Research and development bridges the gap on projects

With a host of bridge projects coming up region-wide, post-tensioning specialist vsl is looking at much more work

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By  Rhys Jones Published  August 21, 2004

An introduction to VSL|~|VSLbodypico.jpg|~|VSL's research and development arm means that the company is able to tackle a range of jobs.|~|When regional and global contractors need a structural solution for their projects they invairiably turn to VSL Switzerland Limited. With a product and service catalogue ranging from ground anchors to internal and external post-tensioning systems to stay cables, the company has been involved in a host of major developments throughout the world. VSL set up its regional base in Dubai in 1996 in a move to be more accessible to its growing portfolio of Middle East clients. As a result a string of prestigious contracts followed including the Third Bridge Crossing in Abu Dhabi and the Palm Island Gateway Bridge. Stephen Burke, Middle East operations manager, VSL told Construction Week about the company, its history and its aspirations in the region. Outline your own career path and describe how you ended up working in the Middle East. I’ve been in the Middle East for around 20-years, mostly in the Gulf region. I’ve worked on many infrastructure projects, with specialist subcontractors and I’ve been regional manager here [in Dubai] for VSL for the past five years. I was in the Emirates 15-years ago for highway projects, then there was a lull and when things started to pick up again I game back out in 1994 and I’ve been here ever since. I will be staying in the Emirates for the foreseeable future and from the VSL Dubai office we service the whole of the Gulf and we look after Muscat, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. What is VSL’s background internationally and in the Middle East region? Internationally VSL is one of the world leaders in post-tensioning, which is our core business, but we also have many products. Rather than just relying on one product we have an umbrella of products such as VSoL retained earth, which is a soil wall system and we do specialist formwork; for instance we’ve just put a tender in for the new Burj tower. We have a product called Climbform, which is a self-lifting method for static panel vertical formwork and this is a very established product that has been used extensively in Asia and Hong Kong and is something VSL specialises in along with bridge bearings and road joints among other products. We have 40 offices around the world including three factories. We employ 2800 people and we have 35 registered patents in use and we invest heavily in research and development to keep VSL ahead of the game and moving forward. What else does VSL do besides post-tensioning work and its other specialities? We’re into geotechnics, structural monitoring and we also take on design work for viaduct construction methods, such as ILM, balanced cantilever, segment erection and span by span construction.||**||Post-tensioning and research and development|~|B+Ibody.jpg|~|Ismail Carkit and Stephen Burke of VSL look at plans.|~|As post-tensioning work is one of VSL’s specialities, what do you think are the benefits of post-tensioning? Post-tensioning delivers a very cost-effective method of construction to the end-user. It means that by employing post-tensioning you can reduce quantities of concrete and reduce normal reinforcing steel quantities and also this helps in speeding up progress on the site. It is a fast method of construction and I would say two things set VSL apart from its competitors in this field. One is service to our clients, for us customer is king and we also try and go the extra mile for our clients and we try to become part of their team so we try and become an extension of their existing organisation and we focus very heavily on servicing with the client. Going back to the research and development side of things we pioneered the introduction of plastic tendon ducting, which enhances corrosion protection. Also, electrically isolated tendons is another VSL speciality. Where does VSL’s research and development take place? The research and development goes on in Switzerland in VSL’s head office and every year a budget is allocated to a specific area of research and a team is formed according to the specific needs of the type of research. We also work closely with technical institutions such as universities and at the moment we have just completed specialist monitoring package software and hardware for monitoring existing structures because with Europe in mind, which is a very mature market, monitoring existing structures is essential but the Middle East is quite a new market where you’ve got a lot being built. Saying that, a lot of the software being used in the Middle East and Europe is probably equally advanced now. What are the flagship international projects VSL has been involved in? In the region we worked on the Wadi Leban Cable Stay Bridge and also provided the post tensioning for the Al Faisaliah. Internationally we did one of the heaviest bridge lifts in the world, the Kingston Bridge in Glasgow, Scotland, which was 56 000 tonnes of bridge raised off the bearings to do some repair works and the traffic was live while this was going on. We’re doing some very large cable stay bridges in China, high-rise buildings in the Far East and in South America we’re working on the Santiago Metro project and in Hong Kong we’re also doing the light-rail project, which is a big turnkey, subcontract of packages and we’re with the main contractor on that. What about big project VSL has done or is doing in the Middle East region? Here in the Emirates we have secured the Third Bridge Crossing in Abu Dhabi, we’re working on the Palm Island gateway bridge and we’ve targeted these projects specifically because we know that they’re going to get a lot of exposure internationally, therefore it was very important for us to target these developments and get our name on those projects. Recently we have completed a number interchanges in Doha, Qatar and the post-tensioning bridge projects that we have recently completed are contract 990 in Abu Dhabi, the new back road project in Dubai, the Dubai Convention Centre bridge and bridges in Jubail Saudi Arabia . In terms of buildings we’ve done Al Ghurair City car park in Dubai, Doha city centre post-tensioning work. We have just completed a large soil wall project with Carillion at the Dubai Marina. We’re currently working on a number of bridges in Sharjah to Ras Al Khaima and in Muscat we’re doing some bridge-jacking repair works and we’re working on the Khalifa Stadium in Qatar as well as work on a bridge strengthening project in Kuwait so we have a lot of work going on at the moment within the region. All this complements our heavy lifting division, which lifted the link bridge between the Marriott executive apartments in Deira. We’re also involved with lifting the trusses for The Gate project in Dubai and did heavy lifting work on the Burj Al Arab hotel in Jumeirah and the Emirates Towers.||**||The Middle East market|~|wallbody.jpg|~|The company's VSoL system was used on the Dubai Marina walling project.|~|Which future projects in the Middle East is VSL tendering for? We’re tendering for the post-tensioning on the Dubai Mall and Climbform for the tower itself and there’s a number of new bridges coming up for tender. In Muscat there’s a new expressway coming up that we’re interested in and we’re going to be working on high-rise projects at the Dubai Marina too. Internationally, we’re always busy in places like Hong Kong, which is and has been very good market for us. Why has VSL made such a big move into the Middle East and the UAE in particular? The UAE is a great hub and is a great place to locate your office because of the excellent communication systems and obviously because the market is booming it has been a target for us to establish a branch office here. Previously, the Middle East was a market where you would come in, do a project, demobilize and go again but we realised that the customer and the client like to have a door to knock on locally so we listened to the customers and set up in Dubai. VSL has been here since 1996 and previously we were coming in from Europe to do projects. How do you see the state of the construction market in the Middle East and the UAE? It’s extremely competitive and in this market you really need to keep your eye on the ball. It’s a bit like riding a bicycle, you need to keep on peddling otherwise you’ll fall off because the industry is moving very fast and you have to basically keep your finger on the pulse. We’re talking to the end-users, the advisors to the end-users, the consultants and clients to keep up with things but work keeps on coming. However, I think you have to be selective and select and target your projects and be prudent on what you select. I would say the boom in Dubai is set to carry on for at least the next five to ten years in the short to medium term. Does each market have its own individual characteristics in your opinion? The Middle East market is very much a service orientated market where you need to be in touch with your client regularly and even when your not working with a particular client you need to go out and market and give people our literature. In this market you have to become involved on a more personal level than in Europe and Asia where there is a lot of correspondence and it’s much more formalised environment. For example, in Europe you have to book an appointment two weeks in advance whereas in Dubai it’s more of an open door policy where you can go and just see people and there is a lot less beaurocracy.||**||

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