Managing the rebar process with the latest technologies
Latest from Constructive
20 June 2007
REINFORCEMENT IS a major part of any construction project. Managing this component effectively is crucial if projects are to be delivered on time and on budget. Construction Week spoke to Andrew Woolnough, managing director, Constructive .
How large is the rebar market in the Middle East?
The Middle East uses about 12 million tonnes of rebar each year. Compare this to the UK market, which uses around 900 000 tonnes of rebar each year, and it is clear that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar are consuming vast quantities of reinforcement.
Unlike the UK market the industry in the Middle East uses very little technology. The market is 12 to 13 times bigger than the UK with probably 20% of the technology. So the SteelPac technology that we are bringing to the region is critical if efficiency in managing the entire rebar process is to be improved.
So what products and services are you bringing to the market?
As a company we have developed a totally integrated electronic solution that brings benefits across the entire rebar supply chain. It’s a genuine end-to-end solution comprising estimating software, detailing services and detailing software, production, optimisation and tagging.
Pivotal to the whole process is our SteelPac Site program that gives the Contractor unprecedented management and control of his rebar requirements, featuring procurement and change management. It is this tool that ultimately is the enabler of the completely integrated solution.
Which projects are using your products to manage their rebar requirements?
We have been working with Al Naboodah Laing O’Rourke on the Dubai International Airport Expansion and have recently signed agreements with contractors on the Palm Jumeirah, Jumeirah Beach Residences, and Dubai Festival City.
In what way is the technology used in the UK more advanced than the technology used in the Middle East?
The production software being used by suppliers in the Middle East is comparable to the software used in the UK. The main difference in this market is the lack of scheduling and detailing software. About 90% of all shop drawings and schedules that are produced in this market are done using Autocad, and then another separate process to create the schedule. Apart from the productivity issues that arise there is a risk that the shop drawings and the schedule may not be intact as they are created using a separate process.
Furthermore, there is no linking of the supply chain because the Contractors do not have a tool of any kind to link what has been scheduled, and is required to be sent for approval, with what is ultimately ordered and produced.
How can this process be streamlined to become one process?
To overcome this problem we have introduced new detailing technology into the market because there is absolutely no use having a completely linked electronic supply chain if what is ultimately transferred is a load of rubbish. It is crucial to make sure that the detailers get the technology in order to ensure the system is productive, and the schedules and drawings are accurate.
Our company has produced a standard file format called the SDI file (SteelPac Data Interchange) that enables the seamless transfer of information between the various products. Happily, our format has been quickly adopted by the industry and nowadays all of the detailing software currently on the market can produce an SDI file, allowing these products to communicate with Steelpac Site. This is a significant step forward for the whole rebar process, but it is important to maintain the momentum and continue to manage the process electronically.
It is a waste of time producing schedules electronically, and then printing and faxing them. There is also clearly no point in creating a schedule and sending it straight to a supplier because the contractor needs to communicate his construction programme to the supplier and to have the control that enables him to efficiently manage the process.
What benefits does the Steelpac site offer to contractors?
There are hard and soft costs. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a set percentage of costs will be saved, but it does reduce the number of people it takes to manage the reinforcement and call up process. This means less quantity surveyors and less qualified engineers because the software speeds up the process, reduces or eliminates errors and reduces scrap and waste.
How is the process accelerated?
The key area is to link up the whole supply chain, linking the detailers, contractors, consultant and suppliers and at the same time ensuring that whatever is detailed or approved is completely accurate and not duplicated. Although accuracy and speed of information are important, the most critical part is implementing change cost effectively. This can lead to savings of between 5 and 7%.
How important is it to get suppliers on board and how does it benefit them?
At the end of the day if the suppliers are not able to receive a schedule electronically then they will have to input data manually from a fax that is often illegible or very difficult to read. This is a lengthy process and exposes the supplier to risks like keying errors. If the supplier can receive electronic schedules he will be able to speed up the process of producing and delivering his customer’s requirements without the risk of error.
