Shelter is a basic human need, and yet India’s cities are unable to provide shelter to a growing number of residents. According to the 2011 Census, India’s urban population was 377 million—a 4% increase in just 10 years. As a result, cities have grappled with problems including increase in real estate prices and huge stress on resources like land, water, sanitation and healthcare. A 2011 study found there is a shortage of 18.8 million homes. In response, the Centre has set an ambitious target to provide ‘Housing for All’ by 2022. The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) has expanded its wings to fulfil housing needs of the mid-income group, besides economically weaker sections and low-income group.
But several factors are hindering PMAY from achieving its potential. Experts have observed that one of the reasons for the slow progress in construction of new houses under PMAY is that very few large and organised real estate players are participating in this scheme, primarily due to the fear of low profit margins that might accrue in affordable housing projects. Besides, 70% of contractors say they are having a difficult time finding qualified workers or professionals.
The Prime Minister has urged the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation to evaluate 3D construction technology in 25 major cities—3D is recognised as a tool that can help speed up construction. Currently, 1.25 lakh houses under the Urban Housing Mission are being built using prefabricated technologies and various companies in India have used 3D software solutions, including from Trimble, to make precasting and fabrication more efficient.
Given the current demand-supply gap in housing, the industry must transition from the traditional brick-and-mortar to prefabrication. These are proven to build homes quickly and cost-effectively, especially as traditional construction costs continue to rise. It calls for a slightly higher infrastructure investment in early days, and this is where the government plays a pivotal role from planning to implementation, including ensuring resources and sustainability.
Pre-engineered or prefabricated houses, whether made with precast concrete or steel, are durable, as their modules are manufactured under a tightly controlled environment and to stricter norms. Various modules of a building’s structure, like roofs or walls, are ‘manufactured’ in a factory, transported and then ‘assembled’ on the construction site. This method also reduces construction cost, and in the case of precast concrete, the manpower used is almost one-tenth of what it takes in the conventional method of construction. Consequently, there’s cost saving in labour, and ancillary cost savings such as lesser requirement of licence fee, water and power. Other problems associated with conventional concrete buildings, like poor quality control, untimely deliveries and placement problems, are eliminated with this method.
Even in traditional construction process, technology can play a meaningful role in ensuring timely and quality project delivery, while ensuring a profitable business. For example, formwork is one of the most time-consuming elements of cast-in-place concrete construction (read: traditional), which makes good planning essential. With new software and enhanced visualisation, coordination and communication made possible by constructible formwork models, contractors can speed up formwork planning and save time, prevent mistakes and streamline formwork operations on site.
Realising the dream of abundant affordable housing is possible using precast, prefabrication and related tech. These tools can help contractors construct new buildings in shorter time and at lower costs, and allow them to participate in PMAY without sacrificing profits. It’s a win-win for everyone—the government, construction industry and citizens.
The Author is Regional Director, Trimble Solutions India and Middle East.