Friday, February 10, 2012: 03:42:16 PM



Somnath Biswas, Managing Director – Reinforced Earth India Pvt. Ltd, explains the innovative use of reinforced structures and precast construction products, in this conversation with Vijayendra Sesodia

Reinforced Earth India Pvt. Ltd is a wholly - owned subsidiary of Soletanche Freyssinet, France. The company provides end-to-end services in reinforced products, terranails/ shored walls (in-situ soil reinforcement), Techspan (precast arch structures) for cut and cover tunnels, and Tech  Box (precast box structures). Somnath Biswas elucidates how an experienced team of engineers and technicians methodically plan every stage of the project using prefab products, right from its conception to gauging its feasibility, tendering, design, manufacture, construction, maintenance and performance, asset management and upgrades, in this conversation with Vijayendra Sesodia.

What does Reinforced Earth India have to offer in the construction and infrastructure domain?
We design, manufacture, supply and install two major types of prefabricated construction systems— Mechanically Stabilised Embankments (MSE) and the other kind are precast structural products such as TechSpan, TechBox and TechCulvert that are used for the construction of cut and cover tunnels, underpass, and hydraulic culverts.

One of the company’s offerings, Reinforced Earth structures, is an internally stabilised earth structure that retains walls made of granular backfill and metallic/non-metallic (synthetic) strips. These strips serve as soil reinforcing material with a precast concrete facing (panels and blocks) or flexible facing, with vegetation or a mineral finish. Reinforced Earth is extensively used in transportation and civil engineering applications. Due to its high load-carrying capacity, it is ideal for very high or heavy-loaded retaining walls such as railway embankments or bridge abutment.

Tell us about the company’s various work models. Usually, Reinforced Earth India operates in three models.
These are Engineering Procurement and Supervision (EPS), Engineering Procurement and Contracting (EPC) and Engineering, Procurement, and Contracting plus Project Management (EPCM). The company participates in projects that employ its expertise in design-and-build concepts. It looks to provide value-added services through efficient design and construction management. Special forms, accessories and supplies are deployed on the project, together with experienced engineers and technicians who supervise activities such as pre-casting and building, along with certain infrastructure and materials (concrete and rebar) from the EPC contractor.

In the EPS model, the company facilitates design, construction drawings, requisite moulds for pre-casting of panels and supplies all the soil reinforcing elements. Also, all permanent and technical requisitions such as guidance during pre-casting and installation of the structure are provided by the company. In this model, the general contractor takes care of the civil work such as concrete and HYSD steel of specified grades, along with the design and implementation of ground improvement, if required. The company is also responsible for pre-casting and installation of the structure in addition to the services mentioned above. In EPCM model, the basic scope of work includes site surveys, foundation works, site preparation and global project management.

Is this type of construction time-consuming?
The time taken for the completion of a project varies, but the company’s technology facilitates the completion of a project within 6–8 months. For example, the setting up of the Bangalore Airport took almost eight months whereas it would have taken 18 months to complete the same work using conventional techniques. The project utilised precast building techniques so that most of the fittings could be quickly installed at the site. This method of construction is the same worldwide, with minor differences that pertain to topographical conditions. The company has successfully worked on and installed 30,000 structures in five continents over the past 40 years.

What are the common infrastructure related challenges in India today?
Over the last few years, the difficulty in implementing infrastructure projects has increased and the capacity to handle these remains inadequate on the time and cost front. Today, contractors have shifted focus from classical contracting projects to those based on the BOOT system (Build-Own- Operate-Transfer).

In this system, a private company receives a concession from a private or public company to finance, design, construct and operate a facility, as per a concession contract. This system enables the project proponent to recover the investment, operating and maintenance expenses within the project. Due to the longterm nature of the arrangement, the fees is usually raised during the concession period.

The rate of increase is often in sync with a combination of internal and external variables, allowing the proponent to reach a satisfactory internal rate of ROI (Return of Investment). Also, the operators may not always be fully committed to the project as a long-term asset and settle for the lowest bidder. Thus, project specifications need to be strictly performance-based for the assets' long-term performance, after its construction and during its service life, since it is the government’s property.

Projects are delayed for various reasons including land acquisition and realignment of public utilities like water supply and power supply line. A number of projects have also suffered due to irregular and unreliable support from the government. Some projects have also been delayed due to plodding progress made by the concerned contractors. Timely payment is another problem that makes it difficult to procure adequate products and materials for the projects, which translates into delays . Finally, to top it all off, the market is highly competitive, and there are a number of local players who are selling cheaper technology that may not be completely sustainable and could affect long-term performance.

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