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Manish Bharti, Cortex Construction Solutions: Concrete permeability tester to infer durability of civil structures

Team YS
8th Sep 2011
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Cortex Construction Solutions

In India, we’ve lost count of the number of times where buildings and other structures have collapsed due to poor maintenance and lack of awareness about the health of these structures. Dealing with this serious problem is Cortex Construction Solutions, a consulting firm providing structural, environmental and safety solutions for industrial, commercial and infrastructure clients.We at YourStory.in caught up with entrepreneur Manish Bharti to know more about the business idea behind Cortex and their flagship civil structure diagnosis product Aqua Penetracao, which is a water permeability testing machine helping to determine the durability of concrete. Given below are excerpts from the interview:

Manish, tell us more about about Cortex.

Cortex was founded in November 2006. We provide structural fatigue monitoring, structural stability analysis and construction materials testing services. Our experts include structural safety, environmental and disaster management specialists who can assist engineers better understand the performance of structures better.

We also provide structural stability and design serviceability certifications, fire safety certifications, seismic certification and environment impact clearance certificate on the basis of rigorous diagnosis and analysis report of structures and environments.

We understand that you chose entrepreneurship over a degree from MIT.

As was the case with many students during those days, many of my batch mates had plans of studying abroad and I was no different. Hands-on experience in industrial training abroad was a dream for all of us. I had the grades, as well as the recommendation from college faculty for my MS in USA. Having been the chairman of the Society of Experimental Mechanics (SEM) made my credentials that much stronger. However, having completed a round of industrial winter training fromUK, I could not wait to graduate and step out in the industry to make my mark.

On this note, I had to choose between MIT,Bostonor Cortex Construction Solutions. The foundations were laid in the humble dorms of the Delhi College of Engineering in 2006 against the wishes of my family members.

But how is Cortex different from other construction solution providers?

Cortex is a 360 degree solutions provider. Be it structural stability and design serviceability certifications, fire safety certifications, seismic certification or environment impact clearance certificate, we do all of this and much more, using rigorous diagnosis and analysis report of structures and environments. We have an in-house testing laboratory, portable diagnosis laboratory along with a stability analysis team. So, we are as complete as it can get.

Architects plan and design the module of structure. Structural designer designs the structure. But finally it is executed by unskilled labour of the contractor where everything is compromised when it comes to the quality of construction. If there are any deficiencies in the structure, we can analyse the stability of the structure and point out the reason for failure by diagnosis and a holistic health monitoring approach.  It may be an architectural problem, a design problem or even a materials strength problem.  Finally, we provide the deficiencies rectification design methodologies to increase the building’s service life.

How did the business idea for your flagship product Aqua Penetracao come about?


Cortex Construction Solutions

A few years ago, two waterproofing product manufacturers – the Canadian firm Zypex and the German firm BASF approached us to help standardize their products as per the need of the local market. This was a challenge, as it required a lot of rework. Now, it is mandatory for all international companies to get repairing/strengthening products certified from an Indian laboratory before they market and sell the product in Indian shores. So, we pretty much had to do this from scratch.We studied their foreign laboratories report and using our understanding of the Indian mindset and the DIN (German standard) and BS (British standard) codes as our benchmarks, we managed to put together the machine. It took us one year to give the machine its shape.

Tell us about your backgrounds. 

The core team consists of Dr. V B Deshpande, T Ananth Vybhav  and me.  Dr. Deshpande, the President of the company, used to be a professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)Delhi. He’s an expert in construction management, quality control and quality assurance.

I’m the CEO. I hold a B.E degree in Civil Engineering from the Delhi College of Engineering (DCE). During the final year of my engineering stint, I worked at the Concrete Technology Unit inUKand published four papers on concrete and repairing methodologies. I’m also a reviewer of American concrete Institute’s (ACI) Material Journal.

T Ananth Vybhav is the CEO and he also holds a B.E degree in Civil Engineering from DCE. In addition, he also holds a M.S. degree fromStanford University,USA.

We also have a couple of non-executive directors. One of them is Shobhit Agrawal. He also did his B.E Civil Engineering from DCE. He also has an MBA from IIM Lucknow.  Currently, he looks after the IPL business for GMR’s Delhi DareDevils team. The other one is Mudit Narain. He has a B.E in Civil Engineering from DCE and a M.S. from MIT,Boston. He now works with the World Bank as an environment analyst.

Is there acceptance for your concept? Can you give us some incidents to illustrate the same?

While I was inUKduring my training, I discovered that the government was levying a toll tax on many bridges, some of which have been in use for over 100 years. By levying the maintenance taxes, they had conserved most of the existing structures through condition surveys and health assessments of existing civil structures. They had developed specific diagnostic systems and conservation methodologies for the same. I came back toIndiawith some ideas about we could utilise some of these techniques to analyse the stability of structures, present health and estimated residual life.