When rebar suppliers complain about their margins the last thing they want is a simple keying error that could lose them 20 to 30 t of steel that the contractor can make a claim against. It could cost the supplier his profit margin on the whole job.
Are the production software packages currently used by suppliers compatible with Steelpac?
SteelPac is fully compatible with the production software used by all of the local suppliers in the Middle East market. The most widely used software in the region is produced by a company called Ariadis. This means that pretty much every rebar supplier in this market can receive an electronic. SOI File (SteelPac Order Interchange). So if a contractor does want to use the software he does not have to worry about who the supplier is since everyone is fully compatible.
How receptive to new technology is the rebar industry?
Rebar is obviously a very interesting topic right now with a rapidly escalating steel price causing margins to be eroded and Contractors to look much more closely at how they manage this critical element of the construction process. The jobs are also bigger and more complex than ever before which adds to the necessity to utilise technology to assist wherever possible.
Effective procurement and construction management is therefore more vital than ever. As a result the industry has been very receptive since they realise there are key benefits at all levels.
Obviously a key element to ensure successful implementation of any new technology is that the system is user friendly and straightforward. We have kept this in mind throughout the development process. The training has also been very well received.
A site can typically be set up in just a few hours. The Contractors software needs to be installed and the users trained, after 2-3 hours of instruction a user is generally proficient because the software is very intuitive. Once the software is introduced onto the site the benefits are immediate since any scheduling errors will be immediately detected.
Are there any other benefits?
There are many benefits. An example being that if a contractor out-sources its shop drawings and schedules away from the supplier the contractor is exposed to additional risk. If the supplier isn’t creating the schedules anymore then all that’s happening is the contractor is telling the supplier what to cut and bend and if that is incorrect and the supplier cuts and bends the steel incorrectly it becomes the Contractors cost. If the process is performed electronically it ensures that all the schedules and shop drawings are fully compatible with BS standards or ACI codes so it is not possible to send invalid schedules for approval or production.
Where else in the world is the software used?
Any market that has significant amount of reinforcement we are going to be there. We have a reseller in South Africa called Steeldale, and in our home market the UK around 70% of the market now uses our technology. Our largest potential markets are Hong Kong and the Middle East, so we are now setting up a base here in Dubai with offices on Sheikh Zayed Road. We have just launched a product for the North American market over the last year, supported through our local reseller CADS USA.
Does each market have its own characteristics?
Each market is slightly different. The supply chain in the UK for example is that the schedules are produced by the consultants and sent to contractors, who then sends them to their suppliers. Other markets cut and bend most of their reinforcement on site. The Hong Kong market has 3 million tonnes of rebar cut and bent onsite each year, only about 10% of Hong Kong’s total tonnage is done by the rebar supplier. The Contractors tool, SteelPac Site, has been designed with the flexibility to work in any of these scenarios.
Has detailing slowed the industry down in recent years?
It seems to be a real issue in this market right now because it is a bottleneck. Although there are lots of other bottlenecks, such as the supply of steel, the price of steel and the capacity of the cut and bend suppliers. Another bottleneck is having enough people to produce the shop drawings and all of the schedules. Companies are putting together some pretty good prices for shop drawings and schedules but the quality is often not there.
What are your plans for the coming year?
In terms of offering the complete solution we have recently set up our own detailing company. To our knowledge it is going to be the first detailing consultancy that will be issuing 100% electronic schedules. We will have a coordination team in Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road and 100-200 detailers based in the Philippines where we have just established an office that will produce the core of the work and feed the SDI files and drawings to the coordination teams, who will in turn feed them through to the contractors using Steelpac Site
We have 100% compatibility with the suppliers, so by the end of next year I would like to see a significant proportion of this market being managed using Steelpac technology. I just don’t see how Contractors will be able to cope with the ever-expanding construction programmes and still be able to deliver these projects on time and on budget unless they embrace this type of technology to help them.
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