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The Clay Brick Industry Needs to Transform to Stay Relevant in the Ever-Growing Indian Construction Industry

Brick, i.e. common burnt clay building brick, is perhaps the only manmade material that has defied time gracefully ever since it was invented about 5000 years ago. Technically, clay bricks fall under the category of heavy-clay products, forming a major part of the ceramic industry.  Heavy-clay products are those that are mainly made from a single clay with very little addition of other raw materials.  They are principally used in structural work.  Hence heavy-clay products like bricks (solid and perforated), hollow clay blocks, roof tiles, split tiles, etc. are often called structural clay products.

It is a matter of great pride for all Indians that the oldest fired clay brick found yet in the world belongs to the ancient city of Kalibangan (Rajasthan) which was a part of the then Pre-Harappan Indus Valley Civilization, which existed around 3,000 B.C. Unlike metals and organic materials, brick weathers beautifully with time, never giving in completely to the onslaught of natural agencies working against it. 

 

The rise of Alternate Walling Materials …

With this strong - and enviable - position among walling materials, till recently, it was thought that no alternate walling material will ever be able to threaten fired clay brick seriously on technical as well as commercial grounds.  However, lately, many alternative walling materials viz. stabilized soil bricks/blocks, perforated clay bricks/ hollow clay blocks, concrete blocks/bricks, laterite blocks, flyash/Fal-G bricks, calcium silicate bricks, AAC blocks, CLC blocks, etc. have entered and established themselves firmly in the market.

Although fired clay bricks still account for 75-80 % of today’s walling material market in India, the share of non-fired walling materials, particularly FaL-G bricks, AAC/CLC blocks and concrete blocks/bricks, is increasing day by day, especially in the metro markets where it has now gone beyond 50 %.

 

Why Did the Alternate Walling Materials Enter the market?

The process of entry of alternate walling materials started in the 1960s in the metro markets of Western & Southern India, with the introduction of Concrete Cellular Blocks and AAC Blocks, although their impact has become visible only during the last decade. This became possible because the traditional fired clay bricks did not meet market expectations, either partially or fully, over a long stretch of time.

Given the nature of the industry, builders wanted bricks which were available year-round and had a stable price. Traditional clay bricks were unable to match up to competitive pricing and quality expected from Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) frame structures, including- light weight, large format, appropriate strength, and low water absorption. Additionally, those producing traditional fired clay bricks were often unable to comply to formal ways of doing business.

 

How does the clay brick industry deal with this competition?

The only feasible solution is that the clay brick industry change with the times by giving the building sector what they need. The changes that the clay brick industry needs to make in the face of this shift to alternative bricks is multi-faceted.

First, some external measures need to be considered vis-à-vis the urgent need to improve market sentiment and perception about clay bricks. This can be done through innovative outreach activities such as the global campaign “Stay with Clay”, which was started by Wienerberger. To further ensure this message reaches far and wide, central, state, and district Brick Manufacturers’ Associations across the country need to take a lead in changing how the construction industry views clay brick producers. By turning into industry’s priorities clay brick manufacturers should focus on advocating aspects such as cost-effectiveness and eco-friendliness of their product through meetings, seminars, social media, technical papers and research studies.

At the same time, some internal changes need to be made by the industry. A significant change can be brought by producing clay bricks all year round by step-by-step adoption of ‘appropriate’ mechanization and professional production management. Manufacturers need to realize that solid bricks can be made lighter by incorporating burnable agricultural, industrial, domestic wastes into clay and making them as ‘porous’ as possible. This can be especially relevant for kilns around Maharashtra and coastal Andhra Pradesh. Manufactures can also get creative by using ‘rat-trap’ bonds for solid bricks used for walling and by promoting large format hollow clay blocks.

A lot is still left to be done if the clay brick industry wants to remain relevant. This necessary shift in the clay brick industry has not seen much momentum to date, because of which more players in the building sector are moving away from using clay bricks. Only if the clay brick industry makes these much-needed changes quickly will they be able to survive the changing landscapes of the construction business. These changes, thus, must come from the industry themselves, sooner than later.

Anand Damle

The writer is the Managing Director of

De Boer Damle (India) Pvt. Ltd. Pune

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Tuesday 18 September 2018
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