There have been many incidents, namely the collapse of the chimney of Balco Vedanta and Reliance Power Flyover, the infamous overbridge collapse inPatna, Delhi Metro Pillar collapse in Zamrudpur, etc. Some, if not all, of these incidents could have been avoided and saved the taxpayers millions of rupees.

Today, I can tell you that we have been directly or indirectly involved in the analysis of reason behind the collapse of above few structures by using scientific diagnosis of existing materials. There is a scientific approach to analyse the condition. Just like we all need to consult a physician once in a while, we are the physicians of a structure.

Where do you see the construction stability solutions space in India five years from now? What are the trends that repose confidence in your concept?

The infrastructure sector in Indiais traversing through one of its most interesting phases today. Indiahas a growing future of upgradation and modernization of its existing infrastructure and creation of new marvels like the Bandra-Worli Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link in Mumbai.

Along with urbanization, steps need to be taken to ensure environmental protection too.  Allocation for the National Highways Development Programme being increased by 23 percent, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission by 87 percent and Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme by 160 percent are definite signals for the health monitoring and restoration of developed infrastructure in coming future.

What is Cortex’s revenue model? Have you been funded?

To put a revenue model in place for an untried business was a task in itself. We had to get the team together and the money. Having developed some bonds with friends, peers, members of the faculty and my seniors from college, I thought it was time to bring them all under one roof.

Many of them serve on the board of Cortex. Shobhit Agarwal, Ananth Vybhav and Mudit Narain were all studying in prestigious institutions like IIM Lucknow,StanfordUniversityand MIT. Many of them used their research stipends to contribute to the start of this venture with Rs.30 lakhs. They had invested money on my credibility and technical background.

During the early days, some of my friends used to give their monthly salary to keep the cash flow of the company going. Now, only the consultancy division of company is worth is more than Rs.50 crores.

The manufacturing division and environmental division have not been evaluated yet

What are the challenges that you faced while developing your solutions? How did you overcome those challenges?

InIndia, consulting requires companies to have face value. For a client, the science or the methodology behind the consultancy doesn’t matter. Hence, providing our clients from the private sector the certifications and standardizations from the market was very challenging.

The accredited certificates were only attainable from the IITs and a few government research institutes and they were our principle competitors. Cortex purchased all the equipment and diagnostic systems to monitor the health of civil structures. A lot of these machines are still not available at the IIT laboratories.

Dr. B Bhattacharjee, a professor at IIT Delhi, acted as a father figure professionally and helped us fill a lot of gaps and develop a network with like-minded faculty members. Their guidance and advice has been the core of my success and the confidence that they have instilled in me to go all the way and leave no stone unturned. Finally, I started the company along with a retired professor from IIT Delhi Dr. V B Deshpande. Various diagnosis/diagnostic machines were imported fromSwitzerland,Singapore,UK,IsraelandGermany.

We took a look at many case studies and provided free training in these countries to learn and adopt their conservation techniques and diagnosis of health structures in terms of present strength and durability of structures.

What methodologies did you adopt to check the performance of the Aqua Penetracao machine?

To validate the product, experiments on six coating materials were done, with concrete samples being coated with that particular material. Water-proof materials were chosen from the market based on customers’ perception of those products, covering everything from the poorest quality to best quality. The results obtained were in line with the market sentimentsThe standard values for the failure of product were taken from DIN 1048, the German standard for the same.

Who are your clients?

Many ofIndia’s top industrial houses are our clients. This includes hotel groups, monuments, heritage and historical buildings and factories where operational loss is heavy, if the structure gets damaged.

Most of the plants of Vedanta, Aditya Birla Group, B K Birla Group, DCM Group, Piramal Group, Taj, Oberoi, and Lalit hotel groups, various refineries in the oil sector, textile and dying industries, nuclear plants, etc have been surveyed and assessed by us. 90% of top 200 industrial houses are our clients.

Tell us about the road ahead for Cortex Construction Solutions.

We plan to expand to include the growing concerns of the serious nature of the environment impact analysis, fire safety certification and disaster mitigation plan in the Indian market. Jairam Ramesh, in his capacity as the Union Minister for Environmental Affairs, drew much-needed attention to the environment clearance certificate and environment impact analysis in infrastructure sectors. Flood crisis inBihar, Kutch-Bhuj earthquake and the tsunami in Orissa and Andaman Nicobar were serious issues which had been relegated to cold storage. But the government has to bring back awareness and focus on disaster mitigation plans and preparedness in such scenarios.

We at YourStory.in wish Manish and Cortex all the very best. To know more, check out http://cortexsolutions.in. Also, do let us know your thoughts about this story by writing to us at feedback@yourstory.in.

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