Plaster cast

Abu Dhabi's desire to become the Middle East's main attraction was clearly illustrated with the announcement of a number of high-profile developments earlier this year.

ANALYSIS, Materials

Dubai's material and supply problems are well documented, with the fundamental construction components such as concrete, steel and glass being put under huge strain to meet contractors who are pushing build times to the limit to meet deadlines. This is also placing a fundamental strain on lesser seen, but equally integral materials such as drywall, where demand over the last year continues to rise as residential developments, particularly high rise towers grow in number.

Towers such as Princess Tower, 21 Marina and Torch Tower in Dubai Marina, which at one point were all vying to be the tallest residential tower in the world, will only place greater demand on the region, which is struggling to procure materials.

Made primarily from gypsum plaster - the semi hydrous form of calcium sulphate - the plaster is mixed with fibre (typically paper and or fibreglass), foaming agent and various additives that increase resistance to mildew, fire and water. It is then formed by sandwiching a core of wet gypsum between two sheets of heavy paper or fibreglass mats. When the core is dried, the sandwich becomes rigid and strong enough for use as a building material.

Knauf, one of the world's largest drywall manufacturers is one such company that is playing a major role in Dubai's growth. To tie in and meet the demand, production facilities have had to be improved to match this. Despite operating 130 factories worldwide, and the presence of a market in Iran, Michael Morgan, general manager, Knauf Middle East, admits the need for a further manufacturing facility in the UAE.

This, despite earlier predictions of a 2008 opening, will now be opened by 2009, in the Ras Al Khaimah free zone. Initial suggestions are that the facility will be approximately 20-25 million m2, with an emphasis on profiles and plasters. And the company is also in the process of building six new plants worldwide, all under construction.

Morgan singles out a number of high profile projects that the company was working, including the Palm Jumeirah and the Rose Tower on Sheikh Zayed Road. At 333m, the building is planned to be the highest serviced apartment building in the world. The company is also working on a number of other key projects including the Burj Dubai and the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City.

The company is also looking to supply a number of government projects, for example Bawadi - the world's largest hospitality and leisure development, that will double the number of rooms in Dubai by 2016 to 29,000 rooms - a joint venture signed earlier this year with Al Ghurair Investment will see the development of the world's largest shopping area, encompassing 3.7 million m2, within the $27.2 billion project. Not only will it double the number of rooms currently available in the emirate, it will add a further 31 hotels over the next eight years, the centrepiece of which will be the world's largest hotel, Asia-Asia, which alone will provide 6,500 rooms, combining 5,100 four-star and 1,400 five-star rooms.

Morgan adds that the company finds the growing awareness for ecologically-sensitive and environmentally sound approach to construction advantageous to their methodology. "For a company such as Knauf, this is very good as we are dealing with environmentally friendly products. We are already in contact with several organisations in the UAE, such as LEED."

And because the company is a recognisable brand, he adds, it stands them in good stead during the procurement and design process. "There is a shortage of products, not only in the GCC but worldwide. However, as we are a German company with high-quality measurements, and fully certified, architects and consultants prefer dealing with Knauf."

Manufacturers of the product are not the only players involved in the drywall industry. There are numerous companies who focus on innovating their products to make the process of working with drywalling more efficient.

Australian firm Tapepro, which has 50 years experience in the industry, utilises the latest computer software, such as Solidworks to design all its products. Solidworks is an innovative computer aided drafting (CAD) package that offers a true 3D drafting environment where digital solid models are created, and which can be assigned a material that provides information about mass and physical properties such as stress and strain. The programme is also parametric so allows changes to the model as you progress through design. Tapepro also uses advanced manufacturing techniques, while relying heavily on computer number control (CNC) machining for its high accuracy.

Hilti, a major player in systems and solutions for the construction sector recently launched a new screw magazine to fill the gap in the drywall installation market, that the company hope will maximise productivity while keeping costs down. The SMD 57 drives screws twice as fast, and cuts working time by half. Also, the screw magazine is easy to handle and further enhances the productivity factor in the installation process. This tool coincided with the launch of two new screwdrivers, launched simultaneously by Hilti for the drywall trade: the SD 5000 and the similarly designed SD 2500. Both feature the unique downward air deflection system that keeps dust away from the operator's face.

And at this year's Big 5, a number of European manufacturers have also displayed their products such as CBI-Europe and JIA Sources International. JIA distributes a wide range of products including a division to distribute fire protection boards. Its key product, BoardTech, a non-combustible calcium silicate board, reinforced with selected fibres and fillers, can be used in construction providing from 30 to 240 minutes fire protection. Furthermore, it does not contain formaldehyde and asbestos.

The product comes in pearl-white or other colours, and bevelled edge panels are available. It has a smooth finish on one face with a sanded reverse face, can be easily finished with paints, wallpapers or tiles. It is resistant to the effects of moisture and will not physically deteriorate when used in damp or humid conditions.

From the US, firms such as Plastic Components based in Florida are also targeting the Big 5 to showcase their drywall products. Namely its PVC accessories for drywall and veneer finishes to combat rust and protect corners and edges from damage. Manufactured from high impact resistant, lead-free PVC, they provide an excellent alternative to metal products and conform to ASTM standards. Plastic Components designed these products with a unique hole punch pattern, which allows for positive bonding of drywall mud and other finishes to the surface of the trim.

But in spite of such innovations and improved materials, the inevitable conclusion to be drawn from Morgan is that over the next 12 to 18 months, the sector will continue to be squeezed, leaving manufacturers and suppliers facing shortages and inevitably, escalation in prices. "There will be higher demand in the market, leading to more shortages, which will result in higher prices mainly due to logistical matters."

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