullified, said Mr. Thomas.

It has become hugely popular in small construction sites since it provides relief when there is limited manpower and equipment.

With RMC, storage of raw materials is no longer a worry for the site supervisor. No inconvenience is caused either at the site or its neighbourhood by dumping large quantities of raw material.

In fact concrete laying work can be taken up in the night too without creating traffic congestion while deploying the transit mixers, said Mr. Thomas.

Cement majors such as ACC, Birla, L&T, RAMCO are the pioneers in making readymix concrete in the country. Variation in quality is a major drawback with site mixed concrete while in the case of RMC quality consistency is assured, said Mr. Thomas.

Market share

However, it is a long way away from achieving a reasonable market share, with only about 2 per cent penetration for RMC in the construction industry, he added.

Bangalore is one of the most happening places as far as RMC is concerned. About 70 per cent of the cement that goes into laying concrete there is RMC. The concrete consumption in the country is estimated to be about 165 million cubic metres a year.

According to the industry sources, 40 per cent of the total cement manufactured is used for making concrete. The country produces about 135 million tonnes of cement from its 140 plants across the country.

SHYAMA RAJAGOPAL

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