Cable crunch

What are the biggest challenges and drivers for change in the region's cabling sector? MEP Middle East investigates.

Middle East Specialized Cables Co., ANALYSIS, MEP

What are the biggest challenges and drivers for change in the region's cabling sector? MEP Middle East investigates.

Keeping pace with the Middle East's construction sector and changing safety regulations has meant significant changes in operation and output for cabling manufacturers.

The growth of the region's cities is bringing both challenges and opportunities for those operating in the cabling sector.

Civil Defence is enforcing stronger regulations and specifiers are now pushing for more fireproof cables.

An ever expanding number of building and power infrastructure projects are creating a healthy markets, while regulation changes require new product developments. So how are the manufacturers adapting to meet the market needs?

One of the primary issues for cable manufacturers is the sheer volumes that are being ordered.

"The big issue is still supply and demand in terms of getting the right cable to a project at the right time," stresses Jeremy Hodge, British Approvals Service for Cables (BASEC) chief executive.

"There is a huge demand for cables and manufacturers cannot cope," states Nakheel electrical engineer Karim Chaaban, formerly with National Cables Industry.

"There is always a demand for infrastructure, especially for medium and high voltage cables, but the demand has become unbelievable and now all the GCC countries are announcing huge projects, huge volumes [of cabling] are needed," he adds.

"The demand in the UAE picked up more quickly than anyone expected and it's taken the industry a while to respond," agrees Ducab managing director Andrew Shaw.

Consultants and contractors can play their part in easing the burden on manufacturers while ensuring they have the products they need on schedule.

With demand high, product supply lead times are inevitably also longer, so the earlier the materials needed for a project are ordered, the better for all parties.

"One of the problems is that a lot of the detailed design doesn't take place until late in the process; designers have to give the procurement people more time," states Hodge.

"The moment the contract is awarded the materials should be booked, then the price is fixed and you can give the required delivery schedule and with long lead times [manufacturers] can usually guarantee delivery schedules," adds Chaaban.

The problem does not lie solely with power cables; the demand for data cabling is also rising dramatically.

Again, gaining the supplies needed can be tackled by early ordering. Laurent Amestoy, R&M, regional md, ME and India with Swiss-based Reichle & De-Massari (R&M) comments: "Questions should be asked at the beginning...the earlier that you plan the better it is and you can save costs." "For contractors, it's all about giving as much warning as possible about the demand as we can often mitigate problems," adds Shaw.

"This is something that contractors are now doing better - it's all about good communications," he states.

Several manufacturers have responded to the continuing growth in demand by expanding their operations. Ducab has already expanded its UAE-based manufacturing plants and is undertaking further expansions.

Its strategic plan to 2015 involves more than tripling its current capacity, under an US $540-820 million (AED2-3 billion) investment.

"Our lv cable production in the Abu Dhabi factory is being increased by 50%," states Shaw, "the mv production is also increasing to satisfy the market as we see it," he adds.

Ducab is also building a dedicated HV cable factory and a copper rod facility to enable backwards integration, whereby the firm will make its own copper rod for use in its cables.

National Cable Industries is also planning an expansion, with a focus on the mv and hv product lines reports Chaaban.

The firm has bought land adjacent to its existing Sharjah facility and plans to add one production line, increasing its existing capacity by 15%.

Middle East Specialised Cables Company (MESC) has undergone several expansions, including the recent opening of a new manufacturing firm in Jordan for LV and MV power cables.

MESC-Fujikura Cable Company has been established as a joint venture between MESC (Saudi Arabia) and Japanese firm Fujikura. Commercial production from the facility is due to begin in Q3 of 2008.

In the data cabling market, R&M has increased its capacity by "several hundred percent" over the past five years and has increased its market share over this period.

It is expanding worldwide to meet increased global market demands, growing around 25% in 2007. The firm recently opened a new office in Dubai Airport Free Zone and has also added a training facility to its premises.

Meeting fire safety performances

Another key driver for the cabling industry is that of fire safety. There have been a number of building fires over the past few years, particularly at construction stage, and the local authorities are raising safety regulations to counteract the problem.

At the same time, significant developments in materials research and development have taken place over this period, resulting in a wider choice of fire safety cables.

"There are a lot of new polymers onboard that replace the pvc coatings," explains Hodge. "Certainly in the high prestige and public buildings in the UK the cabling is now practically all low smoke zero fumes (LSZF)."

"Anywhere that there is a risk for people, there has been a move towards these cables," he states.

Particular applications for fire resistant cables include high-rise buildings; mass transit systems such as metros or airports; and essential building safety circuits such as fire alarms, detection and evacuation systems.

"Low smoke zero halogen cables are now in high demand," comments Chaaban. "They are generally being used where there is a mass of people because if you burn cables and fumes are emitted [it is dangerous], most deaths and injuries are because of these fumes."

"Civil Defence is enforcing stronger regulations and specifiers are pushing for more fireproof cables," adds Shaw.

"This is a trend we've seen in the past year and we will see more demand [for these products] in 2008," he predicts.

Ducab offers three main product types for fire safety: Low smoke and fume (LSF), fire performance (FP) and fire resistant (FR). "Low smoke and fume cables means that you can evacuate people safely...the others - the FP and FR cable - are more resistant to fire."

The firm has soft launched its FR range into the UAE in response to market demand and has since increased its manufacturing capacity and range of products to offer a meet the needs of the wider market.

"As high-rise development goes on in the Middle East cables are needed for the emergency systems such as lifts and lighting; this is where the new FR cable are being applied, in emergency circuits," adds Jonathan Vale, Ducab general manager technical.

Ducab's FR cables maintain circuit integrity for three hours under fire conditions, produce zero halogen, low smoke and are resistant to flame propogation. The fire resitant armoured cables are intended for applications that need circuit integrity during a fire.

They are certified to several international standards including BS 7846, IEC 60,332-1 and are Loss Prevention Certification Board approved.

Several versions of the products are offered, including 600/1000V armoured auxiliary cables; plus two, three and four-core 600/1000V armoured cables. All have stranded copper conductors, Mica glass-XLPE dual insulation and low smoke zero halogen (LSZH) bedding.

DME Cables is the region's exclusive distributor for UK-based Draka. The firm several products including its Firetuf brand of low smoke zero halogen fire performance cables.

The latest product to be added to this range is the Firetuf Easystrip, which offers fast sheath removal and is easy to dress. It has a filled sheath that supports the insulated twisted cores during installation flexing and provides added protection during fires.

Further products in the series include Firetuf EMC, intended for areas with high levels of electro-magnetic radiation such as airports; and Firetuf Power, an armoured cable for use in public buildings.

Further product offerings on the market include 600/1000V cables from MESC that are available as shielded and unshielded versions and can be used as fixed wiring within buildings.

Its Mescofire range is suitable for use in smoke detection, alarm systems and installation cables in large public buildings such as hospitals. The firm also manufactures halogen-free, low smoke, lv power and control cables.

Contractors should note that the entire installation must be considered when installing fireproof cabling warns Amestoy: "Unless the contractor uses low smoke zero halogen ducts [rather than pvc versions] there is no point in using LSZH cables," he concludes.

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