Building confidence
The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented situation in the construction sector. Once back on track after the lockdown, government will have to take some concrete steps to support the industry and economy.

Concrete equipment have always been an important set of equipment in the infrastructure construction activities world over. In almost every construction activity, the importance of concrete is growing and so is concrete equipment. Major concrete equipment used in the construction activity include batching plants, transit mixer, concrete pumps and concrete pavers. These equipment perform different stages of concrete usage in construction starting from concrete mixing to transporting, pumping, placing and paving.

Market scenario
In India, the use of concrete is spreading into new areas of roads and highways in a big way. The National Highways Authority of India is constructing major highways and expressways using concrete which has positively impacted the concrete equipment segment also. There are a range of metro projects coming up in the country where concrete batching plants and concrete pumps are being used extensively. However, currently, the market has slowed down due to the novel coronavirus attack globally as well as in India. With the real estate projects and the infrastructure projects such as irrigation, bridges and flyovers, metro and expressways on a grinding halt, the concrete equipment segment is currently impacted. However, positive signs are visible as construction activities are restarting slowly in safe zones where the coronavirus impact is minimal.

Wilfried Theissen, Managing Director, Putzmeister India, is positive on the industry despite the current slowdown. "A sudden stop of all activity and staggered resumption with rollbacks now and again is bound to have an impact on the market. However, we don't think the market fundamentals have been affected. India has ambitious infrastructure development targets, the construction industry is among the top employment generators in this country, and there is still a lot that needs to be done. These factors haven't changed."

Tackling challenges
The current unprecedented situation has prompted the companies to adopt intelligent and effective means to overcome the challenges. Technology is increasingly being utilised in every aspect of operations with remote monitoring becoming the new normal in machine operation and project execution. Putzmeister was already working on digital technologies in its range of products. Theissen says,"We were already in the process of rolling out Putzmeister Machine Cockpit, our advanced telematics solution, to our fleet of Putzmeister truck-mounted boom pumps. We will complete this deployment. Telematics can actually help with social distancing, fleet owners can keep track of their equipment remotely from the safety of their offices/homes."

VG Sakthikumar, Managing Director, Schwing Stetter India, adds, "The immediate concern is to take care of the people in the organisation and the customers. We will be doing everything to reduce the cost and postpone certain capital expenditures. We will be looking for niche markets to improve and compensate the sales drop in domestic and export markets."

Strengthening service networks with close interaction with customers is adding value to the relations. Debasis Bhattacharya, Head -Marketing, Sales & Product Support, AJAX Engineering, says, "AJAX keeps in touch with all its stakeholders through digital channels and leverage digital solutions to engage customers, provide support and add value-propositions that are unique to them."

Policy support imperative
Like most of the industry, the coronavirus pandemic has adversely impacted the construction sector also, with a cascading effect on the construction equipment industry. When the construction activities are limping back to normalcy after relaxations in the lockdown in less impacted areas, it is important for the government to provide the much needed policy support to the companies in the construction and infrastructure development valuechain. Theissen is of the view, "The government should ensure that sufficient liquidity is available so that industry can start rolling again and continue to fulfill its role as one of the major employment provider in the country."

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit the market at a time when the construction activities in the country used to be at their peak. Now with the activities started to pick up slowly, the upcoming monsoon season is going to impact the construction activities again. So, overall it will take more time than anticipated for the industry to be back on track. As Bhattacharya points out, "Even after the crisis is brought under control and construction works start to roll, the upcoming monsoon will be another big blow that will add further onus onto the growth and severely impedes the construction works likely from June 2020 onwards."

All these difficult situations that the industry is going to face in the coming months demand more generous policy support from the government and relaxation on various fronts that will help the industry and the players gain strength to survive the adversities.

Market outlook
According to research input, the Indian concrete equipment market is projected to cross $ 1,300 million by 2024, exhibiting a CAGR of 13 per cent on account of anticipated growth in construction industry, increasing foreign investments, and rising number of smart city projects in the country. Currently the market is reeling under the pressure of restarting the projects in full swing. It will take some time for the industry to be back on track and stabilise operations. Going ahead, once the lockdown is relaxed, the concrete equipment market can regain its momentum. "Recently, the Union Finance Minister has clarified and identified on infrastructure projects in pipeline. We expect more money will be spent in the initial years to help the recovery to happen faster," says Sakthikumar.

The government will have to take some concrete steps in the right direction to implement the ambitious National Infrastructure Pipeline mission, which can bring back the optimism into the industry.