Cable firms capitalise on fire safety boom

With multiple sectors demanding good quality cabling, niche firms across the region are fighting to innovate and win large contracts. Christopher Sell reports on the importance of fire-resistant products, the demand that power-grid development and oil and gas rigs places on the major suppliers, and the effect of material price hikes.

With the recent fire at the Fortune Tower once again bringing the issue of health and safety to the fore, and the growing demand for residential and office space, there is an emerging trend from cable manufacturers to develop new ranges of fire protection cables. Mike Smith, regional vice president, Anixter, a global leader in supply chain services and distribution of wire, cable and communication products, says the key trends that are pushing the company's growth have been related to health and safety. "I think a lot of new trends are for the low smoke, fire-resistant products," he says. "Companies are looking for more emergency-type products - which basically equates to health and safety."

Among the new health and safety orientated products Anixter is now distributing, is the Corning Cable System, a flame-retardant, indoor/outdoor plenum-rated cable suitable for installation in aerial, duct and riser, or plenum (areas in buildings that contain air flows higher than atmospheric pressure) applications. The plenum rating of the cable eliminates the need to transition splice when entering a building (from a dedicated outside plant cable to dedicated flame-retardant OFNP cable) and minimises routing restrictions once inside the building. The loose tube design offers mechanical ruggedness and environmental durability, and its flexible, flame-retardant jacket is UV-resistant and enables direct exposure to sunlight.

One of the Middle East's major manufacturer's of high-quality power cables, Ducab, also manufactures low smoke and fume wires, and cables. The Ducab Smokemaster cables have cross-linked insulating material which are capable of operating at 90°C continuously. These have low smoke and low acid gas fume emission in fire conditions, which are slow to ignite, burn slowly, and most importantly, emit much-reduced amounts of smoke and fumes during a fire, allowing people to escape.


Such products can be seen at the Middle East Electricity Exhibition, which is being held between 11-14 February in Dubai.

Dow Wire and Cable will be featuring innovative solutions for a broad spectrum of power, telecommunications, flame-retardant and speciality wire and cable applications. These solutions offer cable manufacturers a range of plastics-enhanced materials and compounds, which are used as insulation, semi-conductive, flame-retardant and jacketing materials.

While power cable manufacturers are expanding their product range and manufacturing facilities, one of the main challenges facing the industry is the fluctuating price of raw materials, adds Smith.

"It is causing havoc in the industry to be honest, both the price of copper and the demand for the product," he says.

"But it's affecting every raw material - metals especially. It's no different to steel; the last two years have been horrendous.

Smith adds that when it comes to copper, there are external factors at play which have nothing to do with supply and demand. "With copper, and access to it, it's political - it's about which markets are favoured. A lot of copper comes from various parts of the world and it's a case of who favours whom."

Nevertheless, demand in Dubai is on the rise within many material sectors, and cables are no different.

Anixter has moved into new premises to cope with the sector's growth. "We are currently in the process of moving into custom built premises within Jebel Ali Free Zone," says Smith.

"We will have a capacity of 27,000m2, which is almost an 80% increase."

Smith says the new premises will allow the company to position itself for the Middle East and the wider region of Africa and Russia, capitalising on the central location of Dubai, which makes logistical sense.

Ducab is also enjoying growth in light of increasing demand. Last month the company announced a US $180 million (AED660 million) expansion that will see its capacity increase by 50%. Equipment installation will be carried out this year, with completion earmarked by 2008. The expansion will focus on the manufacture of power cables, building wires and specialist cables at the company's Dubai and Abu Dhabi factories. Furthermore, both factories will be reorganised to give dedicated state-of-the-art production facilities for particular ranges of cable.

The extra capacity will allow the company to meet and support the needs of its growing regional customer base. In particular, the new cable types will suit the needs of the oil, gas and petrochemical sector and other major industrial developments.

Ducab also opened a factory in Abu Dhabi in early 2005, a PVC compounding facility in Jebel Ali was opened in 2006, and a copper rod casting plant is currently under construction in Musaffah.

The company has further strengthened its presence in the Middle East with a $27 million deal with Saudi Electric Company (SEC) of Saudi Arabia for the supply of medium- and low-voltage cables, making it the largest single order it has received.

The cables supplied will meet part of SEC's plan for the rapid expansion and upgrading of low- and medium-voltage distribution cable network in Saudi Arabia.

The project is expected to last more than a year with a completion date of late 2007. This deal was among a plethora of contracts secured by the firm last year with Dewa, Fewa and Adwea, which saw Ducab record sales of $190 million in the first half of 2006.

The innovation and growing efficiency within the cable and distribution industry is set to become even more relevant as studies show that power consumption continues to grow within the region. Studies by the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa) registered a growth in demand of 19% in 2006 compared to the previous year. To offset potential shortfall in supply, the power transmission and distribution unit of Germany's Siemens won an order worth more than $879 million from Qatar, the biggest contract ever won by the Siemens unit. The deal will see the company expand and modify a power supply system for Qatar General Electric and Water Corporation, with completion scheduled for February 2009.

Siemens will deliver 25 turnkey substations, expand 14 existing substations and modify 10 more. The company has already won orders worth $776 million in connection with expanding Qatar's power supply system in the last year.

In light of the expected increase in energy demand, Kahramaa announced at the beginning of this month its biggest annual budget of $3.5 billion, with 71% of this ($2.1 billion) going towards electricity infrastructure and electricity network developments. Furthermore, the firm has said it will commission 31 projects this year as part of its aim to extend its electricity network by 113%, which, if mirrored by its counterparts throughout the GCC, will clearly place further demand on the cable manufacturers within the region and set an active pace for the sector's future growth.


“I think a lot of new trends are for the low smoke, fire-resistant products. Companies are looking for more emergency-type products.� - Mike Smith, regional vice president, Anixter

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