On-site fencing keeps hoards away

Even before the cranes, construction brains and plant vehicles arrive, the first product to be erected on site is fencing. Zoe Naylor reports on a booming niche market, which is coming under increasing regulation across the region.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  February 18, 2006

|~|109prod200.gif|~|A worker welds together a fencing gate. S&B is working on some lucrative local projects, including the Burj Dubai and Dubai Marina.|~|Long before the diggers and dozers arrive, one of the first things to appear on a new construction site is the fencing. Whether it is used to prevent the public from accessing a site, or to cordon off and demarcate large areas of land where different contractors are working, choosing the right type of fencing for the job is imperative. “Fencing needs to have a long life because it’s the first thing to go up on a construction site,” says Paul Grundy, director of S&B Fencing in Dubai. “It may be up for three years or even longer, so the product has to be durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of the harsh Gulf climate, such as long hours of sunlight, high winds and humidity.” S&B provides a range of fencing and site hoarding products, from restricting site access to screening off a site for safety reasons i.e. during basement excavation. Based in Dubai, the firm is currently supplying fencing to many of the biggest projects in town, including the Marina, Burj Dubai (one of S&B’s first contracts in the region), the Metro, Palm Jumeirah, Dubailand, Dubai airport expansion and Business Bay. According to Grundy, before S&B arrived on the UAE fencing market three and a half years ago, no one used steel for fencing — it was all wood. Using wooden fencing requires a lot of maintenance i.e. re-painting, plus it isn’t easy to re-use. Steel fencing products are recyclable, so even if it is damaged, it can still be repaired, or scrapped and recycled. “Even after the steel has been sandblasted for a few years by the wind and all the powder coating has come off, you can recoat it and refurbish it at low cost so it will last even longer,” says Grundy. “With timber, however, you often end up having to throw it away — if you try to re-use it starts looking very scruffy.” And scruffy fencing is something that Dubai’s authorities are trying to avoid, hence the recent edict by Dubai Municipality that fencing panels should abut one another. “They’re trying to narrow the specifications,” says Grundy. “It’s to do with appearance more than anything — by screening everything off it looks neater.” The type of fencing required on a construction project will vary from job to job: “It’s a case of what needs to be done with the site i.e. whether it needs to be screened off or separated into sub-sections, as with a massive project such as Dubailand, for example.” Fencing is also widely used on the emirate’s labour camps to fence off the accommodation of the various nationalities. Cost is another deciding factor, since fencing comes out of the contractor’s budget and not the client’s: “The contractor wants the most economical way of doing the job and with the least hassle.” The hike in steel prices has also affected fencing contract margins. One of S&B’s biggest fencing contracts in the region was for Aldar Properties, which recently began work on the Al Raha beach development in Abu Dhabi — S&B had around 200 labourers erecting 8 km of fencing in just 30 days. According to Grundy, the fencing business here in Dubai differs significantly from that of the UK business model: “For this type of business in the UK, you sell or rent the equipment to the contractor and the contractor does it all — they put up the fencing and take it down. “But here, the business model is different: instead of the contractor doing it, they want us to undertake a full service job. The contractor doesn’t want to get involved in the fencing side of things.” While Dubai is home to many large site hoardings (one of the longest in the world was erected last year on Sheikh Zayed Road for Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank), Grundy says it’s not an area that S&B is particularly involved in. “The big hoardings are expensive to do and it’s a lot of hassle to arrange applications for advertising. The advertising permits cost around AED100 per m2, plus you need engineering tests for wind load factors, so we’ve tended to keep away from this area of the market and stick mainly to hoardings around 3.5 m high.” In terms of new fencing products, Grundy says the company is looking towards the edge protection market. “We now offer a system known as safety fans which can be used during the construction of high-rise buildings,” he says. This involves hanging made to measure mesh-fencing panels off the side of a building to catch falling objects. “Our safety fans incorporate a handrail and a kick board, so if someone kicks a spanner it doesn’t fall over the edge and damage the curtain walling (or injure people) below.” Unlike S&B Fencing, which sources and manufactures its products locally, Belgian-owned Betafence sources and manufactures its steel fencing from Europe for use on its Gulf projects. “We face intense competition from local suppliers in the region because we don’t manufacture here — it’s done in our plants in Belgium,” says Aamir Siddiqui, Dubai-based sales manager at Betafence. “We source our steel from the European market — it comes from all over, including Russia and the Ukraine.” Siddiqui says that even though security is still of prime concern after 9/11, he says that he noticed a gradual slowdown in the fencing market abut three months ago. “The main challenge for us is competing against the local manufacturers,” he says. Unlike Betafence, fencing firms which manufacture their products locally are exempt from paying import duties. He adds that the specifications upon which fencing projects in this region are based present yet another challenge: “Many of the projects here are based on a system known as a chain link. We do manufacture chain link, but for the European market — we don’t sell it in the Middle East because we would not be competitive against local products.” The way in which companies such as Betafence can hold onto their local market share is by working on specific projects where they can persuade the client or consultant to go for a higher quality system. In a bid to generate new business, Betafence recently launched two new fencing systems due to be introduced to the Middle East market: “These are stronger and made from galvanised steel, with a specialised coating done in-house,” says Siddiqui. The vast array of construction projects across the Gulf region is creating a strong demand for fencing systems. But for a company to remain competitive within this price-driven marketplace, it needs to compete on a level set by the local manufactures and suppliers — as well as be able to ride out the fluctuations in steel prices.||**||

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