Glass suppliers battle to keep up with the rocketing market

With local glass suppliers working flat out to meet burgeoning demand in the sector, the opportunity for market competition gives global firms at this year's Big 5 a chance to take a slice of the action. Christopher Sell reports on the strong local players and their international competitors.

Dubai’s breathless expansion shows no sign of abating over the next few years, with iconic developments such as the Burj Al Arab and Emirates Towers now jostling with future building landmarks including the Burj Dubai and the Palms.

And with Business Bay and Dubai Marina rising by the day, it would take the most myopic of individuals to fail to notice that glass structures are beginning to dominate the emirate’s landscape.

With properties such as cost-effectiveness and eco-friendliness lending to aesthetics that all developers want, it is no surprise that glass is the finish of choice for the majority of high-rise developments in the emirate.

And it is not just externally; glass has become a desirable addition to any contemporary interior design as modern production techniques ensure that its qualities; slenderness, lightness, clarity and translucence, remain intact.

Yet with such an emphasis on one particular raw material, the issue of supply and demand can never be far away leaving a handful of companies responsible to feed the almost insatiable demand for glass.

Emirates Glass is one such company that has secured a number of key contracts over the last few months directly as a result of burgeoning growth for a number of key Dubai developments.

Established eight years ago by Dubai Investments, the firm has secured itself as one of the leading suppliers of glass in the Middle East.

In fact, as a direct result of the explosion of new builds in the emirate over the last few years it has doubled capacity year-on-year for the past four years.

At present it coats 800,000m2 of glass a year for construction projects, and supplies a very high proportion of the tower developments in the UAE.

According to Arthur Millwood, technical and training manager, Emirates Glass the current situation in Dubai is a torrid one, with the company struggling to match demand.

“We are up to our eyes, the market is on fire.

There is no way in a million years we could meet the demand here.

We are struggling to do what we can with what we have and I think if you ask anybody they would tell you the same,” he says.

With the glass market in Dubai met squarely between four main suppliers; Al Abbar, GGI, Technical Glass and Emirates Glass, Millwood believes the pace of construction is becoming unsustainable.

“It’s all come at a rush, you can’t keep up with this development.

The quantity of new buildings coming into use each week is nightmarish, you wouldn’t find it anywhere else in the world.”

He adds: “Typical delivery times are now running at 10 weeks where a year ago we were talking four.”

The company is trying to ease these factors.

Following on from the expansion of its factory, Millwood said that Emirates glass signed a deal two weeks ago with a German company called Applied Films, for a brand new, much larger manufacturing machine which should be up and running inside 12 months.

The machine will apply thin metallic films on glass that will reflect the heat of the sun and energy efficient glass to reduce the cooling load on air conditioning.

Al Abbar is also trying to meet demand by expanding production.

Earlier this summer, the company announced a multi-million dollar investment plan as part of its aim to become the region’s leading architectural glass supplier.

New temping and cutting lines will be introduced at its Dubai factory in October while a new glass coating line will follow in March 2007.

This hasn’t stopped Emirates Glass from securing some key contracts, however.

In March this year it won two major orders to supply 50,000m2 of glass for Park Place Tower on the Sheikh Zayed Road and Harbour Plaza project at Dubai Festival City.

This was followed by a contract to dress up the new Etisalat Tower.

This prestigious order was to supply 10,000m2 of high-performance glass.

The elegant boat-shaped tower, located at the Dubai Trade Centre Roundabout, will use this type of glass for all the curtain-wall and window glazing.

These follow a raft of further deals over the last 12 months; one of the most important was the contract to supply 56,000m2 of high-performance glass to Concourse Two of the Dubai International Airport’s expansion project.

Its focus is not only within the Emirate, however as 10 regional contracts testify, seven in Kuwait and three in Qatar, totalling 67,000m2.

In all cases, the contract specified the company’s EmicoolSun glass range.

These have been developed as a range of low e-coatings, which have a neutral silver appearance when applied onto clear and tinted float glass substrates.

The EmicoolSun range of four coating options provides a multifunctional capability of light with solar resistance and excellent thermal insulation, allowing generous transmission of light with low internal reflection and an appearance of clear or tinted glass when viewed from inside the building.

This glass was also the primary supply for Emirates Glass landmark order to supply 66,000m2 to the Burj Residence project phases one, two and three.

Over the past 25 years, technology has developed different varieties of glass that have thin, transparent metal films on them to cut, sometimes substantially, the transmission of solar energy and also to reduce the amount of conducted heat passing through the building.

These include pyrolitic solar control glass, which offers a successful solution to the heat-gain problem within a specific range of limitations and advantages in performances and appearance, while pyrolitic coated glass functions well in terms of solar shading and thermal insulation.

With more developments due in the emirate and greater awareness being shown to the cost and environmental benefits of employing glass in various guises, it may need more than a couple of companies to upgrade their facilities to match the demand in the next few years.

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