Given the long-term pipeline of infrastructure projects in India, the growth opportunity for the country's steel sector is immense. But as it looks towards future expansion, the industry also needs to collaborate as well as imbibe new technologies and best practices to become a truly global force.
Collaboration, adoption of new technologies and focus on sustainable manufacturing practices will enable the Indian steel industry to become a global force, a cross-section of industry experts averred at the third edition of Make in Steel conference in New Delhi in February.
They also said that given the country's need for new infrastructure projects and consistent GDP growth, the opportunities that would be created for all stakeholders were humongous.
Guest of honour, AK Khandelwal, Executive Director (TKMC), Railway Board, explained that developments like electrification of railways lines, construction of pedestrian bridges, and the introduction of high-speed railway and complete mechanisation of maintenance-related work will all create a huge business opportunity. For instance, the Railways order for maintenance equipment is alone estimated to cost Rs 120 billion.
"There is a huge market and we are planning an investment of Rs 8.5 trillion on infrastructure development at the Indian Railways over the next five years. This would need a lot of steel. At least 20 million tonnes (MT) of new rakes will be required annually. This would also need some high-grade steel. About 7 MT of steel will be required for building wagons, coaches and other infrastructure," informed Khandelwal.
According to some estimates, the public sector transporter directly or indirectly consumes up to 15 per cent of the total steel produced in the country. While sounding caution in the backdrop of the ongoing US-China war and Coronavirus pandemic, N Sainathan, Chief Sales Manager (North India), Tata Steel, called for teamwork within the industry.
"For this industry to grow every participant in the value chain needs to elevate their role to become more efficient and value accretive. I would like to take the example of the automobile industry, which 20 years ago used to import 30-40 per cent of its steel because the domestic industry was unable to provide the desired quality or service. But today that has reduced to less than 5 per cent. This has been made possible by the partnership between the steel companies and automakers," he opined.
Need to standardise
The experts also agreed that despite overtaking Japan to become the world's number two steelmaker, India's steel sector needed to address a multitude of challenges. One of the priority areas for the country was to significantly encourage domestic steel consumption. The share of steel-based construction in India is around 10 per cent while in the developed Western economies it hovers at nearly 80 per cent.
The forum also raised the demand for the rollout of a proper code for steel-intensive buildings. In this regard, speakers said that China's much-acclaimed feat of constructing a 1,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients in a matter of days was made possible only due to the successful implementation of such a framework there.
V Suresh, Chief General Manager & Regional Manager (Northern Region), Steel Authority of India (SAIL), said that the sector played a critical role in not only GDP growth but also job creation. "The steel industry is an important constituent in the growth and development of an economy. The performance of the steel industry has a major bearing on industry segments such as infrastructure, construction, peripherals, etc., with the multiplier effect of 1.4 times on the GDP. But the greater impact comes from employment generation, where the multiplier effect is around 6.8," he emphasised.
He felt that the low percentage use of steel in housing and other construction was attributable to the inability to both provide as well as accurately gauge the quantity and quality of steel required in such construction. He sought for immediate revision of BIS 800 code regarding the use of steel in construction to also include high-grade steels.
"The other issue is about the design part. There is somehow a mismatch between what we can produce, what we intend to produce and what is required by the industry. Although architects and designers appreciate that steel-intensive construction is the way forward, there is reluctance due to various reasons such as availability and acceptance by the end-user. So, there is a need for us to have a forum and, perhaps, Make in Steel can help us in this regard to some extent," added Suresh.
Hervinder Singh, President & Business Unit Head Long Products, Jindal Steel & Power, made a forceful pitch for a cleaner steel industry through the use of cleaner and greener technologies that helped in curbing pollution and prevent wastage of resources.
"The focus should be on making quality steel of higher strength through a cost-effective production process," he opined.
Welcoming the delegates to the conference, Pratap Padode, President and Founder, First Construction Council (FCC), said, "The year has begun on a tumultuous note. But I think through challenges also emerge top stories. When some of the leading multinationals and foreign companies come here for the first time, they don't look at the chaos. They look at the opportunities. Because if everything were hunky-dory, why would there be a need for new infrastructure or new buildings?" FCC, which had organised the event, is an infrastructure think tank dedicated to serving the causes and needs of the Indian construction sector. It was established in 2003.
Two panel discussions, "Smart Steel for Smart Urbanisation: New Products and Dimensions in Steel"and "Growing Use of Stainless Steel", were also organised during the day-long conference. Panelists included Arun Sahai, COO, Ahluwalia Contracts; Rajiv Nehru, Director Product Development & Training, RICS South Asia; Mili Majumdar, Managing Director, GBCI India; S Krishnakumar, CEO Building Solutions, Everest Industries; Sahil Agarwal, Senior Technologist, Tata Steel; Debashis Dutta, Structural Engineer, Institute for Steel Development & Growth; and NK Vijayvargia, Consultant, Indian Stainless Steel Development Association.
The report "TMT ReBar: A Key Pillar in Indian Infrastructure" was also released at 2020 Make in Steel conference. This one-of-its-kind analysis on reinforcement bars-also called thermo-mechanically treated (TMT) bars-has come to be regarded as an important study in its segment.
- MANISH PANT