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Gulf post-tensioning firms eye Kuwait construction market for 2018 growth

GCC post-tensioning projects may be going through a cool streak at the moment, but industry experts say that demand in one country is warming up

The Gulfs post-tensioning market is holding steady, according to experts.
The Gulfs post-tensioning market is holding steady, according to experts.

While the Gulf’s construction sector continues to plot a course through choppy market waters, the post-tensioning sector is holding steady. It may not be booming, but an often-overlooked country has piqued the interest of industry insiders.

With a rising population and growing business confidence, Kuwait’s construction market is one in which the practice of post-tensioning is “picking up”, claims the general manager of specialist contractor VSL, Stephen Burke.

In the face of oil price volatility and a host of other challenges, it is “pretty surprising” that the post-tensioning market in the Middle East is “reasonably buoyant”, Burke tells Construction Week.

“In the Emirates, there is a lot of new infrastructure going up. Not just buildings, but bridges and the like, so that is [good] for VSL in terms of infrastructure post-tensioning. Saudi is coming off the boil a bit after the completion of the metro; Oman is quiet at the moment; but Kuwait is picking up. It was dormant for a while, but now Kuwait is playing catch-up in terms of new infrastructure projects.”

Kuwait’s economy, like that of many oil-exporting countries in the GCC, was hit by the fall in oil prices several years ago, which had a downstream effect on construction projects. But Burke believes this headwind is now a thing of the past.

“Kuwait has got the budget for these post-tensioning projects and they need to invest now in the infrastructure, such as the new causeway,” he says.

“The population seems to be growing; they’re investing in a new airport. There seems to be a new vision for Kuwait to turn the country into a trading hub. 

“I think the security threats from [the country’s] neighbours have died down too, so this provides the confidence necessary to proceed with expenditure.”

When asked if the perceived rise in post-tensioning construction projects was a long-term trend in Kuwait, Burke replies: “Definitely – it’s an industry trend for the long-term and beyond. Kuwait has got a lot of investing to do in the future, so long may it continue.”

On post-tensioning projects in Kuwait, Burke says the country will likely see an increase in specialist bridge infrastructure, as it needs support to build bridges in congested parts of the country. VSL is bringing these techniques to Kuwait on number of projects, he adds, such as a stay cable bridge built for the country’s new causeway.

Another VSL project that Burke highlights is that of a precast segmental bridge in Kuwait City. He explains that this technique was selected because it is necessary to keep traffic flowing below the bridge while construction is ongoing. As erecting scaffolding underneath the bridge would have obstructed the road, precast segmental construction was selected to it minimise disruption to road users.

Construction of Kuwait International Airport’s new, $4.2bn (KWD1.27bn) terminal is another project VSL is involved in that has “a lot of precast post-tension work elements”, Burke says.

“Precast post-tension concrete is good for quality control, speed of construction, and so on. While you are doing all of your enabling works, you can be precasting your elements, so they are ready to be installed. The elements can obviously be checked for quality control before you deliver them to the site. It’s not like when you cast in situ and you discover a defect.”

Chief commercial officer at KBW Investments, Aaron Chehab, agrees that Kuwait is a market full of potential. “Kuwait is definitely on our radar, and not just for post tensioning,” he says. “There is business to be had in Kuwait.”

Chehab adds that Kuwait offers “potential for lucrative partnerships across several sub-contractor sectors, including post-tensioning”. He continues: “Kuwait, and our portfolio company TTM Post Tensioning, figure prominently in our commercial strategy for the entire KBW portfolio.”

Away from Kuwait, Chehab says that the current level of demand for post-tensioning products and services across the Gulf region is flat. “The demand, despite what others might say, isn’t very high, simply because there is a lack of market education and awareness about the benefits of post-tensioning,” he explains.

Consultants and contractors are well versed in post-tensioning methods, and are said to be pressing clients to move towards the technique in order to enhance structural space usage and reduce the costs associated with building time, man hours, and materials expenditure, Chehab says.

While the GCC market as a whole may not be especially strong for post-tensioning – with Chehab admitting specialists “may not see a lot of new opportunities” – there is still room for optimism, as he explains: “Everyone in the construction sector is looking for ways to conserve resources – post-tensioning facilitates that safely and with advantages that extend all the way to engineering functionality and architecture.” 

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