A tool story

The global power tools industry is worth $3.1 billion, a figure estimated to reach $4 billion by 2012. And to meet the demands of the Middle Eastern construction boom, experts forecast the machine tools market here will rise by around 39% over the next five years. Jamie Stewart reports on why the big guns and new players are lining up for a slice of the action.

Naser Al Sayer & Co LLC, ANALYSIS, Business

The global power tools industry is worth $3.1 billion, a figure estimated to reach $4 billion by 2012. And to meet the demands of the Middle Eastern construction boom, experts forecast the machine tools market here will rise by around 39% over the next five years.

Jamie Stewart reports on why the big guns and new players are lining up for a slice of the action.

Grinding, cutting and mixing. This may sound like a list of essential skills for every budding DJ to master, but they are also the actions you will see on the thousands of construction sites spread across the GCC.

From minor conversions to mega-projects, the on-site work force can achieve very little if it is not armed with the correct tools to do the job.

Today, the often overlooked power tools sector is very serious business. "The market for machine tools in the GCC is expected to rise by around 39% over the next five years," says Eckhard Pruy, Chief Executive Officer of Epoc Messe Frankfurt, organisers of the trade show Hardware and Tools Middle East.

"Demand for machine tools is forecast to rise from US $3.1 billion this year to $4.3 billion by 2012.

Senior show manager Gavin Morlini agrees that the sector is looking buoyant: "The region has continuously maintained its pace of double-digit economic growth.

Thus, for manufacturers and suppliers of these products, this is a perfect time to look into ways of expanding their product base in the region," he says.

The value of GCC construction projects currently underway has risen above and beyond the $1 trillion mark over the past 12 months, according to figures from Proleads, the Dubai based research firm. All this adds up to a considerable amount of grinding, mixing and cutting.

When such figures are taken into account, the importance of the issues facing the sector becomes abundantly clear. Contractors place a huge degree of trust in the quality and durability of the tools they require to do the job.

As the saying goes, a bad workman will always blame his tools. It is up to the manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that, if the workman is up to the task, then so are the tools, along with the service that accompanies each sale.

The inter-related issues of safety and training must also be at the forefront of the suppliers agenda.

The industry must offer a substantial degree of after sales service, to ensure that the labourer whose hands the tool ends up in is sufficiently trained to be able to operate that tool, and to ensure that he is aware of any necessary safety precautions.

Ongoing technological advances within the industry also mean that, as more efficient and advanced hardware is produced, such training must evolve in tandem, to ensure that the highest standards of workmanship and safety remain, driving the GCC construction boom onwards.

What happens after the sale is of equal importance to the manufacturing standard of the tool itself, to ensure an ongoing guarantee of quality. After sales service in the form of warranty and repairs is an important issue for suppliers to take into account, if wishing to maintain an ongoing working relationship with their customer.

When you consider that we are talking billions of dollars worth of tools, manufacturers must maintain a high standard, because contractors have a right to expect quality. The sector is, after all, driven whole heartedly by such reliance.

Principal players in the local market include Bosch, Dewalt, and Makita, though as is the case in any growing market, there are a mix of newcomers positioning themselves to take advantage of a buoyant sector.

One such company is 3M. Known primarily for its production of house-hold goods, with a wide range of some 50,000 products, the power tools sector is a new initiative for 3M. Sales Manager Kevin Miranda explains:

"Over a period of a year or so we will launch power tools which we plan to offer to different market segments, so we aim to have a complete product offering. That will be done in phases. We are now in phase one. Phase two will be some time in the next month or two, then we will have phase three, phase four, and so on.

Despite relative inexperience in the power tools sector, the company comes armed with a wealth of experience in the abrasives field, which has been put to good use with the manufacture of its first tool.

"We are entering the power tools market with the Random Orbital Sander, which is used for sanding wood into very subtle surfaces. Our products originate from our technical team in the US, where such products are developed. We then primarily import and resell the product across the GCC.

"This is now an ongoing process for us. We are planning a number of tools that we are going to launch for various other sectors in the coming months, such as the marine sector and the automotive market. It's going to be done gradually.

Miranda sees 3M's shift into the power tools sector as a natural progression for the business:

"We have been involved in many acquisitions and mergers over the last year. 3M started off in the area of abrasives. That is our strong point. As the company has progressed, we felt that it was important to have our own tool rather than tying up with another manufacturer.

We could then offer a complete solution; a "one stop shop" concept where the customer can get the tool and the abrasive together.

"We are now in a position to offer such an approach. It also benefits our abrasive business, which differentiates us from our competitors.

Companies such as 3M are a welcome addition to the market. As everybody knows, competition is good for the consumer, which in this case, is the often cash-strapped contractor.

The phenomenal growth within the industry has opened avenues for newcomers to take chances, though such growth has also presented the industry with certain hurdles to negotiate.

The boom has placed pressure on contractors, so that the only way to source the manpower required to deliver projects on time is to seek labour from across the world.

It is an international mix of workers from the Indian sub-continent, Pakistan, and a sweeping arc of other predominantly Asian nations, that is responsible for the construction of the countless projects we see sprouting before our very eyes on a daily basis.

The migrant work force accounts for a huge percentage of the UAE construction labour pool.

To this end, the post-sales on-site training that suppliers offer is a further factor that any serious contractor will consider, when selecting from the list of available suppliers.

Reji George, general manager at Naser Al Sayer Makita Tools, suppliers and distributors of Makita tools in the UAE, says he has seen growth of around 25 - 30% year after year. This level of growth further underlines the importance of on-site training.

George says: "We are involved in the training of construction labourers, mainly unskilled labourers. We will go in and train them how to operate our tools and how to run the machines, and also train them how to use the machines safely.

We provide all of this. Those who go through the training will receive full certification afterwards.

With the labour force originating from far and wide, the issue of training is further complicated by the subtleties of linguistics.

A variety of languages is spoken on construction sites across the GCC, so the supplier is faced with the mammoth challenge of ensuring that each individual worker is adequately trained to operate the hardware he requires to do the job, regardless of his language. A "tool order" to say the least.

To cross this particular hurdle, the main suppliers must deliver training via a team of multi-lingual experts, to ensure nothing gets lost in translation. This is part of the approach being undertaken at 3M, as Miranda explains: "Most of the workers are from the sub-continent; India and Pakistan.

One of our trainers is Indian, so he speaks the language. He is also able to speak some of the different dialects within the language, which we have taken into consideration.

The Filipino community is also very strong in the GCC area, though the majority of Filipino labourers can speak very good English. So primarily it's Hindi or Urdu, and English. We certainly have our bases covered as far as languages are concerned.

So though the challenges are many and various, the industry appears to have things well in hand, with suppliers going the extra mile to ensure the contractor receives the full service he expects.

Thanks to the buoyancy of the sector, labourers - and not to mention DJs - across the GCC will be grinding, cutting and mixing, for a long time to come.

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