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Construction : Focus | November 2018 | Source : Equipment India

On a Smooth Path

As roads and highways construction continues to be on the top gear, more mechanisation is taking place in rural roads with motor graders finding more traction in the coming years.

Motor graders are majorly used in road projects, while it is also used in applications such as airports, urban infrastructure and mining where grading and levelling is needed. Use of motor graders is lesser as compared to the other construction equipment such as compactors. However, demand is picking up with potential markets such as roads and highways as they are growing with more projects in the pipeline.

Market on the move
The motor grader market is picking up with the government and agencies are making it mandatory to use motor graders in highway projects. The use is also picking up gradually in rural road projects and other infrastructure projects in airports, ports, urban infrastructure, etc. According to Nischal Mehrotra, Director-Sales, LiuGong India, the motor graders market in India is on growth trajectory. He adds, 'The market has grown by about 45 per cent in the last three years and will continue to grow in the coming years. Primarily, the roads and highways sector is driving the growth. The future growth of motor graders will also depend on the recovery of the mining sector.'

Surat Mehta, Business Head, SDLG India says, 'The motor grader market is growing in India. It has witnessed a growth of 20 per cent compared with the figures of 2017 and is primarily driven by the progress in the roads sector.'

Advantage motor graders
As flexible machines, motor graders can be used in projects to perform multiple jobs. Manish Arora, Business Head, Mahindra Construction Equipment says, 'Motor graders increase the construction ROI as a single machine can performs various tasks most cost-effectively, compared to non-mechanised or suboptimal methods. Further, motor graders take less time to complete any task. Hence, more and more projects can be completed easily, reduce rework, save on the labour cost and do much more due to their versatility quotient.'

Demand drivers Though motor graders can be used in different infrastructure project segments, the major demand drivers are roads and highways, in which a great opportunity for growth is visible. Mehrotra explains, 'With the present government's high emphasis on quality road construction and a revised target of 45 km per day of highway construction, it becomes inevitable for the contractors to use specialised machines for grading.

'The construction of new highways and expansion of the existing ones mainly drives the volume of motor graders,' says Mehta. According to Arora, motor graders are extensively used in road construction and maintenance. 'The future demand of motor graders will come from extensive road and rail projects being allocated with wider focus of the present government on infrastructure. Typically, they are used for making smoother surfaces, fine grade, levelling soil and shifting small amounts of dirt.'

Rural roads and highway applications While the use of motor graders is mandatory in highway construction, the demand is also picking up in rural road projects to bring in quality and productivity in construction.

Mehrotra says, 'Today, even rural roads have stringent time lines for completion. Hence, mechanisation is inevitable, making deployment of graders essential. A powerful motor grader with ripper will meet the requirement. A small size grader may be a cheaper option in the short run but when the contractor thinks of the growth, he would be comfortable with a versatile size rather than a project specific size.' He adds, 'The NHAI specified road width averages around 3.5 to 3.75 m and a two-lane width is 7 m. Hence, a 12 ft (3.65 m) mouldboard is able to negotiate and cover this width in two effective passes. Rural roads are different from highways. Many of them are single lane, and thus, the need while building these is to be able to keep at least one lane open. Thus, a grader with an 8 ft mouldboard would be ideal.'

Mehta compares the use of motor graders in rural roads and highway projects, 'For construction of highways, the need is to spread higher volumes of Earth and grade larger width, in order to keep the pace with the targeted speed of construction. Hence, larger 15 t plus class of graders are suitable, which delivers power and larger blade width, so that a larger area can be graded quickly. In rural roads, the width is relatively smaller and a grader of up to 12 t range fits the need. Due to the requirements set to improve the construction quality of rural roads, the use of motor graders has gone up for profiling the rural roads.'

Arora adds, 'While conventional motor graders are used in highway projects, a small or mini motor grader within a range of 80-150 hp is usually used for most of the jobs in rural roads and small spaces. While the smaller graders are perfect for jobs that need to be completed in a tight spacing environment, larger motor graders can be used in broader spaces. Larger machines are known to use a direct drive or a torque converter drive transmission system, while the smaller ones are hydrostatically driven. Graders, both the large and mini ones, are an integral part of the road maintenance fleets across the country. Though small in size, the mini graders are power-packed and their size helps the machine to operate successfully in small spaces. They are cost-effective and viable for the smaller projects with budget constraints.'

Arora sees a big opportunity for graders in rural road applications. He says, 'In a country like India, rural roads assume a lot of importance as nearly half of the Indian population still lives in rural areas. Since past few years, the Government of India is increasingly focussing on rural India as one of the key drivers for the economy. Special emphasis was laid in the Budget on boosting rural road development. Optimally designed motor graders are suitable for rural road construction. These graders are compact and lightweight equipment, and essentially an optimised version of the full-sized graders. Like the larger graders, the mini graders form an important part of the road construction and maintenance equipment fleet.'

Mining applications
Bigger size and capacity motor graders are used in mining applications for constructing haul roads, etc. Mehrotra elaborates, 'A reliable network of roads plays a vital role in the productivity and efficiency of any mine. A motor grader is, without a doubt, the most important piece of equipment for constructing, repairing and maintaining haul roads. Keeping haul roads in good condition also reduces the need for truck maintenance. Using a motor grader to construct and maintain haul roads ensures that road surfaces remain flat and smooth with proper drainage and that these roads are kept free of debris, puddles, potholes, depressions and ruts.'

