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Sat 5 May 2007 12:00 AM

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Moving from price back to performance

The formwork industry is continually innovating to remain competitive. But, as Christopher Sell finds out, some industry experts are calling on contractors to move their focus away from price towards performance in order to maximise the sector's growth.

Innovations within the formwork sector continue as contractors strive for every possibly advantage to meet tight deadlines, while at the same time, new companies are entering the market, attracted by the volume of work taking place in the region. According to Ina Juenemann, marketing coordinator, Peri, the market is challenging contractors by forcing them to reach certain, and maintain, very short cycling times. This is led to a number of innovations in the types of shoring systems being used.

Peri recently introduced TRIO into the UAE, which, due to a patented coupler, allows the joining of panels horizontally, vertically or at corners without any need for additional stiffening or aligning components. This results in faster assembly, greater flexibility of re-use and lower costs. The TRIO panel also has major advantages: it has two heights and two widths for maximum utilisation of the full area of the panel, simple stopends and wall junctions. At 2.4m wide, it is an optimal size for transportation. Peri is currently working in Dubai Marina Mall and Dubai Festival City, among others.

"Formwork technology has not reached its end yet. From what we have experienced, new technologies and systems are continuously developed and there is going to be more innovative products each year," adds Juenemann.

This is illustrated by Grocon Lubecca, which has developed a unique approach to formwork for one of Dubai's tallest buildings currently under construction - the 100-storey, 400m Princess Tower, being built by ACC. The Grocon system enables the contractor to meet strict safety standards when using formwork that have not been seen before in Dubai, the company claims. Using a hydraulic centre core, hydraulic perimeter system and safety screen system, ACC will produce a fully ‘extruded' building from the system.

Robert Bergman, general manager, Grocon says: "Dubai is currently experiencing a huge trend towards safety systems, with contractors becoming more aware that down time caused by injuries can result in losses of up to US $5,000 (AED18,300) per hour, due to equipment paid for and lost productivity."

The Grocon safety perimeter will allow for the curtain wall panels to be placed behind the protection of the system, therefore fully enclosing the building prior to the Grocon safety screen system being moved to the next level. Furthermore, the core system is fully enclosed on the two levels required for its operation in forming of the core walls, providing optimum safety for the workers on this work front. Finally, the perimeter safety screens, which are suspended from the Grocon hydraulic perimeter system, are fully enclosed over four floors, providing safety for the workers forming the slab and installing the curtain wall panels.

"All construction fronts are fully enclosed on the tower structure by the various Grocon construction systems," says Bergman. "Once the screens are moved to the next level, the curtain wall panels then provide optimum safety for all workers performing finishing trades." He adds that a building, which is entirely closed for all construction operations from start to finish, is a first for the Dubai construction industry.

Grocon is responsible for another first in Dubai - an eight-floor personnel hoist attached to the central core system. The hoist will provide access for workers and materials to the top deck of the Grocon centre core systems and also to the lobby floors and stairs areas being formed below the Grocon centre core system. This is logistically more efficient and also offers reductions in lost time due to inadequate access to the core system.

The company has also introduced the placing of steel beams for the floor slab with Grocon's hydraulic perimeter system. The beams, placed using a monorail system suspended from the hydraulic perimeter system, will help alleviate enormous amounts of crane time for ACC on the project and speed up the operation.

"Placing the beams with the monorail system will also offer further increased safety aspects to the building operations," says Bergman. "Placing the floor beams is now done by operators at floor level, rather than sitting in a crane far removed from the placement location and relying on conveyed messages for accurate placement, which can lead to dangerous situations." With the operators and handlers at the same level the risk is significantly reduced.

The volume of business in the Middle East means that it is little surprise that companies are setting up in the region. Ulma, which was founded in Spain in 1960 and today is the third largest formwork and scaffolding company in the world, entered the market last year as part of its expansion programme into the Middle East and China.

Ulma recently launched the CC-4, a modular aluminium slab formwork that transfers the load to drop heads and props. According to Raul Garcia, general manager, Ulma, the benefits to the contractor are a really fast erection, a reduction in crane time - as all the parts can be handled by hand - and savings on labour time and the cost of replacing plywood, as high quality plywood is already fixed to the panel structure.

In a market where price drives everything, Garcia is convinced that contractors are not paying enough attention to new innovations and says too much emphasis is placed on financial benefits and that cheap labour costs are holding back the industry. "I would like the contractors to analyse the products not only from the point of view of price, but also considering the performance of these products.

"The market tends to use modern and fast systems, but due to the cheap labour cost, the evolution will be much slower than in other countries with higher labour costs. Also, the number of accidents in jobsites is forcing the government to put pressure on the contractors in order to use safe systems."

Ulma is currently involved in the Burj Views and projects at Knowledge Village, Dubai Investments Park and the Green Community.

At Bauma last week, Doka showcased a number of recent innovations in technology, including Dokaset, a form of wall formwork for multi-storey residential construction, which reduces man-hours and forming time by having 50% fewer wall tiles than conventional framed formwork. And the new Table Lifting System is an innovative hoisting appliance used for safe, craneless lifting of Doka tableforms to the next storey at a speed of 10m per minute. This can free-up crane time to be used on other operations on site, speeding up the construction workflow.

Despite appearing to be a one-dimensional technology - limited in how far it can be improved - specialists within the region continue to step-up formwork products to ensure a more efficient process, which is being driven by strong demands.

Garcia concludes: "The technology has not arrived at its limits yet. There is still a large margin of development and the speed of construction in the region is keen on using innovative techniques."

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