09.01.2013, 19:17

Built to last

Paul Lowndes, Managing Director of Degussa Specialty Chemicals, on what role chemicals can play in increasing the lifecycles of structures.

Sceptics may well wonder how long fast-track buildings in the Gulf will stay standing. FM Magazine talks to Paul Lowndes, General Manager of Degussa Specialty Chemicals, about what role chemical solutions can play in increasing lifecycles.

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“Everybody sets out with the best intention to build a functionally sound, structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing structure,” says Paul Lowndes, General Manager of Degussa Specialty Chemicals. “It’s just that along the way there are lots of different paths to take, and you’ve just got to make sure that the focus is on quality and lifecycle.”

If the clients want to have this building for 20, 30 or 40 years, they've got to ensure that due care is taken during construction.

Too often this is not the case in the Gulf. With the rising popularity of the design and build model of construction, lifecycle costs are a last consideration as contractors are given a project, a price and a timeframe to complete. “They’re looking to build a functional building but they’re not really looking at it having a 25-year lifecycle,” says Lowndes. “And this is where the consultants and the clients perhaps need to be more involved in the decision-making process. Because if the clients want to have this building for 20, 30 or 40 years, they’ve got to ensure that due care is taken during construction. Whereas, unfortunately, they just receive the building handed over to them.”

In the Gulf’s unique market, both for climate and characteristics, the company’s products and solutions are often adapted to fit prevalent trends. “Admixtures make up a large part of what we do here,” explains Lowndes, “but we’re finding more and more that because of the type of build, there’s less concrete being used in some of these high towers than there is in large civil projects. So we’re looking more into the industrial flooring, decorative flooring and building products side of the market, while we still have a stable and growing base for the admixtures.”

The speed of build in the GCC is another factor that affects Degussa Construction Chemicals’ solutions offering. With responsibility for the GCC countries, Lowndes says that Dubai is by far the biggest and most dynamic market for the company. To keep in step with the race for project completion in the burgeoning emirate, Degussa Construction Chemicals has placed much emphasis on products and solutions that facilitate the needs of this fasttrack market.

“It seems that the speed of construction takes priority here,” observes Lowndes. “Therefore a lot of our products or systems now are enabling contractors to attain the strict schedules that they’re committed to. Products such as those enabling the faster placement of concrete or the easier application of coatings or flooring systems.”

“Speed is something that a lot of people are looking at, but we don't want speed at the sacrifice of quality. And that's why we like to focus on lifecycle; because you still need the speed for the construction to get your unit operational and therefore to get revenue, but you don’t want to be spending that revenue eight years down the road on something that could have been avoided.” Another product adaptation that Degussa Construction Chemicals has made in the Gulf is what it calls to ‘tropicalize’. Many chemical products from Europe simply cannot withstand the searing temperatures that exist 

here. Therefore, their formulations are altered slightly to perform in this climate. Lowndes says this actually means the products and systems here are of a higher performance specification than in Europe. For this reason, the company puts a lot of time and resources into training specialist contractors in correct application procedures.

“One of the big issues with the main contractors is that they tend to sub-contract a lot of the specialist work because it’s usually time consuming,” explains Lowndes. “So you’ve got to make sure that your products are being applied correctly and that they’re the correct products for the application as well.”

Getting the application right is crucial to all those involved in the coatings business. Lowndes says his company has settled with a basket of specialist contractors that have proven their ability over time. Yet there is still an urgent need for his staff to be on site training and supervising the specialists, because should the product not perform in accordance with its warranties, the client’s first point of call is always the manufacturer – even if the problem was caused by poor application.

Paul Lowndes
Paul Lowndes

Another issue Lowndes identifies is that one of the main criteria for a specialist contractor here is for the company to be financially sound. While there are some very good physical applicators of material and some competent technical people in Dubai, if the companies they work for are small, the chances are they will struggle to undertake big projects requiring millions of dirhams worth of materials. “So, as an international company, as a manufacturer, we’re finding more onus is being placed on ourselves by the contractor,” says Lowndes, “because they know that we’re not going to move away or go into a different business in four or five years’ time. So we’re giving them guarantees on lifecycle costs and they know that we’re going to be here in 30 years’ time.”

Lowndes stresses that no individual product will increase the life of a building by itself, but rather the right combination of systems and solutions. And in addition to lifecycle, the productivity of a structure is also important. Downtime must be minimised. For an industrial flooring application, for example, the company must ensure that the floor will not need maintenance every 12 months because this would mean closing down the production area and therefore reducing productivity of the plant or factory.

Even so, cleaning and maintenance guidelines are included in the company’s method statement for application. “We don’t generally name individual products but the generic type of chemical or detergent or wax,” says Lowndes. “Also, what we’re tending to do now is that some of our guys will go back to old projects on an ad hoc basis just to check that everything we told them five or six years ago is still being applied now.”

But no amount of planned preventative maintenance beats having the right solution in place to begin with, and ensuring that it is correctly applied. Each solution that Degussa Construction Chemicals provides must be tailor-made to the particular requirements of the project. The company has a specifications team that liases with consultants to determine which product would best meet the application needs for the lifecycle of the structure in question.

“If you’re looking at an industrial floor,” explains Lowndes, “you have to look at: What’s the physical abuse that’s going to happen? How are they going to clean that floor? What type of cleaning agents are they going to use? What type of trolleys or fork-lift trucks or steel-wheeled machines are going to be on that floor? Is it going to be a chemical plant, a pharmaceutical plant? What are the hygiene requirements? So really it’s a plethora of different questions that need to be answered before you can actually say these are the types of systems that you should look at.”

For ascertaining the right admixture solution, the company would need to know, among other factors, what the durability and lifecycle requirements of that structure are; what the loading requirements are; and what the client and consultant are looking to achieve from that structure. Only then could a product be designed and mixed to match accordingly.

Lowndes adds that the readymix contractors here produce some of the best quality concrete in the world. Standards in Europe, such as BS EN 206 for concrete, that are still being introduced there are already being surpassed here ‘because everything here is higher, taller, bigger, stronger and faster’. Not to be left behind, the admixtures market has also made large strides forward with the introduction of ‘high plasticizers’, enabling higher durability concrete.

“Producing durable concrete is the name of the game now in admixtures,” Lowndes says. “Ten years ago it was ‘How strong is my concrete?’ But strength doesn’t really stop the ingress of water or increase lifecycles. Products such as polycarboxylic ether enable you to have very low porosity concrete while being able to produce projects such as the Burj Dubai. Because it’s such a tall structure, you actually have to pump concrete. So you need to have a special admixture to enable that pumping to take place.”

With the likes of the world’s tallest building and an ever-longer string of other mega-projects on Dubai’s drawing table, Degussa Construction Chemicals is already setting in place infrastructure to cope with demand from 2009 onward. Not to mention intending to put more focus on booming Abu Dhabi and neighbouring Qatar. All this construction and real estate activity, Lowndes believes, can only further strengthen the role of facilities management as a lifecycle-enhancing profession.

We want people to realise what lifecycle management and facilities management mean. Because the more they're accepted within the construction industry, the more emphasis will be placed on longer lifecycles, higher productivity per unit and so on.

“For companies such as ourselves, we want people to realise what lifecycle and facilities management mean,” enthuses Lowndes. “Because the more that’s accepted within the construction industry, the more emphasis is placed on longer lifecycles, higher productivity per unit and so on. Then more companies such as ourselves can assist clients, contractors and consultants attain longer lifecycles. It’s exactly what we want.”

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