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Gulf formwork suppliers have adapted to succeed

Formwork specialists have adapted admirably to challenges and tough trading conditions in the GCC by picking up projects with smaller profit margins

Formwork specialists have adapted admirably to challenges and tough trading conditions in the GCC.
Formwork specialists have adapted admirably to challenges and tough trading conditions in the GCC.

Formwork is certainly not the most high-profile segment of the Gulf’s construction sector, but it continues to play a pivotal role in the development of the region’s built world.

From skyscrapers and air traffic control towers, to residential buildings, bridges, elevator shafts, malls, and villas, formwork professionals have had a hand in more projects in the GCC than many may actually realise.

As is the case in other segments of the market, however, competition is rising, and a host of challenges are mounting for contractors and sub-contractors. Formwork specialists are not immune to this, and late last year they were reportedly picking up projects with smaller profit margins due to a combination of fierce competition and myriad market challenges.

With companies warming to the idea of accepting smaller contracts, businesses have had to find new ways of working in order to become cost efficient; if they are taking on these contracts, they need to ensure that their revenue and profit are not adversely affected by work that may deliver a lower monetary return. 

Towards the end of 2017, at a Construction Week roundtable event, the business development manager for the Middle East region at MFE Formwork Technology, Steven Magowan Robinson, said companies were exploring how to trim their cost base to adapt to new market conditions.

ROUNDTABLE: Experts discuss the Middle East’s formwork sector

“Contractors are trying to cut their overheads so that they can price to win projects,” he said. “As such, we are trying to help them to reduce their outgoings so that they can [succeed] and, in turn, give us work. This means working in a more consultative capacity than we have in the past,” he added.

“The sales focus has changed from quality and speed to reusability and long-term returns on investment. That seems to be where [market requirements] have migrated to over the last couple of years.”

While there is a focus on long-term returns as formwork experts adapt to win projects of smaller scale, Dubai, for example, is still home to many projects that will need formwork. Expo 2020 Dubai is an obvious candidate on the megaproject end of the scale.

Another project with great formwork potential is Jumeirah Gate, which Australian contractor Multiplex is developing in Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Residences neighbourhood. The mixed-use, 77-storey twin-tower development features a 183-key five-star Address Hotel, 443 branded apartments operated by the Address  brand, and 478 residential apartments. The development occupies a plot spanning 20,000m2, plus an additional area of 10,000m2 of leased land for landscaping.

Work is progressing on the towers, and German Formwork Technology (GFT) is one of the companies involved with the project. Pictures on the firm’s website show several feet of formwork systems that have been fitted to wooden girders and erected on the development’s site.

The supplier says it is one of the largest firms in the Middle East in the duel fields of formwork and “advanced scaffolding”, and has been involved in a number of other projects, as well. These include work with Multiplex on HSBC’s $250m (AED918.1m) Middle East headquarters building in Dubai. The 20-storey office features 16 floors of office space, and a four-storey garage. 

The building, which Broadway Malyan was named lead architect for, is scheduled for delivery this year, HSBC confirmed for Construction Week earlier this month.

READ: GCC formwork companies are diversifying amid high competition

In fact, Germany is well represented in the UAE formwork sector, as Weissenhorn-based Peri, which claims to be one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of formwork and scaffolding, is also involved in a significant project.

The firm, which says it has seen annual hikes in its revenue since 2010, is involved in the construction of a “futuristic building” located in heart of Sharjah – the new headquarters (HQ) of waste management company Bee’ah, which is being built in line with the requirements of the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Peri is supplying project-specific formwork elements for the technically challenging project.

The HQ building’s architectural design is said to draw its inspiration from the rolling sand dunes, and features a curved concrete dome. Peri has installed formwork and scaffolding solutions to simplify construction of the large, vaulted section. This was no easy feat, as the dome alone is 23m long and 17m wide, while the entire building spans more than 7,000m². Peri said the entire dome has had to have four separate formwork sections built. 

The positioning of both the anchors and the formwork joints were “defined in great detail”, the company explained in an update on the project in February.  Furthermore, Peri said that high-quality plywood formers and panels were used to create a customised production process, which allowed the business to adapt its formwork structures to match the arched slab dimensions of the dome.

Describing its work on the project, Peri said: “Thanks to the well-coordinated cooperation between the entire planning and assembly teams, along with the job site crew, an excellent architectural concrete result has been achieved in the course of the execution of the work, which fully complies with the strict architectural requirements.”

During the HQ building’s construction, a Peri project manager was present on site to ensure formwork and scaffolding was delivered in a timely and efficient manner, and to ensure that the materials were handled correctly. Commenting on this point, the company explained that it meant that the quantity of materials could be “continuously adjusted in order to match the actual construction progress”. 

“This individual, on-site project management not only guaranteed complete transparency and planning reliability, but also increased the cost-effectiveness of the [development],” Peri added.

Peri’s focus on cost-effectiveness illustrates how formwork suppliers and sub-contractors continue to look at ways to minimise margin disruptions at a time when construction companies have to evolve in order to meet changing conditions and win new contracts. 

While formwork may admittedly not be perceived as glamorous, nor as high-profile as other stakeholders involved in the typical construction process, it is undeniable that formwork suppliers continue to play an essential role in shaping and developing the Middle East’s impressive built environment.  

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