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Market focus: GCC post-tensioning innovations

by CW Guest Columnist on Mar 4, 2017

The use of post-tensioning in construction is – in the words of VSL’s Stephen Burke – a no-brainer. At its most basic, the practice of introducing tensile strength to concrete through steel tendons allows for thinner concrete slabs or longer spans to be used, reducing overall building weight, lowering construction costs, and increasing the useful space within a building’s envelope.

“Architects and developers are always seeking large column-free areas, to provide more flexibility for space utilisation,” explains John Maroon, business development manager for CCL. For projects involving complex feats of architectural or engineering creativity, post-tensioning has contributed to the realisation of many iconic structures, such as bridges and stadiums.

Despite challenging times for the Gulf’s construction industry, the post-tensioning sub-contractors that spoke to Construction Week were buoyant about the market, reporting full order books. One of the best known firms in the region, VSL Middle East, had an “incredibly busy year” in 2016, according to general manager, Burke. The company has been working on a number of bridges spanning the Dubai Canal, including the ‘monster’ bridge that carries Sheikh Zayed Road; large road contracts in Qatar; Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Metro; the upgradation of the highway from Abu Dhabi to the Saudi Arabian border; and numerous other structures requiring post-tensioning and soil works.

“Fortunately we had a good pipeline,” Burke explains. “We’re hoping that the pipeline will be replenished in the first half of this year, so that we can keep this momentum going forward.”

As for 2017 and beyond, Burke is relatively optimistic, noting that “hard infrastructure” projects seem to have been less affected than commercial ones by the shift in market sentiment.

“It does seem that the government-based projects are [continuing],” he points out. “I think the money has been set aside for [those]; there’s a budget in place, whereas some of the private schemes are a bit more discretionary.”

Despite the impact of the low oil price on clients’ budgets, the medium-term outlook remains relatively rosy, owing to the large amount of work that is scheduled. Burke says that major developments coming online – most notably the Expo 2020 Dubai site – will require access and egress bridges and, in turn, post-tensioning services.

TTM Post Tensioning, a partnership between Saudi Arabia’s KBW Investments and TTM of Italy, has an ongoing pipeline of work in Qatar, according to chief operating officer, Sameel Hamza.

“Business has been very good,” he tells Construction Week. “Doha’s focus on consistent development leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, paired with the country’s National Vision 2030, have resulted in a bevy of new projects.”

As part of its broader growth strategy, TTM has ramped up its focus on UAE projects. Hamza is confident that case studies of post-tensioning systems successfully implemented by the company in Qatar will help his team to win new contracts in the Emirates.

Hamza goes on to point out that contractors and consultants in the Gulf are fully aware of the benefits offered by post-tensioning. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that the earlier these systems are factored into a structure’s design, the better.

“The best-case scenario is to explore how post-tensioning can be employed to save time, space, and money from the stage of inception,” he explains. “I’m sure there isn’t anybody in the Middle East’s construction sector that would tell you otherwise.”

Speed of execution is another string to post-tensioning’s bow. Hamza continues: “Everyone is trying to execute [projects] as quickly as possible so, when [construction professionals] are weighing choices, post-tensioning is almost always mentioned. By converting from conventional slabs to post-tensioning slabs and methods, you can save 50% of your job-site time.”