Concrete block-manufacturing industry finds a boom-time in Bangladesh to seize bulk of the Tk 90-billion brick market, as the new-generation building blocks are eco-friendly and cheaper.
As the government has decided to ban the use of the traditional bricks in the next three years in phases because of the environmental hazards brick kilns create, people are looking to the eco-friendly construction material to come up to their relief.
As a result, the demand for concrete blocks is on the rise-so is the silent but steady growth of the modern manufacturing industry.
Many of the present brick-field owners and new entrepreneurs are switching to concrete blocks, including hollow blocks, an industry-insider told the FE.
According to experts, the current market size of the country's brick industry is over Tk 90 billion -and concrete-block makers have already grabbed a share of the market amounting to nearly Tk 2.0 billion.
Business groups like Concord, Mir Group, BTI, and Meghna are the market leaders right now with 20 per cent of the concrete-block market in their possessions.
The large factories invested Tk 300-500 million each for setting up an automated concrete block-manufacturing factory.
Besides, there are midsize players having invested Tk 50-60 million each for setting up a factory, industry-insiders say, adding that an automated unit could be procured from China for Tk 50 million.
Among the fully automated factories' owners, Concord is the market leader with annual revenue of around Tk 360 million.
Other four to five biggies are selling Tk 150 million worth of concrete- block products annually in the takeoff stage of the green industry.
In addition, there are several small players which use manual machines to manufacture concrete blocks.
According to the industry forecast, hollow blocks will take over at least half the traditional brick market in five years.
Given the scenario, there is a huge investment potential in this sector while the number of manufacturers is comparatively lower, says a senior official of Concord.
He adds that big real-estate groups like them had started such an initiative to cater for their own construction projects.
"The market is growing like anything and we are selling at full capacity," says the official, who prefers not to be named.
Talking to the FE, architect Hasan Shahriar Khan said that hollow blocks have many advantages in building construction compared to the traditional bricks.
It is cost-effective, as a unit of hollow block covers the space of five traditional bricks, he adds.
A hollow block costs Tk 35, costing less than the total price of five bricks at Tk 50.
It is also convenient in terms of weight as a single block weighs 10-11 kg against the 15-20 kg weight of five bricks, the architect explains.
Moreover, constructing a wall with hollow blocks requires far less cement than the quantity needed for erecting a brick-made wall.
Hollow bricks have more sound-and heat-insulation capacity due to the vacuum inside and it is lighter than the traditional bricks, Mr Khan pointed out.
Many government agencies are now using the concrete blocks, say industry-insiders.
It is learnt that LGED, the government agency for building road infrastructure, is planning to use concrete blocks on its 12,000-km herringbone roads, the insiders told the FE while explaining the increasing demand for the blocks in future.
Raw materials used in the concrete-block industry include Portland cement, stone dust and sand - all easily procurable.
When traditional brick fields use soil from croplands and woods, concrete-block production needs no burning like the brick fields -- a huge relief for the environment.
However, the mushrooming of the concrete block and hollow block industry might lead to deterioration of quality as there is no law to regulate the industry, warn the experts.
In the fringe areas of the country, many manual builders have started block production as the big factories are now reluctant to supply products there due to high transportation costs.
The small players, which are mushrooming at the grassroots level, need to be regulated through inspection, in order to ensure quality production and to address safety concerns, opines architect Khan.