Mehta highlights the features of motor graders used for mining applications. 'Mining needs relatively high capacity graders with a higher blade down force which are used to maintain the mining haul roads. Hence, the grader has to be heavier. Also, they need the auto float mechanism as standard to handle the tough contours and unknown hurdles while cutting and profiling the mining road. Our SDLG G9190, a 16 tonne 190 hp grader, is a suitable fit and has an option to fit the auto float system. Technology trends According to Mehrotra, the technological trends, as compared to the conventional grading and compaction methodologies, are apparent in the increased use of GPS guidance and laser control techniques. Mehta highlights the new technologies, 'The latest technologies are laser-aided precision grading and levelling. There are several manufacturers who support the automated grading technologies as attachments.' According to Arora, optimally designed motor graders come with simplistic design as compared to large motor graders. 'Generally, optimal motor graders are made up of three axles, similar to the conventional graders but have hydraulic cylinders to control blade movement instead of turn table. These graders are identified by their long adjustable blade which does most of the cutting work. The blade of the grader is not only restricted to cutting process but can also be used for spreading and levelling. They can be even used for finishing a slope as well.' He further adds, 'One of the biggest advantages of the optimally designed graders is that they come with a variety of attachments that can be used for completing different kinds of tasks. These attachments increase the versatility of the equipment and help them to perform tasks at the job site. For example, the ripper attachment can be used to cut through challenging ground conditions such as hard, compact or frozen dirt or soil before grading and the dozer attachment helps with spreading.'

Products and features 

Motor graders come in conventional sizes for applications in highways, larger capacity in mining and smaller capacity in rural roads. Many players offer products in different categories. Mehta explains, 'We offer the 190 hp 16 tonne G9190 and 140 hp 12 tonne G9138 motor graders in India. A high blade down force, right weight distribution of front and rear frame, coupled with the right engine transmission combinations, better visibility from operation station and easy operation controls, make the grader productive.' 

He further adds, 'Grader auto levelling and GPS are provided through our vendors and come as optional features in our graders and are arranged as per specific requirements of the customers.

Arora elaborates on its grader range, 'Mahindra Construction Equipment offers its RoadMaster G90 and RoadMaster G75 range of motor graders. These are highly fuel-efficient, equipped with Mahindra DITEC engine, which brings fuel consumption down and results in more savings. The equipment highly reduces maintenance cost as it lowers lubricant refilling requirement with the extended service intervals. The RoadMaster G90 comes with the option of having additional fitments i.e., the ripper and dozer, and RoadMaster G75 with dozer for added versatility. G75 is 180 per cent faster and can single-handedly do the work of 30 labourers. These graders provide a superior finish and save 50 per cent on the time required to get the job done through manual processes and it saves at least 40 per cent of the cost.' 

He adds further on the special features associated with this grader, 'The operator-friendly console of the RoadMaster comes with a DigiSense technology so that the owner can keep a track on the machine's location and fuel consumption among other things. The console sends the owner an SMS, when the machine is running low on fuel and if the machine requires any repair.'  

Challenges and opportunities

In spite of the growth opportunities in the market, motor grader manufacturers are facing many challenges on various aspects. Mehrotra points out, 'The rise in interest rates, high raw material cost and devaluation of the rupee directly affect the infrastructure project viability. Therefore, the construction equipment market may pass through the challenging phase in the short-term but we are confident about the overall outlook in the long-term. On the long-term strategy, we are manufacturing the product in India. We have developed the supply chain management and are trying to give the benefits to our customers in terms of localisation so as to have a control on the cost.' 

It is challenging but imperative to continuously innovate in order to stay ahead in the market. Mehta observes, 'The market is growing and a lot of players are offering their products in the market. In order to stay ahead of the competition, we try to innovate continuously and understand the customers' need and improve our products to provide better fuel efficiency and higher productivity. Healthy market conditions keep us on our toes, which actually helps us to deliver to our customers, what they actually need.' 

The road ahead 

Creation of infrastructure and connectivity will drive the demand for construction equipment such as graders. While roads and highways will be the growth driver, a revival in mining could bring in more growth. Mehrotra says, 'The road sector would be leading the pack among sectors where major growth is expected. Once fully opened up, the mining sector will give a boost to the present growth.

Mehta adds, 'With the current focus on infrastructure development continuing, there in no reason to be pessimistic. We see the demand to keep rising for the next couple of years.

Arora says, 'The Union Ministry for Road Transport has planned to increase the length of national highways, which will boost the prospects of motor graders in future. However, it is majorly the rural road construction segment that is expected to give a boost to the mini grader market in the country. In fact, the Union Budget has given its focus towards the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) to connect far-flung habitats. This is expected to surely give a boost to the mini grader market in the country.' 

Going forward, the concept of motor graders will not restrict to highway projects as rural road projects are picking up at a larger pace. Once mining operations are back on track, the demand for all sizes of motor graders is going to improve. 

- Sudheer Vathiyath

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