Piling pressure

Piling contractors in the region are waiting for the market

Piling contractors report a market that has not improved since the downturn began.
Piling contractors report a market that has not improved since the downturn began.
Regional expansion has been necessary for piling contractors looking to take advantage of contracts available in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.
Regional expansion has been necessary for piling contractors looking to take advantage of contracts available in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.

Piling and foundation contractors in the region are waiting for the market to start looking up. CW chats to a couple of piling experts to get their thoughts on the matter.

Talk to anyone in the construction industry and they’ll tell you that ground works, including piling and foundation, is probably the most important task in building the average tower.

And as various sectors within the construction industry struggle to climb out of one of the worst economic downturns in recent history, piling and foundation contractors too, have not been spared and are hoping for a change to come along.

But with numerous contracts having recently been awarded in Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia, it appears that the situation could be improving gradually. One piling contractor thinks not.

“The market for piling and foundations has not improved at all since the middle of 2008,” complains Ras Al Khaimah-based Al Nuaimi Foundations & Concrete division manager Kochummini Mukundan. “And that is why we’re waiting in hope for the time when the market gets better.”

Shad Asif Khan, general manager for piling contractor Keller Grundbau, agrees with Mukundan over the current market situation and backs up his opinion with a simple fact.

“The number of piling rigs available in the market is still much more than the demand for them, because construction activity is still not as much as it was back in 2008,” he says.

So what can bring about this change? With the region now focusing heavily on sustainable construction and cheaper costs, could a change in techniques bring down the overheads?

An independent sustainability expert suggested a shift from concrete foundations to steel foundations could result in better Leed ratings, but it is still being researched.

“Concrete pile foundations are quite popular here in the market and we have enough additives to extend the life of the concrete,” says Mukundan.

He adds that in his 47 years of experience in construction, he has never known steel piles to be ‘that popular’ in the region.

Khan, however, weighs the pros and cons of steel and concrete in a little more detail. He says steel foundation installation can have a high production rate, but adds that when compared to concrete foundations the head treatment would be significantly reduced.

“Some additional measures such as cathodic protection or epoxy coating may be necessary to prevent corrosion but both options can fulfill sustainability requirements. The carbon footprint for steel would be much higher than concrete, but it can be more easily recycled then concrete piles,” he adds.

So when exactly are steel piles used since concrete seems to be the preferred option in the Middle East? And will steel piles ever fit into the scheme of things to come?

“Our company has worked successfully with both systems,” confirms Mukundan but says they’ve got their own uses.

“In general, steel foundations are mostly used for harbours and jetties. For marine construction, steel foundations have more advantages than concrete ones, but on land-based high rise buildings, it is more economical to build with concrete foundations,” he explains.

Finding work at the moment is not the easiest task, but has the piling and foundation sector improved over the last five years in terms of technology and has the equipment being used been upgraded?

While Mukundan reminisces about starting out in 1963, when everything was mostly mechanical and manual, Khan compares the more recent systems on the ground.

“The crane hung piling units are hardly used by any professional piling company; custom built pile drilling rigs are definitely more popular,” says Khan.

He feels that the practise of using bentonite to stabilise the collapsible part of a borehole is also slowly diminishing.

“Many incidents are being heard of, where well known names have had problems with piles settling more than expected, due to either reduced skin friction of pile walls or reduced end-bearing due to un-cleaned bentonite from the pile base,” he says.

“Previously for construction of secant pile walls also, companies were avoiding the use of full-cased holes for reinforced piles, but this practice is also reducing as the quality of a fully-cased pile is distinctly better than cutting unreinforced piles without casing,” he adds.

The reason why piling and foundations work is regarded as one of the most vital steps in the construction process, especially in the region, is due to the many different soil types, each country or city have.

This variety leads to many technical challenges which have to be paid careful attention to. But Mukundan thinks the biggest challenge he has to face at the moment is on the commercial side. A very serious challenge in these times indeed! But Khan focuses on the technical aspects instead.

“The cavities in certain areas of Abu Dhabi pose a challenge to the piling contractors,” he says.

“[We have] to tackle them in a manner where the integrity of the pile remains intact. This challenge is overcome by shear experience and knowledge of the piling contractor,” he explains.

With Abu Dhabi announcing projects and awarding contracts every week, it has clearly become the preferred playground for the construction industry in the UAE. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is a counterpart on a regional scale.

Keller has a strong presence in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi according to Khan and so do most other leading piling contractors.

“Our company has already registered in Saudi Arabia for our division as foundations and for all other activities in our group,” says Mukundan.

“We also have a presence in Oman as well as our home country, the UAE.”

Mukundan adds that Al Nuaimi Group is also currently looking for possible joint ventures and partnerships in various foundation projects across the Middle East.

