Higher, cleaner and safer
The access equipment industry in India is in a nascent stage but once the awareness about the utility and application of this versatile product line spreads, and once we have legislation in place for the use of such equipment for any work done at a height, the future looks quite bright. EQUIPMENT INDIA finds out the details from the major players in the industry.

"The access equipment market in India is evolving rapidly across user industries, driven by greater consciousness and emphasis on safety. Besides, access equipment has a very favourable impact on the speed and efficiency with which tasks that require people to be lifted to a height can be completed. The use of access equipment is already very well developed in many other markets, including developing countries. There is a huge growth potential for this industry in India, too, owing to a multitude of infrastructure and development projects. With the logistics and retail sectors gathering pace and changes like goods and services tax likely to come into play, a whole new world of opportunities will be thrown open for this segment," says Cavas Dumasia, Vice President - Marketing & Sales, Godrej Material Handling.

This sentiment is seconded by Souma Ray, General Manager - India, Haulotte Group. "We at Haulotte see a very bright future for access equipment in India. Time and again, India has been privy to the introduction and later phenomenal growth, of various construction equipment; the best example being that of the backhoe loader segment. From 125 machines in 1985, today the market size is over 20,000 units per year. We see the future of access equipment in India moving on similar lines." Ray adds, "The Haulotte Group is clear in its objective to become the most preferred and leading brand in the access equipment market of this country. And to emphasise our commitment to our customers, we have decided to be present in full strength in India."

Says Rakesh Kumar, Country Manager - AWP, India & Saarc Countries, Terex India, "There is a huge potential for access equipment in India. As we all know, the present state of infrastructure is not adequate for the size of the country. We definitely require a massive scale of infrastructure development in all sectors viz, power, road, port, aviation, railway, internal transport, etc. All such construction activities hold great potential for access equipment. The growth of the access market has been around 20 per cent YoY in last few years but this is just the tip of the iceberg."

Says Sunil Jain, Country Manager, JLG Industries, Inc, "There has been a steady growth in the aerial work platform market in India. JLG sees a good opportunity for aerial work platforms in the next three years, provided the Indian economy continues to grow at 7-8 per cent. Growth in manufacturing and construction sectors will be critical for developing needs of products like aerial work platforms."

Detailing the evolution of the fatade access systems in India, Siraj Dalvi, Managing Director, Simple Engineering Solutions, says, "The fatade access or fatade cleaning system has evolved from access engineering and access equipment. The first of this equipment was provided to Vizag steel plant 30 years ago by engineering giant Mukand, and we were part of the team. From 1997 onwards, when a lot of buildings started coming up with exterior fatades, the access system was deployed with a different configuration, known as fatade cleaning system. This trend of fancy fatades has spread to small towns, too. Today, the exterior of a building has more of glass, Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP), special tiles and cladding. This trend is going to continue. As far as we are concerned, it is not a new subject for us as we have rich experience in the field." Dumasia further adds, "Until recently, the Indian industry had taken a rather cautious approach towards access equipment as well as telehandlers, viewing these as expensive equipment, as compared to cheaper alternatives like unsecured ladders, scaffolding, etc. However, the scenario is changing due to factors like a higher safety consciousness, the economic need to expedite project completion, the need to meet tight project deadlines and also, the entry of many MNCs in India who bring with them practices followed in other markets. Another driving force is the diminishing availability of cheap manual labour, especially in urban areas. In the foreseeable future, these factors will combine in various ways and to varying degrees to drive the growth of access equipment, though presently the market for it is in a nascent stage. The major user industries where such equipment will be of vital importance are construction, infrastructure, logistics, hospitality, healthcare and defence, to name a few."

Ray elaborates, "I would say the industry took a turn with the coming in of various MNCs in the country. They brought along with them the concept of such equipment during the construction phases and later, for operational use too. India is a fast growing economy with a strong focus on infrastructure. In accordance, industry best practices on safe working at heights followed worldwide need to get amalgamated here, too. It may be an immature market at the moment but we are steadily progressing towards being a major market for such products in the near future."

Says Rakesh, "Indian construction industry is in a transitional phase and gradually they are also adapting best practices in all areas. There has been an increase in focus on safety at all construction sites. As this access equipment is also cost- productive as well as safe, I am confident that all Indian construction sites will have a full range of access equipment in the near future similar to other sites around the world."

Speaking on the application areas, Dumasia says, "Typically, access equipment find use in factories and warehouses for performing maintenance near the roof, such as lighting, pipelines, electrical cabling, etc. In recent years, however, other segments have started using access equipment, such as hospitality, hospitals, airports and defence establishments, to name a few. Construction projects, whether residential, commercial or infrastructural, are also users of access equipment. Some applications that can be addressed by these machines are maintenance of buildings, cleaning glass windows or fatades, roof work, pruning of trees and working on street lights. Godrej has a wide basket of offerings to cater to these different segments and applications, and a strong network to reach all parts of the country."

Possible deterrent

Is cost a possible deterrent? Dalvi's answer is a strong 'yes.' He says, "Ultimately, it comes down to a limited budget or not having a budget at all. This is the last item in the mind of the builder/developer. There is no priority of having a fatade cleaning system. Sometimes, it is an afterthought. But this is not the case with MNCS as they are aware of their obligations. These days, many corporates have started showing their interest in a proper fatade cleaning system with built-in safety features. If planned in advance, a fatade cleaning system can be deployed at a fractional cost of the total facade. Not only that, the same system, if installed during the construction stage, can be used for external plaster, external painting and of course, for fixing/installation of facade. This will result in tremendous savings." He further points out, "In future, if the fatade needs to be repaired or replaced (due to damage/breakage/leakage, etc) the fatade cleaning system comes in handy. If you consider all the above factors, the fatade cleaning system cost is recovered in many ways and there is no capital expenditure burden. Providing built-in safety features doesn't cost more compared to an unsafe system. Compromising on safety ultimately turns out to be a very costly mistake."

