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India’s infrastructure sector holds a promising future for structural steel tubes industry

India’s infrastructure sector holds a promising future for structural steel tubes industry

The demand for construction is only going to rise and realizing this we need to switch to tubular construction and shift focus from conventional modes, Says ANUBHAV GUPTA, Chief Strategy Officer, APL Apollo Tubes Ltd in an interaction with Veena Kurup

Considering the evolving opportunities in India’s infrastructure sector, how have you planned to tap in these potentials and where is APL Apollo placed today in this journey?

The application of steel in the process of construction is not a novel concept – as it is being used in window frames, designer pipes etc. But when we talk about infrastructure projects especially the large scale big-ticket sized initiatives the usage of structural steel is redefining the process of construction. This involves usage of structural steel tubes in the range of 150 mm x150 mm dia to 300 mm x300 mm dia. As far as the Indian market for structural steel tubes is concerned APL Apollo and TATAs are the only two majors catering to this segment. The potential here is vast and is abundant. We are hence even venturing to produce and introduce a new 500x500mm dia steel tube in the near future which would best suit the requirements for heavy infrastructure projects.

The structural steel tubes are the best redefining alternatives that can replace the conventional concrete based or pre-engineered structures. These heavy steel tubes are now being increasingly used and preferred by architects, designers, project contractors and consultants in replacing RCC pillars and PEBs owing to its added benefits. Structural steel tubes as is hollow from inside brings in a superior weight to strength ratio and thus brings down the overall weight of the total structure. This is directly proportional in reducing the total project cost – making the projects more optimum and economically viable. This is where APL Apollo is more focused towards.

Presently, our heavy steel tubes contribute 6 per cent to our overall sales volume, but as the infrastructure activities pick up and with more realization from designers, engineers, contractors and such stakeholders involved in construction sector we expect the numbers to scale up to 20-25 per cent of our portfolio in the next five years.

Give us an understanding about the prevalent market size for structural steel tubes in India and your journey over the years?

The overall market size for structural steel tubes in India today stands at 4 million tonnes per annum. The country’s total steel consumption is at around 100 MT. So the consumption of structural steel tubes is at about 4 per cent today in India. But, if you map the global data this number is at 10 per cent and the total steel consumption is at around 1500-1800 MT. The structural steel tube market globally is at around 150 MT. These figures indicate the potential withheld by the structural steel tube market, especially in emerging economies like India. And with the evolving infra-construction potential we are very much hopeful for the market to expand from the existent 4 per cent to 10 per cent. But it may take five to ten years for the market to expand and achieve the said targets as it is depended on the market awareness and customer dynamics.

As far as APL Apollo is considered we are market leaders today in the segment and hold 50 per cent of the total market share. So, of the overall 4 MT we have around 2 MT of sales volumes. Our growth in the last ten years evidently showcases our achievements, as we could register a growth of around 27 per cent. Though the structural steel tube market could not achieve these growth figures alone, we have been able to mark a fruitful picture. We have over the years replaced the old conventional products like concrete RCC columns, PEBs etc. and continue to do so with our structural steel tubes. Our dedicated focus towards innovation, embracing new technologies and exploring new markets have been the growth driving factors over the years.

You mentioned about the limited awareness on structural steel tubes today. As a key player involved in the sector, tell us about more the current situation in India in terms of acceptance and usage of these products by the infra-construction sectors?

While awareness about the structural steel tubes is crucial, availability is another key factor that needs to be looked upon. As was mentioned, there are only two majors currently involved in the sector, and this makes ease in availability a bit of concern. The knowledge on the usage, benefits attached and cost efficiency of the products need to be yet fully realized on a wide scale among the architects, designers, project consultants and contractors from the infra-construction space. As a responsible manufacturer, we are hence keenly looking forth to spread more awareness through fruitful media interactions like with EPC World magazine. We have our TVCs as well on air featuring Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. We have focused ourselves on a dedicated approach to create more awareness in the market. Our tie-up with Zamil Steel India is one such venture. Zamil Steel is one among the frontrunners in steel building construction today, and realizing the need and benefits of structural steel tubes they have joined hands with us and will be utilizing our products in their designs and construction.

Throw some light upon the benefits of structural steel tubes as against PEBs?

PEBs (Pre-engineered buildings) are pre-fabricated structures using the conventional long steel products which are open in its feature. The process involved here is to transform metal sheets and fabricate them to boxes to make pillars. On the contrary, structural steel tubes are ready columns which could be directly utilized. Structural steel tubes as are hollow from inside brings in a superior weight to strength ratio. This minimizes the overall weight of structures by 10 per cent and even brings down the time and cost involved – making structures more feasible and economically viable. However, a critical concern is on the availability of heavy diameter tubes which are not much available in the market to suit as per the demands of big sized infrastructure projects. Realising this need we brought in the 300 mm x 300 mm product in 2017 from our Raipur manufacturing unit. The concept is still very novel in India, but we expect the industry to soon pickup with the evolving opportunities and increased awareness.

In brief, tell us about your manufacturing units and unique technologies in place?

We have ten plants in India today – four at NCR, three in Bengaluru, one in Hyderabad, one in Raipur and a new additional one to be set up at Raipur. Our units are placed in close proximity to the raw material availability as well as to the markets – helping us in freight optimization. Today, we enjoy a pan India presence in regards to reach and operations.

Since our inception, APL Apollo has been a technology driven company. In the last ten years we have adapted and embraced new evolving technologies. Our Direct Forming Technology (DFT) is one such approach which we imported from Italy. This helps us in creating square pipes directly and APL Apollo is the sole DFT based product provider in India today. We also have an American based technology of inland galvanization.

Throw some light upon the demand driving regions and the future prospects for the sector?

As far as demand markets are concerned, the southern region leads for APL Apollo followed by western, northern and eastern markets. We are very excited to explore the Eastern India further, with the evolving construction opportunities. Internationally, APL Apollo is already supplying to North America, South America and Middle Eastern regions. About 5 per cent of our sales volumes is driven by exports and it is growing at a decent pace. With the evolving opportunities and increased awareness we are very bullish about the growth for structural steel tubes in India. The demand for construction is only going to rise and realizing this we need to switch to tubular construction and shift focus from conventional modes. We are very hopeful on the market scope to scale up and expand further as soon as the infrastructure and economy will lit up. India’s infrastructure sector holds a promising future for the structural steel tube industry.

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