Firm solutions

Concrete firms continue to innovate, while contractors squeeze out every available opportunity to meet deadlines.
Firm solutions
By Christopher Sell
Sat 08 Dec 2007 04:00 AM

Concrete technology is proving to be one further sector that is looking to innovate away from the conventional in a bid to provide contractors with one more area in which they can save time in an effort to meet demanding deadlines.

Amana Contracting and Steel Buildings, one of the regional leaders in the design and build of industrial and commercial facilities, launched a new ‘laser screed' technology in September, which it claims can save 400% in project time.

This technology offers a much quicker turnaround than conventional concrete construction, which is suitable especially for time-sensitive projects. As a rough estimate, a 1,000m2 concrete floor slab can be completed in less than 24 hours with ‘laser screed' technology while it would take approximately three to four days using conventional methods. Furthermore, the technology requires a minimum set up time besides extending superior quality, safety and accuracy.

Details of the new technology were unveiled at a seminar on Advanced Slab Concreting Technologies, which was conducted recently at the Sharjah Millennium Hotel by the company. Speaking at the seminar, Riad Bsaibes, COO, Amana Group said: "Amana Contracting has invested in attaining capabilities to deliver turnkey solutions for extremely time-sensitive industrial projects on time. We are committed to adopting processes and technologies that augment our efficiencies and address the requirements of our clients. The new technology controls the most variable element thereby passing on the savings to our clients."

Bsaibes adds that such technological innovation has enabled Amana to secure a strong foothold within the region's construction industry and expects the technology to be particularly appealing to architects and building owners in the Middle East, given its various advantages.

The technology comprises a beam vibrator that pushes steel fibres deep down into the concrete. The addition of a 4-5mm hardener on the surface ensures these steel fibres do not make their way to the top. The laser transmitters create a virtual beam that can allow casting: flat slabs, single slope slabs or two slope slabs. Moreover, with additional 3D profile software, the laser screed can even cast a road profile.

In Dubai, the company has secured a number of notable contracts for its precast concrete. More recently was the award to build quarantine stables for the Meydan racecourse, which is currently under development at Nad Al Sheba. Designed by Malaysian firm Teo A. Khing Design Consultants, this development will see the entire area regenerated in time for the Dubai World Cup in 2010. It will feature a 1km-long grandstand with a capacity for 60,000 spectators, include more than ten restaurants, the Meydan Museum and Gallery and a Banyan Tree Hotel.

The 5,000 m2 facility consists of five horse stables to be used for quarantine during the Dubai World Cup. The facility also includes horse paths and specialised equestrian equipment. The fast-track nature of the job will require the use of internal and external precast walls to complete the project in 110 days.

A joint venture of local firm Arabtec and Malaysia's WCT Engineering won the $1.29 billion (AED 4.6 billion) contract in September to build a racecourse and hotel as part of the project. According to Arabtec's CEO Riad Kamal, the company was able to take on the contract as concreting work on the Burj Dubai was to be completed by the end of October, freeing up the necessary resources required. "But this is a project which, while it represents enormous challenges, we couldn't resist taking it on. A lot of resources will be needed for it, which is one of the reasons we went into partnership with WCT."
Precast is also being used for construction of the labour accommodation at Meydan. Arabtec is also building the accommodation to hold up to 5,000 labourers that will be required to work on various phases of the project. It is being assembled using pre-fabricated components to enable rapid assembly in the shortest possible time.

Outside Dubai, however, other companies are looking at improving their techniques to benefit the construction market. Saudi Readymix, which sponsored the second workshop on ‘Concrete Deterioration and its Prevention', organised by the Centre for Engineering Research at the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) highlighted a potentially industry-changing advancement in concrete technology - self compacting concrete (SCC), and shed some light on its numerous applications throughout the construction industry.

Willfried Krieg, technical director, Saudi Readymix, explains that SCC flows freely within formwork mould, expelling trapped air and sets itself. This, he says, holds special significance for GCC countries where the construction boom is still going strong and construction deadlines are getting tighter. This technology meets the fast-paced project needs, Krieg says as it reduces the requirements for both equipment and manpower and speeds up construction. SCC has already been supplied to several landmark projects, including Al-Sweiket Tower in Khobar, the tallest building in the Eastern Province.

"One of the main technical advantages is the uniform and complete compaction SCC offers, which results in smooth, dense and abrasion-resistant concrete surfaces," says Krieg. "Improved durability due to high concrete densities minimises air voids, while extremely low permeability is another significant advantage. A third advantage is the increased bond strength between concrete and reinforcement, which has been confirmed by tests to be 50%-70% higher in the SCC than in thoroughly compacted conventional concrete."

Such technological benefits are not the only advantages of SCC, Krieg adds. He claims that there are numerous economical benefits to using this new technology, including payroll savings, as the entire compaction crew is obsolete and finishing works are greatly simplified and require fewer workers. Furthermore, it can also help increase the speed of work as the number of layers in vertical formwork is reduced. It can also help eliminate capital investment as well as operating and maintenance costs of vibration equipment.

Such technology will become even more relevant in the coming years. Figures show that the cement supply to Saudi Arabia will double within the next two to three years to reach 55 million tonnes annually. To anticipate the demand for ready-mixed concrete, the company implemented an aggressive growth plan worth $85.3 million in 2007 alone. In addition, Saudi Readymix has initiated a Saudi graduate recruitment programme and has plans to establish a state-of-the-art research and training centre aimed at attracting young Saudi's help realise the company's plans for growth.

In Dubai, the recent Big 5 show also provided an opportunity for concrete specialists to display their products. Emirates Thermostone, a wholly-owned subsidiary of M'sharie, the private equity arm of Dubai Investments, showcased its Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) blocks of different dimensions, along with the tools for fitting those blocks, and various plaster applications.

AAC is a thermal and lightweight building block made from natural raw materials. Its economical, environmentally friendly and lightweight characteristics have enhanced its international reputation as a preferred construction material for residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Emirates Thermostone operates one of the largest and most technologically advanced AAC production plants in the Middle East, providing the region's premier development with an annual supply of up to 15 million specially designed blocks, slabs and panels.

Earlier this year, the company commenced construction on a second production line that will enable the company to double its current production capacity of AAC construction materials. Following this, Emirates Thermostone announced it has been awarded contracts worth $1.7 million to supply AAC materials for Dubai Motor City, Dubai Sports City and Dubai Silicon Oasis.

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