2018 Preview: Supplier growth will help meet project deadlines
As construction activity increases in the Gulf this year, suppliers are likely to face increased demands for products that generate both time and cost-savings for clients
In December 2017, it was revealed that construction activity, worth $2.4tn (AED8.8tn), is driving demand for wood products in the Gulf. Up to 70% of the region’s timber and wood products were being used in the construction industry.
With more than 35,000 residential units slated for delivery in 2018, Dubai’s spend on wooden products is expected to increase by 40%, to $95m (AED350m) this year from $68m (AED250m) in 2017, according to the organisers of Dubai WoodShow.
While wood is but one component of the regional construction sector’s toolbox, the drivers of its growth are likely to support the suppliers of other building products as well. For instance, Expo 2020 Dubai is expected to provide impetus to both Dubai’s construction sector as well as the Gulf’s.
Indeed, all sectors of the Gulf’s construction industry would do well to anticipate a degree of growth this year. In fact, Patrick O’Callaghan, chief executive officer of Off-Site Engineering Solutions, says the Gulf’s sector is showing “the signs of a significant and positive shift” in terms of adopting construction methodologies such as prefabrication.
“In our nine years of activity in the GCC, there has never been a time when the interest and demand for fast-track and prefabricated systems has been as great as it is now,” O’Callaghan tells Construction Week.
“There used to be the incorrect perception that labour was cheap, and that many of the drivers for prefabrication in other markets were not applicable here in the Gulf. The reality is that labour, [and its efficiency and price], have become a huge cost-control issue. Some companies cannot get the visas necessary to execute their projects and are now looking for a technological and sustainable solution to this problem. This is our niche.”
While skeptics may question this, prefabricated products are, indeed, a technology-oriented set of construction tools, as O’Callaghan explains: “The interesting thing about prefabrication is that it used to be much more aligned to the manufacturing industry than the construction industry. But nowadays, there is the common language of building information modelling (BIM) and other 3D systems that can simultaneously satisfy the manufacturing requirements of prefabrication systems, while also fitting into the overall project model.”
In fact, as O’Callaghan points out, 3D-modelling further de-risks the already low-risk application of prefabricated products in terms of timing, logistics, and commissioning: “3D-modelling is the backbone of the prefabrication business. Dubai’s BIM mandate was an excellent starting point, and I do expect additional incentives for greater utilisation of prefabrication to be announced.”
Despite these advantages, the prefabrication expert says that the sector continues to face challenges in the Gulf.
“Big challenges in our business [are] moving the message up the food chain and becoming involved at an earlier stage in the design development process,” O’Callaghan explains.
“Many developers, architects, and engineers feel that project buildability is a construction issue and unwittingly design-out the option for prefabrication during the early design stages. I have seen this so many times and, as consultants, we are often called in by an enlightened main contractor or mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) sub-contractor to assist in reverse-engineering a design that facilitates prefabrication. All of this would have been much simpler if we got a chance to tweak the layout prior to design freeze.
“By designing-out some of these options to prefabricate, the client is often the ultimate loser, so turning this around also represents one of our greatest opportunities.”
Another supplier segment that can expect to grow this year is water pumps. Gassan Mutwali, director of strategy and business development at Xylem, said fundamental drivers related to population growth, urbanisation, industrialisation, and water scarcity would drive investments in water infrastructure.
Speaking to Construction Week’s sister title, MEP Middle East, Mutwali added: “Our optimism is also bolstered by knowing that regulations and end-users will continue to drive the need for pumps that are energy efficient and reliable.
“[Pump innovation] is especially important for a region that has around 5% of the world’s population but less than 1.5% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources. Given that much of energy consumption is typically tied to water infrastructure and management, pumps play a critical role in delivering energy savings in the overall system.”
Indeed, it appears that as client awareness of technology and efficient production increases, construction suppliers will have much to be optimistic about in the Gulf this year.