Getting Stronger

The Middle East is a hotspot for concrete corrosion

ANALYSIS, Projects, Concrete construction

Structural’s Alan Gooch is among those who say work in specialist areas of concrete strengthening and repair has been picking up over the last year or so. The Englishman puts this down to confidence returning to the region, with clients in turn loosening their purse strings.

“There are a lot of buildings which were abandoned six years ago coming back on stream. The already bullish market was given an additional boost following the Expo 2020 announcement,” says Gooch, business development director (technologies).

“And many structures which are coming back are going through a change of use process and different loading requirements which, for us, means many strengthening opportunities. There are also repair opportunities since these buildings have been left to their own devices for six years. In many cases, concrete has deteriorated, leading to a whole host of remedial opportunities.”

Gooch has previously described the region as “having some of the worst conditions for concrete anywhere in the world”. He says this means that being able to provide a proper condition assessment is doubly important here.

Indeed, a new project manager has been hired to work on the condition assessment and concrete remediation side of the business, and around six additional staff have been hired since June last year, bringing total numbers to over 100, counting visiting engineers from the US who are in the region to support local activities with their specialist knowledge.

“Condition assessment is an important part of the process: it’s all about gaining an understanding of what’s wrong with structures before you rush in to repair them. This allows you to come up with a meaningful and cost-effective solution,” says Gooch.

Laith Haboubi, Middle East commercial director at Grace Construction Products, says the region’s climatic conditions pose particular challenges for the firm, which specialises in supplying concrete admixtures.

“You’ve got very aggressive conditions such as chlorides and sulphate in groundwater, so we try to educate people a bit more as to how you can improve concrete and concrete mixes,” he says

“You also have things like very significant differences in temperature across the year; therefore concrete mix designs have to be tuned for different times of the year.

“Then you have the additional challenge of where the site is as to where the concrete is being produced. There’s a retardation factor to consider – so that means the mix needs to remain as workable when it reaches the site and is poured into the formwork as it was when it left the plant.”

Haboubi notes that the constituents of concrete can vary dramatically between GCC countries, meaning that each territory will need a different design mix.

“You just can’t replicate the design mix for every country, so we work with every single customer very carefully to make sure the product is tailored for optimum performance.”

And he agrees with Gooch that work is starting to pick up in the region, with the last couple of years characterised by a reduction in concrete demand as clients cut costs and sought more durable product.

“There isn’t as much ready cash as there was previously, so I think there is more focus on durability. Certainly we’re seeing it in other aspects of our business such as our structural waterproofing division – and demand for that is actually increasing quite significantly,” he says.

“Then in tandem with that, we are seeing greater demand for our higher-end admixtures, which we think means there is a growing understanding for the need for durability and better quality concrete."

Stephen Burke, deputy general manager of post-tensioning firm VSL, agrees with Gooch and Haboubi about an acceleration of work. The firm recently picked up a job with Emirates Roads Contracting (ERC) to provide post-tensioning of soil walls for a new interchange near Dubai Investments Park.

“With post-tensioning, we are certainly starting to see things moving infrastructure wise,” he says. “The main challenge posed by the climatic conditions in this region is that you really need to finish work in a short timeframe to ensure that the concrete is reinforced and protected as quickly as possible.”

Gooch says the UAE remains Structural’s main centre of activity; currently around 80% of its work. It is working on three major strengthening projects: two in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi; and a number of repair projects in each Emirate.

The firm has a contract with Al Futtaim Carillion to provide strengthening work on the expansion of Fashion Avenue at Dubai Mall, already the world's largest mall in terms of overall area. The project has been undertaken using carbon fibre reinforced polymer sheet (CFRP) and will wrap up in the next month or so.

“It’s been a very interesting engineering challenge,” says Gooch. “The strengthening on most projects needs to be done at an early stage; it’s one of the first things that has to be dealt with when a structure is being reconfigured. And having our own design and engineering capability in-house is a big help when there are deadlines to meet.”

Earlier this year, Structural completed strengthening works at BurJuman Mall in Dubai’s Bur Dubai area. The firm is also busy in Qatar with the Public Works Authority, Ashghal, on both the strengthening and repair of bridge structures. In fact, it will shortly be opening a new branch office in the capital Doha, which over time will have the same capabilities as those in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Like Structural, the UAE remains Grace Construction Products’ biggest market, after more than 30 years supplying the Middle East from its Jebel Ali plant. Around 40% of product is sold in the UAE, followed by Qatar as its next-largest market, with a 30% share.

One of its biggest recent UAE jobs was at Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port where it supplied the precast elements and casts in situ for most of the concrete works. Historically in the UAE, it has also been involved in big infrastructure projects such as Drydocks World, Port Rashid, and Dubai International Airport.

“We’ve continued to this day to supply many of the projects at Dubai Airport through the many phases of its development. Projects like that we’ve had a very long association with,” says Haboubi.

Burke says Qatar is VSL’s biggest market, accounting for about 40% of its business.

“To be honest, it’s a moving target. Each GCC country has its up and downs. We go where the work is,” he said.

Meanwhile, Structural says it is chasing new opportunities in other sectors. At the end of last year, its general manager was promoted to a new position in the firm’s California office and a new general manager – Jason Dodson – was appointed in the Middle East. Part of his focus will be on winning work in new sectors such as industrial and oil and gas.

“This is a big part of Structural’s knowledge-base back in the US,” says Dodson. “Special industrial structures require special remedial treatment. My aim is to focus a lot more attention on this area of activity and bring the firm’s skills into this very important sector.”

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