At a time when labour shortage is hurting the construction sector, causing cost escalation and delays in the completion of projects, Saint Gobain India Pvt Ltd - Gyproc marked a new record by erecting a 600-bed Covid-19 facility in Surat in just 17 days.

The company created 52,000 sq ft of walled partitions across eight floors of the existing structure to convert it into a Covid-19 hospital by using specialised gypsum plasterboard-based drywall technology.

The company’s Managing Director, Venkat Subramanian, credits the technology for its low cost and faster construction than the conventional brick and masonry work.

“The Surat hospital project was beyond possibility for brick and masonry as the government wanted to build the Covid-19 facility meeting WHO guidelines in less than three weeks. This was an excellent opportunity to display our expertise as well as the capabilities of gypsum plasterboard material and technology. We completed the project earlier than targeted,” Subramanian told BusinessLine .

During June-July, when the diamond city was witnessing a surge of Covid-19 with 250-280 cases reporting to the hospitals daily, the authorities rushed to set up additional bed capacities as fast as possible.

But reverse migration of labourers post the lockdown cast a shadow on completing the project in time. The gypsum plasterboard drywall made from natural gypsum rocks are easy to install with reduced workforce, which turned things in favour of Saint Gobain.

“The total costs are less by 15-20 per cent and time saved is 3-4 months for a large project that would take 18-24 months,” said Subramanian, underlining the emerging opportunities amid growing urbanisation and thrust for hospital infrastructure.

Saves time and labour

“This is a product that is lightweight and suitable for high-rise buildings in cities. An abundant and cheap labour phenomenon is not the case any more in India, so it is a labour-saving technology. And since this technology allows other related activities such as mechanical, electrical, plumbing work simultaneously, it saves time too,” he added.

Currently, sectors such as office space, hospitals, hotels/hospitality markets are key business for Saint Gobain but Covid-19 has dented the growth trajectory. The market size for gypsum plasterboard drywall technology is estimated at about 120 million sq meters.

Covid-19 opportunities

“All businesses have got affected by Covid, so has ours. We will certainly close this year lower than where we ended last year. And going back to the pre-Covid levels very soon is a challenge. But healthcare infrastructure, real estate projects, warehousing for e-commerce players and office projects for IT companies are some of the emerging opportunities in a post-Covid scenario,” Subramanian stated, adding that the company’s long-term vision is to get into the residential segment.

Saint Gobain has currently four operational plants located in Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat.

It has laid down plans to invest around ₹400 crore for the fifth plant near Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. “Our existing capacity is 80 million sq meters per annum. And we are looking to add another 40 million from the new plant. Funding for the capex will be through internal accruals,” he added. The company is also exploring opportunities to provide Surat-like construction solutions to other States and agencies.