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In India, this transport engineer is racing toward the future… with German supercars

Shigeyuki Sakaki's picture
Harsh, a civil engineer from Surendranagar, the western State of Gujarat in India, proudly has a collection of supercars recently delivered from Germany. They are all brand new with sleek designs, glossy paint, and fully loaded with state-of-the-art features. One of them is a 600 horse-power monster, another is the first of its kind in India.
 
Without further ado, let's see what he has.
 

 
Surprised? These may not be the Mercedes, Porsche, nor Audi that you might have guessed. They are high-tech vehicles for road construction work, which can mill (remove old pavement), stabilize (mix pavement aggregates on site), compact, lay asphalt pavement and compact it too, as well as place concrete dividers and sidewalks.
 
The crown jewel of Harsh’s collection is the VÖGELE SUPER 2100-3 with TVP2 Screed. The name sounds like a supercar, doesn’t it? This ‘3D Paver’ communicates with GPS-enabled stations so that it knows the exact locations of its screeds (arms that spread asphalt materials on road surface and compress them) to millimeter accuracy. As its operation is fully automated, once it starts paving, the operator has little to do except for honking to alert nearby workers.



Harsh is the representative of a contractor’ team which is constructing and will maintain the Mehsana-Himatnagar section of State Highway 55. This contract includes the Design, Build, Finance, Operate, Maintain, and Transfer stages, or DBFOMT contract for short. The contract is managed by the Roads and Buildings Department of the State of Gujarat as a part of the World Bank-financed ‘Second Gujarat State Highway Project (GSHP II).
 
The GSHP II Project started in 2014 and has already improved more than 400 km of state highways, is starting a road safety demonstration corridor, and is providing various trainings and policy recommendations to further strengthen the capacity of the government. Through this contract, a new concept of ‘Green Highway’ is being piloted, where various measures are taken to reduce negative impact and enhance environmental sustainability. More details can be found in the following link: http://gshp2.gov.in/.
 
This DBFOMT contract is designed so that the contractor receives a certain amount of payment for the construction work to be delivered in the first two years and then a fixed amount semi-annually for the maintenance for the subsequent 10 year. (‘Hybrid Annuity Concession Contract,’ if you are interested in these terms). This is one of the innovative contract approaches in road construction and maintenance, aiming to make use of the capacity and efficiency of the private sector. To encourage the contractor to complete the work on or ahead of time, the contract has a penalty and incentive mechanism. They must pay a penalty if the work’s delayed, and get a bonus if completed ahead of time. It is because of these incentives that Harsh's company decided to invest in the expensive construction machinery that can allow them to finish the work quicker, while ensuring quality.
 
What additional benefits do these machines bring? First and the foremost, the speed of completing the stages of road rehabilitation and construction is much faster than with conventional machines. While Harsh had to initially spend more time preparing digital maps and configuring the new system, the machines were quickly put into full operation. The quality of work is also expected to be excellent – although it has just started and results will need to be verified. With the machine doing the most labor-intensive tasks, construction site safety is enhanced, while reducing labor costs. The accuracy also helps reduce material waste, thereby reducing costs. Since the machines also efficiently recycle old pavement materials, greenhouse gas emissions from the construction stage are reduced. Intended pilot Green Highway initiative is likely to become more green with the deployment of these equipment and construction methodology.
 
Visitors are eager for a glimpse of these ‘supercars’, or high-end construction vehicles, to be more precise. They include local engineering college professors and students, government engineers, and national institution researchers. I also hope that these supercars will pique the interest of youth in road construction so that more talent join the construction industry in the future. While Harsh hasn't been very successful so far in sparking the interest of his own five-year-old daughter, who is more keen on chemistry, his proud collection is busy embarking on a journey of improving India’s highways. I am sure his daughter will soon be proud of her father’s work.

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