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Sun 30 Jan 2011 12:00 AM

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Upholding standards

The infrastructure sector is providing many opportunities for formwork providers, as the market for sales and rentals continues to shift.

Upholding standards
Flexible formwork systems are required for complex infrastrucutre works.

Formwork providers allow both simple and complex structures
to come into existence, with an equal importance across all sectors of
construction. The providers of the structures and systems often play a
consultative role at the start of the project with the main, combing through
the drawings to work out how groundbreaking designs can actually be built.

As with some of the systems, the highly-competitive industry
has many moving parts. At the simplest level, the wood and steel based basic
structures can resemble scaffolding; a high-volume, low-margin service easily
assembled. But technological advances and the sheer size of projects have
produced an array of systems, some powered by hydraulics, which all aim to
reduce building time and help the contractor lock-in the proceeds of contracts
as early
as possible.

At the same time, providers have had to shift their revenue
expectations between sales and renting – both anticipating the needs of
specific projects, as well as keeping an eye on the trends of the wider market
pushed and pulled by economic forces. Even basic components of formwork need to be able to be used
in a variety of ways, according to some of the region’s major service
providers.

“Formwork is composed of many things, for example, wood
beams and steel, and these can be combined into a system,” says Doka Qatar GM
Jenoe Rulff. “Our formwork has to be flexible so that the same components can
be used for different projects. Slab formwork will be used for towers and
shopping malls and underground carparks and bridges. It cannot be a rigid
system, and can be flexible to all geometry.”

With formwork visible on every type of development, there
are specific challenges and solutions that face formwork providers on
infrastructure projects. Rulff splits the type of projects in Qatar into two
broad categories: infrastructure and private sector. Infrastructure projects
then split into two further categories: ‘outside’ projects, like harbours,
ports, rail, airports, and ‘inside’ projects, such as roads and metro systems.

With some of the biggest infrastructure work currently
underway in the Qatari capital, including the transformation of the centre
through the Dohaland development, it makes sense that a service provider can
create categories within it.

Rulff says the sheer volume of load capacity, as well as the
huge volumes of additional concrete, are two key differences between tackling
infrastructure challenges and more orthodox tasks such as core walls for
towers.

“For example, a harbour has a big volume, as well as
bridges,” he says. “And a bridge needs lots of material, as well as needing
towers and beams. The slab of a bridge is much thicker because of taking a
heavier load and the dynamic load of the traffic.”

He adds that infrastructure projects may also present
restrictions to access during construction. A port can only be constructed from
one side as it is up against water, for example, and a tunnelling project will
inevitably have only a single entrance.

Germany-based Peri has increased its suite of services to
also compete in the infrastructure sector. Recently the company provided the
building structure for Saadiyat
Island bridge, opened
late last year. Amjad Khan, area sales
manager, said it was a “totally different structure of formwork” than for urban
projects, with the challenge enhanced by the fact that each bridge is
different.

Peri’s Vario system can operate as single-sided formwork,
for example, when building the retaining wall in the base of a building. The
company has also worked on oil and gas projects, another area in which
specialist systems and a fresh approach to projects is required. The refinery
expansion in Ruwais, in which the company is to construct the circular
foundation for 17 tanks, and package five for Al Jaber Energy Services’ Habsham
project, are two current projects.

Harald Litze, general manager at Ulma, a Spanish company
with a growing presence in the region, points out that the majority of
infrastructure work is for bridges and tunnelling. The latter can be a
particularly heavy, long, specialist job.

“For the curved wall of a tunnel you need a flexible system
as each tunnel is different, whether square or round or elliptical; you need a
special set-up, which might be on rails. You are following the drill, and could
be working on five metres and then have to move it along – this can take a lot
of time.”

He adds that 30% of the company’s work globally is in
infrastructure. Locally, the company work in infrastructure has been mainly
around pump stations, although it has helped build some of the bridges in Dubai’s Business
Bay. RMD Kwikform has
also provided support for a number of bridge projects. Formwork providers say the market for the sales of equipment
and systems compared to rental has changed.

“In the good years [the market] was up to about 90% in sales
and 10% rental – but now we have seen more people renting,” says Khan at Peri.

“There has been a visible shift as people are perhaps more
comfortable with renting equipment.”

Litze at Ulma says the market has reversed in a short space
of time from around 80% sales to 90% rental, though adds that it depends on the
project. A short-term construction job, such as a tunnel measuring
20m rather than 2km, will see a greater desire for the contractor to rent the
equipment needed.

Doka’s Rulff says the choice between rental and sales may
also be shaped by the schedule of the project, though adds that it also depends
if the contractor sees formwork as an asset and in which country the project is
being undertaken. The first project in a new market might see a contractor rent
equipment. Furthermore, a slower market in places such as Dubai has also encouraged the switch to
rental.

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