Steel quality fears grow as costs rise

Authorities attempt to crack down on stainless steel and rebar testing to fight counterfeit

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By  Angela Giuffrida Published  September 23, 2006

Sub-standard and fake steel building products are flooding the market as contractors come under increasing cost pressures. Now industry experts are raising doubts over the quality of steel being used on building projects in the UAE and neighbouring GCC countries. Steel testing laboratories across Dubai are recording frequent failures of products such as stainless steel grade 316, while one of the region’s longest established testing laboratories has noted a high failure rate among steel plate and pipe samples being received from the offshore construction sector. Cuppala Neelkant, manager of quality control at Emirates Industrial Laboratory, said that around 10% of grade 316 tested by the laboratory, fails. “We deal with 316 frequently. And out of every 100 samples, 10 may fail.” A recent case uncovered a batch of M16 stainless steel grade eyebolts sourced locally that, once tested, were found to be of a lower grade, SS 301. “We did not find any locally supplied bolt that was grade 316 as advertised,” said Mick Atkin, operations manager, EW Cox Middle East. As pressure mounts for construction companies to cut costs amid escalating product prices, other laboratories say it is difficult to assess just how much poor quality steel is being used in the industry. “Some customers are very clever,” said a product tester from Dutest Industrial Establishment. “Whenever they have a product that is sub-standard they will not test it. Everyone is looking for a cheaper option – that’s the problem.” As part of a campaign by Dubai Municipality to crack down on poor quality rebar in the market, inspectors collected 250 random samples from government projects, of which 99% complied after being tested by Dubai Central Laboratory. Further investigations are being carried out on rebar used in private projects. “Our inspectors are collecting samples used in private buildings; we do not want to wait for the contractors to bring the samples to us because we want to ensure they are representative of what is actually used,” said Ali Elian, head of inspection and certification section, Dubai Central Laboratory. According to Mufid Samarai, director of the Central Laboratories, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Sharjah, ensuring the use of good quality steel could add years to a building’s lifespan. “A poorly made building will last 15 years, whereas one done well will last 50. Seventy-five per cent of the reason for a building deteriorating is due to internal causes. If the concrete reinforcement corrodes, it means that element of the structure will fail and the building will no longer be safe to be used as it was designed to.”

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