Real Estate

No longer brick and mortar

R. Balaji | Updated on October 12, 2012 Published on October 12, 2012

New tech: Workmen erect steel framework for concrete walls in the Aluminium Form Work method of construction. — Photo: R. Balaji   -  Business Line

Easy set up: Labourers remove aluminium shutters after the hardening of concrete. Aluminium Form Work, a new technology, does away with the need for brick-laying in construction. — Photo: R. Balaji   -  Business Line

A novel building technology speeds up construction, reduces labour requirement Aluminium form work construction speeds up buildings, reduces labour requirement

You would expect a two-acre construction site where nearly 200 apartments are coming up to be bustling with activity. Not so at this particular site in Oragadam, a fast-developing industrial and residential suburb on the western flank of Chennai.

But work is progressing and, in fact, according to the executive overseeing the project, the company is well set to complete the project ahead of schedule.

For the fewer workers on site and the expected completion of work ahead of schedule, the reason is “aluminium form work construction.”

A novel construction technology that helps builders make do with a significantly smaller workforce but speeds up construction. You save time and so, money for the builder and in turn for the buyers, says Rajnish Kumar, Regional Business Head – Tamil Nadu, VBHC Chennai Value Homes Pvt Ltd.

The technology does away with conventional system of concrete pillars and brick walls, a process where every thing is done in sequence – you first pour the concrete into pillars, build the brick walls and then comes the work of laying electrical lines, plumbing, plastering and painting, making it a long process and labour-intensive.

In aluminium form construction the entire structure is concrete with no brick-laying involved.

Workers construct the steel skeleton for the concrete, simultaneously providing conduits for electrical lines and provide the plumbing lines and cover it with aluminium shuttering. Concrete is then poured, allowed to set for a week before the aluminium shuttering is removed.

There you have the entire shell of the building. No plastering is needed as the concrete surface is well-finished and smooth; plumbing lines and electrical conduits are in place which only leaves the interiors – tiling, painting and wood work – to be done.

At brisk pace

“We finish two apartments in two days.” A block of 32 apartments on stilt plus four, takes about eight days a floor and for finishing including tiling and painting about 40 days. A 200-apartment project is scheduled to be finished in about a year compared with nearly twice that time that would be needed in the conventional system.

So how does that help?

A saving of one year is a significant cost-benefit. The overall cost can come down by about 20 per cent. Customers save a year’s interest outgo, take delivery that much earlier and occupy or rent out the flat. For the builder, site management is easy, lesser worry on managing a large workforce – scarce labour is a major issue in construction these days – and the quality of construction is better.

The concrete mixing is automated and quality can be controlled, the structure is virtually monolithic and longer lasting concrete. Workers only need to be trained to use the specialised equipment supplied by Western Forms International of the US.

Alejandro R Morales, Chief Construction Technical Officer in VBHC, says Homex, one of the largest builders in Mexico and Brazil, focuses on the budget and middle-income housing adopts this technology. Homex built over 80,000 homes a year. The idea is to use a “manufacturing approach to constructing a home.” Speed and efficiency contribute to saving costs and make possible the construction of quality homes in the price range of Rs 5-20 lakh.

There is no compromise on quality as this is a proven technology, provides better durability and seismic tolerance than conventional homes, he said addressing a seminar on affordable housing last week.

Aluminium form construction was once known for standardised design and large volumes that enabled greater savings. But the technology is also evolving and customisation is now possible, says Morales.

Rajnish points out that affordable or low cost construction does not have to be “cheap.” For instance all the fittings, electrical or plumbing, will be of branded and established quality.

VBHC has completed the first phase of 392 apartments of a project in Bangalore and delivered them and the next phase of about 448 apartments is nearing completion. The total number of projects coming up in this undertaking near Electronic City is about 1,854 apartments. The company has land parcels in Mumbai, NCR and has more projects planned in Chennai and Bangalore, he said.

At the time of launch of the Chennai project in June this year, J. Rao, Chairman, VBHC, said initially, it will offer two-bedroom units of close to 800 sq.ft priced at about Rs 16.6 lakh. It has started work on 148 apartments distributed across buildings of stilt plus four floors. The rate works out to about Rs 2,099 a sq.ft.

Rao, said the project is in line with the company’s plans to offer a quality product at a reasonable price – a sustainable business model. Its homes will carry a price tag about 15-25 per cent cheaper than equivalent products in the market without compromising on quality.

A professional set up, a tight production line as practised in the manufacturing sector, reasonable profits, above board transactions are key to the business model, Rao said. Projects are announced only after all statutory clearances are obtained and delivery is targeted at about 12-18 months.

balajiar@thehindu.co.in

Published on October 12, 2012
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