Safety norms

Pointing out some of the challenges, the access equipment segment face, Ray has this to say, "The challenge today is that the access equipment industry in India is still in a nascent stage. We would like to term this an immature market as of now. The knowledge about the utility and application of this versatile product line is yet to spread. Basically, things will get a fillip once we have legislation in place for the use of such a equipment for any work at a height. In Australia, there is legislation that for any work over 2 m height, the use of access equipment is compulsory. Similar legislation prevails in most developed countries. Having proper legislation on the mandatory use of access equipment when working at a height is the need of the hour. Such legislation is in place in all developed countries and we need to have this in place in India too. Remember, it's all about safe, efficient and productive working." Ray further adds, "Also, the age and condition of machines in use is also very important and hence, awareness needs to grow in the use of machines which are relatively new and well maintained (in the case of used machines) as there cannot be any compromise on safety. We in India need to value and respect the requirement of safe working. Ultimately, this is what will get us to work faster and more efficiently."

Dalvi points out, "There are no specific safety codes or Indian Standards. First of all, fatade cleaning should be made mandatory. Having legislation passed will automatically put all the norms, including safety requirements, in place. This will definitely make builders aware that the building exterior needs to be kept clean, so that the image of architectural fatade is enhanced. In India, it is not mandatory to have a fatade cleaning system, even if you have buildings with complex fatade elevation. We see more buildings with an expensive fatade but not maintained or cleaned as it should be, as there is no such statuary requirement. In many developed countries, your plans are not approved unless you submit your scheme for a fatade cleaning system. Not only that, if your fatade is not cleaned, you get penalised. There is an urgent need to enact certain legislation that will help the industry. On our part, we need to create more awareness and educate the different stakeholder on the value edition."

Dumasia says, "Since this segment requires personnel to carry out operations at height, at times up to 40 m (131 ft) and in difficult-to-reach locations, safety is of utmost importance. All types of access equipment have to comply with ISO or equivalent standards such as CE, ANSI, etc. Godrej has partnered with global players like Merlo and IMER to address the quality and safety needs of the customers. The products we offer comprise of all CE and/or ANSI certified machines. Some local players who have forayed into this space with low cost machines may be compromising on certain safety standards. For instance, since several of these equipment are used outdoors and often under tough working conditions, it is vital to ensure that the equipment can tolerate a certain degree of overloading and also maintain stability on uneven, rough surfaces or slopes."

Will tightening the safety norms help augment the growth potential of this segment? Says Dumasia, "Definitely! Even today, unsafe methods are deployed to carry out maintenance and construction activities. Government regulations and laws would have a significant impact on this segment. If user industries are mandated to adopt superior safety mechanisms as against local alternatives and unsafe practices, the demand for access equipment will increase substantially."

According to Jain, one of the causes of injuries at sites are due to falling objects/falling from heights. Tighter safety norms for working at heights would ensure a better, safer working environment in industries. AWP carries most valuable assets ie, the worker, at any site. All AWPs are designed as per stringent international standards for complete safety to the user. JLG is working with various safety organisations to improve awareness in the market."

Rental route

"We believe that rental of access equipment has a large potential in India. This is primarily due to the fact that many companies may gain clear benefits from such equipment but may not need to use it on a continuous or daily basis. There may also be instances of companies finding such equipment very useful for projects of specific duration, say a few weeks or months, maybe even a year or two. In such cases, it may not be viable to own such assets. This is where hiring the access equipment can address the technical need in an economically viable manner. In many countries, rental is a common and often prominent way of using access equipment. There are large fleet owners whose sole business is renting out various types of access equipment to users," says Dumasia. He adds, "The rental business in India is expected to grow strongly in the near future, with a huge number of development projects coming up. It will help increase visibility and create awareness about the utility of these products among user industries."

According to Ray, "The rental segment is of key importance for such equipment. Many end-users prefer to rent rather than buy. The access equipment rental industry is growing at a rapid pace. Besides the local rental players, considering the potential that India offers, we also have foreign players who have commenced their operations in India. Of course, the rental mode certainly helps in increasing the visibility and growth potential of the industry. They offer machines in larger volumes and across the industries which aids in spreading the awareness of the product to new users.? Dalvi adds, "There is a lot of scope for rental of equipment during the construction stage. However, these are standard equipment and come under the category of Temporary Suspended Platform (TSP)or Gondola. Also, they lack certain safety features. These cannot be categorised as building maintenance unit (BMU) or a dedicated fatade cleaning system. This kind of equipment provides an efficient, viable and highly economical alternative for conventional steel/bamboo scaffolding/staging." He goes on to say, "If the fatade cleaning system deployed is of a special nature or customised, then the client needs to buy at least roof equipment or a suspension unit; motorised platform can be obtained on rent. As we provide equipment on rent, the capital expenses of the fatade access system have been reduced, the budget issues of the end- user is addressed. We also provide equipment on Build Own & Transfer (BOT) or Build Own Lease & Transfer (BOLT); this depends on a case-to-case basis."

Dumasia sums up the prevailing situation on a positive note, "With the market opening up for such products and stiff competition in this space, equipment manufacturers are constantly trying to differentiate themselves by introducing new variants or adding more value to their products. Some contemporary products are: electric powered machines for outdoor use, bi-energy models (diesel and battery), and track mounted articulated booms for rough terrain application, telescopic booms going up to 40 m (131 ft) height, etc. Godrej aims to develop access equipment as a major line of business and consolidate its presence in this space by offering new alternatives and forging strategic tie-ups to achieve the required scale."