The infrastructure sector is providing many opportunities
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.
60,000 - Cubic metres of RMD Kwikform Rapidshor used on the Boxing Clever Yas Island Bridge project
48 - Number of PERI subsidiaries globally
$762m - Doka revenue in 2009