In Good Form.
Look at any large construction project in Qatar and the likelihood is that formwork has been used during the building process. Everything from existing towers and buildings to the future roads, bridges, rail systems and football stadia have or will benefit from formwork at some point.
Last year's upturn in Qatar's construction industry was well received by all working within it, not least the formwork firms that have to wait until all the ground and foundation works have been completed before their jobs begin.
The formwork companies' technology, equipment and know-how is capable of taking a project to the next level, with walls and floors going up at an impressive rate.
And with the next five years set to see a dramatic upturn in work in Qatar, the competition for work promises to be intense. Allan Pemberton, GM of Harsco Al Darwish, says "business is booming" and that he has already seen the company's workload increase in the first two months of the new year, with the next three years will be a particularly busy period.
"The construction demand we have experienced in 2014 has increased since last year and is expected to ramp up until 2016 when peak levels will be achieved. It is an exciting time for the state with whole new cities being constructed," he comments.
Harsco is currently supplying its formwork services to a number of projects under construction in Qatar, notably the Msheireb Downtown Doha project, Northgate Mall, Ministry of Interior building, and high-rise building projects in Lusail City.
Pemberton says that companies such as Harsco that have built a significant portfolio of formwork projects in Qatar are in a good position to win the big contracts that will be handed down in the coming years.
"As the volume of projects comes on line the most successful formwork companies differentiate themselves by the trust that their clients have in their track record to deliver. There is only one chance to get this right and the eyes of the world will be on Qatar when the World Cup comes around," he comments.
Ahmed El-hadidy, Gulf manager for Acrow agrees that the time frames set out by Qatar's powers-that-be - most of the infrastructure work is slated for completion by 2019, with the 2021 Confederations Cup providing a dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup a key date - mean that efficiency is of critical importance.
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"Formwork is playing an important role in shaping many of Qatar's important infrastructure projects, and is important to contractors as it is cost effective and helps to complete the project in the required time" he tells Construction Week Qatar.
Like Harsco, Acrow is working on a wide array of Qatari construction site. Currently, the firm is supplying formwork to the Lusail CP5B expressway project with Samsung C&T, the Lusail CP4 road project and the newly-awarded East Corridor P011 project with China Harbour Engineering Co.
"One of the biggest challenges that companies in the construction industry face here in Qatar is the tight time schedule and how to provide a cost effective service that will accommodate and meet deadlines set out by such a lean construction timetable," Elhadidy adds.
The effort to complete such a scale of work in what is a concerted period of time is a significant one, and ties into the government's view that "Qatar deserves the best". Adding his take to the conversation, David Russell, Marcegaglia deputy GM, says that as well as tight deadlines, the high-specifications of new projects pose challenges for formwork companies.
"A high-performance formwork system is critical in order to deliver the kind of productivity required on Qatar's many fast track projects, while at the same time ensuring a high quality finish," he comments. "The customisation of formwork is increasingly required placing demands on engineering services and formwork production facilities."
The squeeze on company's margins - in part due to intense competition and the demands to complete projects on time - has led to a demand for formwork technology that cuts the number of labour hours needed, says Pemberton.
"What has become noticeable is that as labour costs have increased we are seeing stronger demand for labour saving formwork systems such as the TOPEC beam-free slab system. Tight schedules have always been a feature of Middle East projects and it is down to the expertise of the formwork supplier to adapt to this.
"There is an excitement and a palpable impatience in the market here where only the best companies survive."
The demands are pushing companies to invest in technology that can be used many times over, Russell reveals. "New technologies are increasingly being used, driven by architectural demands. The use of new technologies combined with prefabricated, galvanised panels reduces the cost of carpentry works and maximises the recycling or re-utilisation of the formwork system. Re-utilisation of up to 100 casts is possible with the technology."
He cites the company's SMP8 Shoring tower system as one that fits the needs of the Qatar market. It is used for slabs with high loads of up to 32 tonnes. It is flexible, and is very quick to install and dismantle. Due to the high load capacity, the volume of steel used is significantly less than standard systems and therefore delivers higher productivity, time-savings and lower manpower costs.
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While the demands of the market will naturally result in new technology and products, Pemberton says that tried and tested formwork methods still have a place in the Qatar market. "We can offer the most up to date systems to speed productivity," he comments.
"Our key lines like TOPEC slab formwork system and MANTO for giant panels have been used elsewhere in the world for 20 years. Similar ones may be lauded as 'new innovations' but this is clearly not the case. Harsco partners with clients providing fit-for-purpose engineered solutions and nothing is over designed - we are here for the long-term."
Being in it for the long haul is a message many of Qatar's more established formwork companies have been keen to get out to the market, mindful of firms from all over the world targeting Qatar as a potentially lucrative construction market.
"The Qatari market is a big challenge for all the formwork companies, and there is going to be a lot of competition for projects in the coming years," El-hadidy points out.
"What we see today is a market where a number of the major projects have already been announced and awarded. Meanwhile, there are a large number of formwork companies trying to establish themselves here, while some of the existing companies are attempting to strengthen the position they are already in before more of the infrastructure contracts are awarded - it is a very crowded market."
Inevitably, the spectre of payment problems - one of the main challenges cited by industry professionals and companies working in the Qatar construction market - is cited as an issue that companies with no real history in Qatar are likely to suffer from, giving the more established players an advantage when contractors consider tender bids.
"The availability of material, quick response and turnaround times, and competent engineering capabilities are the main expectations of large contractors, but payment is also an issue," says Russell. "If the customer is new, with no credit track record with your organisation, payment guarantees have to be secured before commencing the project. It would be unwise to proceed otherwise.
"Companies with a poor record of paying will find it difficult to do business with the top vendors in this market."
However, given the potential for business, interested parties are unlikely to be deterred by such potential issues, especially if they are able to agree a joint venture with a local firm to give them a viable route into market.
Russell agrees that such a varied and sizeable market will attract new entrants. "During the next decade there will be a lot of opportunities in the Qatar market with many large and diverse projects," he says. "These projects range from rail, stadiums, infrastructure, tunneling and offshore bridge developments, so there's a lot of work to be done."
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