Strong foundations

Raymond Debrauwer discusses a recent boom in the steel foundations market in construction.

RAYMOND DEBRAUWER: Strong sales.
RAYMOND DEBRAUWER: Strong sales.

Raymond Debrauwer, sales manager - Foundation Solutions, Arcelor Mittal, talks about a recent boom in the steel foundations market in Middle East construction.

Are steel foundations becoming popular in the Middle East?

Steel foundation solutions are being increasingly used in the Middle East. Our presence in the region is growing as we now have a dedicated team of six members in Dubai servicing this sector. Steel foundation solutions have shown sales of approximately 10,000 tonnes per year until 2005 and there has been a 30 to 40% increase year on year.

With a large research and development team based in Luxemburg, Arcerlor Mittal are the largest steel and sheet pile producers in the world.

How are steel foundations different to concrete foundations?

Historically, concrete formed an important part of foundation solutions in the Middle East. Currently the market is developing for steel pipes, sheet piles and beams.

Standard concrete is being replaced by steel solutions, such as sheet piles which are a special product used for soil retaining walls. Our piling pipes are used a lot as foundation piles for jetties. Steel beams are the last major part of our steel foundation portfolio and can be used as tension pile, anchoring or in soil retaining walls.

The advantage of steel over concrete lies in the speed of installation. If we get in an order today, we can have it delivered the next day as we have ready stocks. A quay wall in steel can be built much quicker than concrete, so it gives a builder a quicker return on investment.

Steel is a ductile and elastic material so even if it is overloaded, it will not crack or collapse. Concrete tends to be brittle and can crack if overloaded. Steel can be used everywhere from kitchen equipment, packing to automotive industry and construction.

The most important argument for steel is that it is very often an economical solution because of its high strength and cost effectiveness.

What are the other advantages of steel foundations?

Steel foundations are earthquake-resistant, which is now a mandatory part of Dubai's building regulations. Earthquake regulations have to be taken into account. Although the regulations are not as stringent here as they are in Japan and the US, they are certainly important.

In Dubai, certain earthquake loads have to be taken into account when a building is being constructed. The flexibility of steel can take additional loads, whereas concrete is much more vulnerable to earthquakes.

In the case of a quay wall, for example a quay surface level of +4 metres and a sea bed level which is -10 metres, a sheet pile would be partly embedded and partly above the soil, and this would prove to be strong during an earthquake.

In the case of concrete blocks, which are stacked one above the other, the possibility of collapsing during an earthquake is much higher.

Steel foundations offer stability of structure, good elasticity and ductility, and are proven to be more resistant to earthquakes than other building materials.

Can you tell us about some recent projects you worked on?

We recently worked on and assisted the contractor on the Dubai Maritime City project, where we supplied steel foundation solutions. We have supplied sheet piles, box piles and anchorage for the DMC project.

We will supply sheet piles for an Aramco project in Ras Tanura, the biggest oil refinery in the world. Our materials will replace existing quay walls at the refinery. We have reduced the required tonnage of steel by 30 to 40%.

For this particular project, we will supply a special steel grade with high resistance against corrosion.

What is the potential of the steel foundation market in the region and where do you see it going in the next five years?

We see big growth potential for steel foundations solutions in coming years, already indicated by the growth we have achieved in the past few years.

Will the rise in steel prices affect the steel foundation sector as well? Are the prices slated to rise further?

We see that our steel foundation solutions are more and more preferred over competing building materials.

The number of projects we are booking nowadays has increased tremendously. But in the end you should ask our customers why they choose our steel foundation solutions.

How popular are steel foundation solutions worldwide?

The worldwide consumption of steel is increasing. Big parts of Western Europe use sheet pile widely - in the Netherlands, Japan and the United States, sheet piles are very richly used.

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