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Sat 8 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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New markets, competition and standards will create a more complex picture for scaffolding suppliers this year.

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Higher safety standards in the oil and gas industry give opportunity to suppliers with top accreditation.

Scaffolding suppliers in the Gulf have had to quickly adapt to
both new demands from contractors and new markets to improve their bottom line.
As with many sub-contractors, areas such as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi that are
seeing an increase in building through government funding have emerged as particularly
attractive markets with new orders arriving.

“We basically have two to three countries that we sell into,
including Oman, Qatar, and some in Saudi Arabia,” says Everest Fernandez,
logistics manager at the Dubai-based Scaffolding & Formwork Division of Al Futtaim
Engineering. “We have had a branch in Qatar for about four years, and we are
trying to boost our exports to those countries, and orders are coming up.”

Fernandez says the market was stable in 2010 due to several new
contracts in Dubai,
though he adds the company has been getting more business from resales overseas.

Digy Ommen, division manager of Dutco Construction’s scaffolding
department, also attests to the drive away from the second-biggest emirate in the
last year. “Ninety-nine per cent of our work is in Dubai,” he says. “We do not have offices outside
the UAE, but management is looking at Qatar,
Kuwait and Oman.”

The last few years have also seen a number of new market entrants,
often from start-up companies in the Gulf.  Riyadh Scaffolding, a full service provider of
scaffolding in the Kingdom, is one such example. The company has only been running
for two-and-a-half years, with a manufacturing space of 1,300 m2 in the Saudi capital,
though its good reputation has allowed it to win contracts on major projects. “We
undertake projects such as hospitals, for example, where the scaffolding is designed
and built according to specifications,” says Nader Ahmad, general manager. “This
has happened just over the last year; before we were just selling to the resale
market. Already we have been working on King
Saud University
in Riyadh, and also installing the full scaffolding
structure for the monorail for the Princess
Noura University.”

He adds that the company now sees 70% of its revenue from working
directly on a project rather than through traders that resell the equipment.

Rebranding has also been apparent, most notably at Harsco, the
industrial giant that last year brought two scaffolding subsidiaries, namely Quebeisi
SGB and Hünnebec (along with Patent),  under
the one company name: Harsco Infrastructure.

Bringing the two companies under one banner allows it to offer
a wider range of products and services, says Barry Furlong, director and general
manager UAE at Harsco Infrastructure. Despite the intensity of the competition,
the demands of different construction sectors are allowing some suppliers to separate
themselves from the pack. This differentiation is occasionally based on the scale
and specialism of the project.

Neil Taylor, contracts manager at Al Futtaim Engineering’s Scaffolding
& Formwork Division, says the company secured initial work on the Burj Khalifa
in Dubai due to
its ability to meet the size of the task at hand, with fully-trained scaffolders
working on erection of the necessary structures. “We do a lot of top-out work,”
explains Taylor.

He explains that a good level of safety accreditation can be
a key differentiator. He points out that, although there are regulations regarding
scaffolding in Dubai,
there is rarely any enforcement. “There is no government authority regulating this,”
he says.

“Abu Dhabi
is pushing  ahead with training up inspectors
who will go on-site and fine contractors. The regulations are there, but they are
not enforced on the street.”

This compares, he says, to companies and contractors in the oil
and gas industries that work to British and European safety standards, and take
the initiative to fully train all staff. “Companies that work offshore, the contractors,
do training because when you are offshore, everyone needs to be trained, and these
companies have schools.”

He adds that he has floated the idea of Al Futtaim Engineering
providing a top-quality training programme of its own in the company. “It is a
sellable service – if regulation does comes in, then companies will have to train
their scaffolders better. But it is not just the will of the companies to do this;
some companies do not even budget for scaffolding access.”

Taylor
sees the oil and gas industries , with less competition due to the enhanced safety
standards required, longer contract periods and typically more regular payment,
as providing great growth potential for the firm in the next few years.

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