Foundations: Concrete Vs Steel

  1. Steel foundations good for marine construction like harbours and jetties
  2. Concrete foundations are more economic for land-based construction
  3. Concrete foundations last longer when additives are used
  4. Steel foundations have a high production rate
  5. Steel foundations head treatment significantly reduced
  6. Both options are sustainable options
  7. Carbon footprint of steel will be much higher than concrete
  8. Steel piles can be easily recycled than concrete piles

What are the best methods a company can use to create firm foundations?
Al Nuaimi Group
To use large diameter bore piles to have a strong foundations for any structure.

Keller Grundbau
No method can be labelled as best. A variety of foundation techniques are available, and it is an art to apply in one project a combination of products, and devise a solution that is economical and at the same time fulfils the structural requirements. An over design in these times should be avoided. The quality of the product depends on control and monitoring procedures while the product is being installed.

Basic tests to check foundation strength
Load testing – statically or dynamically
Sonic Echo testing – determines any discontinuities in the pile section and concrete quality.

Piling & Foundation companies

Keller Grundbau
Around the world, ground engineering is crucial to the success of major civil engineering schemes such as urban regeneration, infrastructure renewal and energy production. It is also an important factor in whether a project is delivered on time and to budget. Whatever the size of the project, and wherever it is, according to Keller it has the experience and technology to provide an innovative, robust and cost-effective solution.

Keller services are used across the entire construction spectrum from industrial, commercial and housing projects to infrastructure construction for dams, tunnels, transportation and water treatment.

Keller also meets the specialised geotechnical requirements relating to the renovation of existing buildings and the increasingly important environmental contracting market.

The company claims to have the financial strength, the know-how and the global reach to tackle some of the largest and most demanding projects around the world.

Dutco Balfour Beatty – Piling & Ground Engineering division
The Piling and Ground Engineering Division was formed in late 2003 when the division decided to re-establish their bored piling capability.

The division focuses on three key business areas: foundation works; lateral support works (excavation retaining structures); and through an association with Landpac of South Africa, ground treatment and improvement, and aims to offer various engineering products to international standards.

The main group, Dutco Balfour Beatty, is a major participant in the Middle East construction industries. The company, which employs around 13,500 people, is one of the largest civil engineering, building and marine contractors in the UAE and also offers clients the focus and expertise of specialist scaffolding, formwork , interiors and plant.

DBB, as it is commonly known, was formally incorporated in 1984, following the successful, early completion of the US $4 billion Mina Jebel Ali Port project for the Government of Dubai.

Over the years, Dutco Balfour Beatty has evolved into one of the leading civil, building and marine contractors in the UAE with a well established record for timely delivery and customer satisfaction.

Dutco’s list of clients includes the Roads & Transport Authority, Dubai Municipality, Emaar Properties, Dubai Civil Aviation, Dubai Port Authority and Nakheel Properties.

The company designs and builds special foundations and shoring projects that span the entire construction industry. The company offers a vast array of techniques optimally tailored to each individual project.

Solutions include large diameter cast-in-situ or driven piles, pressure grouted micropiles, temporary and permanent anchors, diaphragm walls, high pressure grouting, chemical grouting, sheet piles, root piles, and jet grouting.

Today, Edrafor is backed by a work force of over 200 highly experienced and skilled personnel for design, construction, operation, testing, maintenance, manufacturing, and repairs, all to insure a high quality, safe, and efficient service that guarantees on time and on budget completion.

Recognised as one of the major geotechnical companies in the Middle East, Edrafor has expanded its field of operations to Syria, the UAE and Qatar.

Züblin has gained a wealth of experience in over 50 countries during more than 50 years, carrying out design, management, construction and turnkey projects.

As for all of Züblin’s activities, the reservoir of knowledge and experience of Züblin’s in-house specialist departments, such as tunneling, ground engineering and turnkey technical department, and tunnelling department amongst others, continue to provide innovative and efficient solutions to every engineering challenge confronted.

Züblin also maintains a strong position in the German as well as in the international construction markets through its innovative and technical capabilities, supported by a solid financial basis.

Projects are planned and managed by qualified and highly motivated engineers and designers, backed by experienced administrative and management personnel. Modern plant and equipment, as well as highly trained site-personnel guarantee on-time performance and a high standard of quality.

Dutch Foundations
Dutch Foundation specialises in deep foundation piling. For close to two decades it has had a big share of the enormous building boom in the GCC countries which saw a rapid growth of the company.

According to the company, its strength comes from the safe and efficient utilisation of the atest technology machinery and workforce of highly trained and experienced professionals.

The company excels in Cast in Situ bored piles (vertical/raked), Continuous Flight Auger CFA Piles, Driven Cast in Situ Piles, Driven precast piles, Sheet piling, Secant pile wall, Diaphragm wall, Concrete Rehabilitation, Trench Sheeting, Marine Jetties, Complete foundation design & construction.

Al Nuaimi Group
Al Nuaimi Group is a multi-activity firm established in the UAE in 1974. Since then, by adopting a dynamic quantitative approach to business, Al Nuaimi Group has become one of the leading groups in the areas of Construction, Laboratory and Foundations, Road Work Builders, General Transporters, Electrical works.

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