Growing panes: glass sector seeks standards solution

Calls are being made for further regulation of the UAE glass industry. Christopher Sell examines the reasons why the industry needs to be brought together to survive the buoyant construction market.

ANALYSIS, Business

A lack of uniform standards in the UAE glass industry is becoming a growing concern. Despite Dubai employing rules to set a minimum heat-gain factor and a minimum insulation value, this has not been replicated in Abu Dhabi and the wider emirates.

With rising and constant demand for glass products due to the nature of construction in the region - which in turn has lead to increasing numbers of processing plants opening up - it is becoming imperative that certain standards are adhered to by those operating in the region. Yet, this remains an ideal and not the norm. Even in Dubai, Dubai International Financial Centre employs its own standards - which some say are more stringent than those set by Dubai Municipality - as do those buildings in Dubai Marina.

There are large quantities of glass being put into buildings and there are no standards being put into place.

Alistair Kellock, general manager, Danway Fusion, believes this lack of standards could compromise quality and allow companies to produce glass that doesn't meet the appropriate regulations. "Ten to 12 years ago, there were a handful of plants making tempered safety glass. Now in the UAE - at the last count - there were 35, with more soon to open," he says. "I know what it is like to recruit people and I know some of the machines being supplied as well. I don't think there are 35 people qualified to run the machines and guarantee what comes out the other end is safety glass to an international standard."

Such concerns strengthen the view that the UAE needs to adhere to a set of standards, if only to ensure uniform practice across the country. This is not just an attempt to bring in to line the various manufacturers operating in the region, but it is also imperative for regulation of the industry. One of the main concerns is: 'for manufacturers to produce the glass is one thing, but who will ensure the process being carried out is up to the requisite standard?' "Over 10 years ago, the message was the same as it is today: 'there are large quantities of glass being put into buildings and there are no standards being put into place'," says Kellock. "The better standard of project, with good contractors and clients, is employing international standards, but you can't police it."

These concerns do not just stem from a desire for aesthetic consistency, Kellock also questions why the UAE does not feature standards that see fire-resistant products in fire-risk areas. Such practice is common in Europe, the US, China and Japan, and India is also beginning to implement such policies. "Initiatives were made in Dubai, why is it not UAE-wide? Are the authorities going to take issues like fire seriously?"

This problem can also be compounded by selecting products which have been manufactured for a European climate, and are inappropriate for the Middle East. "In the past, local processors have been guilty of going with the flow rather than re-educating [the market]. A lot of people fall into that trap," adds Kellock.

The question of standardising glass procedure has been raised before. Over 10 years ago, the UK's Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) visited Dubai, meeting with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and other leading industry figures in an effort to gauge interest from company owners, though, at that time it was met with little support.

In the next few weeks, however, it is hoped that the GGF will revisit Dubai as it is believed that there is a tangible interest in implementing such standards, with the hope that if the leading companies in the industry take notice, the smaller players should follow.

According to Marco Vincenz, general manager, Pittsburgh Corning Middle East, the abrasive climate of the region should also encourage companies to ensure they install the right materials to a certified standard. "The very harsh conditions brought about through high humidity and temperature bring condensation and other problems," he says. "In the next few years, we will see a lot of damage occur because of choosing poor or incorrect materials."

But Vincenz adds that such patterns have not gone unnoticed by those in the industry. Residents and businesses that have previously suffered from low-quality materials are now driving demand for improvements to the standard of products.

"The trend in the Middle East will be towards higher quality. There have been too many bad experiences in the last couple of years."

Citing the sustainable approach beingpursued by Nakheel on any number of its projects, and the growing facilities management market that can be seen in the region, Vincenz believes the market is on the right track and that, in the end, long-term profits should convince the clients that a more structured, sustainable approach is the way forward. "Using cellular glass insulation is a statement to sustainability, ecology and durability," he adds.

Pittsburgh Corning's Middle East branch opened in Dubai last October to meet demand for its Foamglas product. It is a cellular glass for high performance, durable and ecologically sustainable thermal insulation in both building and industrial applications. It possesses properties such as being impervious to water vapour, waterproof and is non-combustible, with a fire rating of Euroclass A1. Foamglas stops the supply of oxygen to the fire, making it unique, and consequently has been in big demand from the local facade market. As an international company, with offices in Belgium, Germany and the US, Pittsburgh Corning produces an annual output of 200 million m2 of glass. The unique nature of its product also ensures it is used on oil and gas projects as well as building sites. According to Vincenz, the company is the first and only international supplier of thermal insulation with a Dubai Central Laboratory (DCL) label and an approval from the DM building department.

To cope with significant international demand, Pittsburgh Corning Europe is to open a new production plant in the Czech Republic. This should be operational by next year and enable the company to pursue new markets. It is also considering plants in the Middle East and China. The new plant will contain the world's first continuous foaming machine. And over the last 12 months, the company has managed to use 100% recycled material in its glass production process.

With incidents such as the Wafi City burglary highlighting the need for specialist, anti-bullet glass, the demands being placed on the sector do not just lie with the supply of materials or the standardising and policing of standards. As both the client and consumer are showing a greater awareness, manufacturers of glass products in all its guises will have to come together to ensure they meet standards expected of a modern city or risk being left behind, as individual companies who recognise the need to conform, will deliver materials of a consistent stretch ahead in terms of quality.

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