UAE: demand soars for float glass

Demand for construction materials in the UAE has rocketed over the past five years and in response, the emirates have had to import the majority of construction products, but the situation is developi…

Demand for construction materials in the UAE has rocketed over the past five years and in response, the emirates have had to import the majority of construction products, but the situation is developing fast. Suppliers are racing to take advantage of the booming local market by building facilities closer to demand. According to MEED, the volume of cement production capacity alone increased by 21.4 millions/tonnes a year to a total of 74.5 million tonnes, with a further 11 million tonnes a year scheduled to come on stream by the end of 2008. With demand rates growing at 14% a year it is not surprising that local manufacturing capacity is speeding to keep up. Demand is rising for float glass, used on the facades of the thousands of new buildings planned for the Dubai skyline. Until late 2007, all float glass used in the UAE“s buildings was imported and processed locally, but recently suppliers have been changing their strategies. US firm Guardian, the UAE“s dominant float glass supplier, built the UAE“s first float glass manufacturing facility in the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah in 2007 and now local firm Glass LLC is about to challenge the traditional supplier through its new facility. “Regional demand for float glass has been increasing at an average of 10% per year and in the past three years it has been at 20% plus”, said the general manager of Emirates Float Glass, Narendra Mohanty. Emirates Float Glass was set up to build and operate a 1,200 tonnes-a-day float glass facility through two production lines, the first of which is now complete. “There are committed investments [in the region] for at least the next five years, amounting to at least US 1 trillion. Glazing accounts for 3% of that and depending on the type of glass used it could be up to 5%”, said Mr Mohanty. Glass LLC is traditionally a glass processing specialist which would buy float glass from firms such as Guardian, San Gobain and Asahi, then temper and coat it as required by contractors. This strategy ensured it won about 20% of the UAE“s market share for the high performance glass used in many of the emirate“s residential and commercial tower blocks. However, from later in 2008 it will be able to supply its own companies rather than buying from international providers and wants to raise its market share up to 50%. “Our own processing companies – Emirates Glass, SaudiAmerican Glass and Lumiglass – can potentially use 100% of our output. But we will be supplying other local companies as well as exporting plate glass outside the Gulf Cooperation Council”, said Mr Mohanty. The factory has been ready to produce glass on its first production line for several weeks, but is being delayed by the need to secure various approvals before the local authority will connect its gas supply. “We“re waiting for gas and electrical connections to be made, ” explained Franco Nespoli, resident project manager for contractor Ianua. “Then we“ll be able to start the furnace and, over the course of about 21 days, bring it up to full temperature – 1,500-1,600 degrees C”. “It takes about four weeks to start firing, ” added Glass LLC general manager Faisal Rashid. There are no objections to the scheme so we are all set and close to making the connections”. The plant infrastructure has to adjust to the high temperatures in the building. “One of the critical things during that period will be maintaining the correct geometry of the furnace roof”, said Mr Nespoli. The furnace roof is a shallow vaulted structure, acting in compression. As thermal expansion occurs, the crown of the vault lifts but screw adjustment at the lower edges of the roof will allow compensation for this movement, maintaining the roof“s geometry. Construction of the second line will start in December 2008, eventually giving the company the ability to produce clear glass on one line and tinted glass on the other. “Waste glass from the tail end of one campaign (batching order) is stored in hoppers below the building and recycled into the production process when the next campaign in that tint comes around. Clear glass is fed straight back into the furnace”, explained Mr Nespoli. The factory has been built in Abu Dhabi, enabling it to use gas as a feedstock rather than the more expensive fuel oil often used outside the emirate. In case of emergency the firm has a contingency plan. “The plant stores enough fuel to maintain production for 24 hours if normal supplies are cut”, said Bassem Iskandarani, project manager for consultant Mott MacDonald. But the main priority is obtaining a utility connection so the firm can start providing float glass to its own companies and beyond.