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Sun 10 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Steel, factories and TV

Since you last read this column, the price of steel in the region has shot up by more than 10 percent - and it was already high before that.

Since you last read this column, the price of steel in the region has shot up by more than 10 percent - and it was already high before that.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that this affects our business in more than one way. For a start the cost of rebar will skyrocket, leaving site managers with less cash to pay the contractors. Secondly, the cost of machines will inevitably rise, which coupled with the soaring price of diesel will leave little for the pay increase that many operators are (quite rightly) demanding.

But why is this? Simply, the prices are high, because of a peak caused by the region's drive to build everything at once. If the roll-out of project was a little more slow and controlled - sustainable, to use a current buzzword - then things might come in on budget.

However, if things keep running at the current eye-popping rate, paradoxically, expect ever more delays... and expect to pay the price.

If, like me you are spending your free time in the unbearable summer months watching the TV, you may have seen a show called ‘How it's Made'. In case you haven't, a camera crew goes to a number of factories to film objects being manufactured, while a chirpy voice over artist explains the process. A typical episode might feature items as diverse as kayaks or safety boots, and cereals.

The reason I mention it is because recently we did our own ‘How it's Made' as we went to see two PMV-related factories in action.

Both factories had reasonably high levels of automation, with robotic machines to take the strain out of the particularly difficult, hot and heavy work. In addition, both were manufacturing for export... and this filled me with joy. Why? Well, for months I have been banging on about how processes in the region must get into the modern age, and here was a local plant making things using tools and methods directly comparable to one in Europe, with goods the world would want to buy.

If only this drive for modernity would transfer to the rest of the construction industry...

Greg Whitaker is the editor of PMV Middle East.

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