Infrastructure development will play a key role in achieving India’s vision of becoming a $5 trillion economy. The country’s growth in the coming decades will be defined by the development of missing links as well as the use of technology and innovation to create a lasting and safe structure that adheres to technical standards and engineering practices. There is growing popularity of digital and technological solutions, innovative tools and devices, and online monitoring systems. The deployment of these in all infrastructure projects helps improve project planning and implementation, thereby reducing time and cost overruns.
In the design segment, many new technologies have been adopted such as building information modelling (BIM), which help in planning resources and early clash detection and minimise the scope for errors and iterations. The Bangalore International Airport, Nagpur Metro Rail Corporation, Personal Rapid Transit System in Amritsar, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, the Guwahati International Airport as well as renovation of the Gwalior railway station are some examples of infrastructure projects that have been developed using BIM technology, or are under development in India.
As of December 2022, the Technology Sub-Mission Under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana – Urban (PMAY-U) has been set up for the adoption of innovative, sustainable, eco-friendly and disaster-resilient technologies and building materials for low-cost, speedier and quality construction of houses. Under this mission, 54 innovative worldwide construction technologies have been selected to usher in a new age in the Indian construction technology sector. Integrated command and control centres have been developed in each of the 100 smart cities in order to integrate technology into urban management. In order to assist the sub-mission, the Building Materials and Technology Promotion Council has established a technical cell under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.
The road sector has taken many green construction initiatives over the years. The sector also uses a variety of alternative construction materials and technologies to improve the quality and life of highways and reduce the construction time. Major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Pune have actively started using shredded plastic waste in road construction. Geotextile products have been used in road projects in Assam to withstand floods and associated landslides. Furthermore, the use of affordable, sustainable and recyclable technologies is fast building the arterial road network of India.
To support the construction of bridges in India, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways emphasises the use of ultra-high performance fibre reinforced concrete girders in bridges and structures. Recently, these girders were used in the sole river bridge near Latur, Maharashtra.
The enablement of digital platforms for the effective management of road projects is gathering pace. The data lake software uses advanced analytics, which is cloud-based and artificial intelligence-powered. It helps in transitioning from the manual system of project execution operations to the National Highways Authority of India’s (NHAI) online portal. Tracking the project workflow and forecasting delays in the timeline through the software expedites decision-making. In order to enhance transparency and ensure quality construction, NHAI has mandated the use of drones for national highway projects.
The railway sector is another focus area for the government, with substantial network expansion and decongestion projects being taken up. The Khurja-Dadri section of the eastern dedicated freight corridor is among the first track projects in the country to use the new track construction machine.
New construction technologies have also been deployed in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project. In September 2021, Indian Railways (IR) successfully launched the indigenously designed and manufactured full-span launching equipment-straddle carrier and girder transporter to expedite the construction of the viaduct for the project. This technology helps speed up the process of launching girders as precast girders of full-span length are erected as a single piece for double-track viaducts. The Shinso pile method, underwater static refraction tomography for the undersea tunnel, etc. will also be adopted for the project.
As IR intends a near-zero fatality rate in the near future, it has taken several steps for the same. Multiple innovative technologies, including ultrasonic track-lined broken rail detection, distributed acoustic sensing and magnetic flux leakage detection systems, are at various stages of development for detecting broken rails. However, none of these are commercially employed on a wide scale in any advanced railway system. Ultrasonic flaw detection (USFD) units can facilitate the early detection of rail defects. Widely deployed by IR, the procedure can be made substantially more efficient by the implementation of the revolutionary USFD technology. Similarly, with the upcoming continuous high definition video surveillance on the interior and exterior of the locomotive, the evaluation of operator performance and the identification of any inconsistencies will be enabled on or alongside the track.
In order to reduce dwell time and transaction costs, the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways has implemented several modernisation and digitalisation initiatives. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology serves a crucial role in the tracking of assets, equipment and machinery over vast distances and in large numbers. The RFID system has been adopted at all major ports to enable the seamless movement of traffic across port gates, as well as huge reductions in documentation checks.
As demand increases, port expansion requirements will be greater than ever, providing plenty of commercial opportunities for specialist contractors, subcontractors, consultants, and materials manufacturers. Further, AI and blockchain will ease transaction and real-time tracking. The adoption of 5G technologies is also expected to enhance the efficiency levels at Indian ports.
The drill and blast method (DBM) continues to be the most widely used tunnelling technique in India. The hydropower sector accounts for the largest share of the DBM market. DBM has also been significantly deployed in the railway sector. Equipment such as tunnelling jumbos, road headers, backhoes and hydraulic cutters are used to dig the tunnel and clear the excavated rock. Micro-tunnelling is also experiencing increased acceptance in the country. It is emerging as a new trend to lay water supply pipelines and sewers in congested areas.
Airport construction has always adhered to a consistent model. However, with growing technologies, the tides have turned. In the near future, robotics, blockchain technology, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality, biometrics and wearable technology are predicted to transform the aviation industry. In terms of advanced technologies, precast systems, plaster machines, horizontal slip forms and elevated platforms are also being deployed. The Chennai Annadurai International Airport expansion and modernisation project in Tirusulam is a design-to-fabrication steel project carried out completely within the Tekla BIM software environment.
Water and waste
In recent years, the government has placed a greater emphasis on the water and waste sectors. The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) includes a number of digitalisation initiatives such as the launch of cost-effective schemes, continuous monitoring and maintenance of transparency. Under the JJM, eight extensive digital platforms are being implemented — the JJM integrated management information system, the JJM dashboard, the JJM water quality management information system, an internet of things platform, a mobile application, analytical tools, a public finance management system, the JJM website, and the Rashtriya Jal Jeevan Kosh portal.
While project execution has improved over time, the increased level of activity in the construction sector has highlighted the need for more efficient contracting techniques, the adoption of new and innovative materials, and the utilisation of cost-effective construction techniques and cutting-edge equipment.
In the near future, technology and sustainability will play important roles in the construction industry. The sector is gradually changing its focus to digitalisation in order to automate design, construction and operational procedures. It is anticipated that the industry will adopt innovative solutions including cloud-based collaboration, digital twins, AI, AR, machine learning and BIM. The majority of Indian construction firms are at an early stage of digital maturity and are prioritising digitalisation to ensure cost-effective and on-time project completion.