Cables with Conscience
Manufacturers of cables are becoming aware of their responsibilities
Manufacturers of cables are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibilities towards civilians and the environment.
Considering that current industry buzzwords include ‘sustainability’, ‘security’ and ‘CSR’, it is perhaps not surprising that cable manufacturers are doing their best to keep up with the times.
Tariq Zaim, project sales manager for Bahra Cables, says: “The safety culture that now exists in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries means that it is vital to ensure security for civilians, especially in enclosed spaces.”
The demands of the market have resulted in the company producing fire-resistant cables. Zaim adds: “We started making normal cables and we now have a special requirement to supply fire resistant cables, for instance in towers and big university projects. We are now the first company in Saudi Arabia that is manufacturing these cables.
He points out that the cables are far costlier than their regular counterparts.
“It is much more expensive to manufacture a fire-resistant cable – it has a special construction. The machines have special requirements, the speed of production is slower and the raw material comes from Europe. This means they are 60 to 70 percent more expensive than normal power cables.”
Fire-resistant cables are also a recent venture for UAE-based cable manufacturer Ducab. Managing director Andrew Shaw says: “In 2008 we started selling fire protection cables.
In the UAE summer, it seems there is a warehouse fire every month, so we pushed very hard with Dubai Civil Defence to bring to market a range of cables that are fire rated. They are tested by the same organisation that tests cables for the London Underground.
“We are using the best technology and addressing the need in the market, where people are much more aware of fire safety. Our fire cables are also used throughout the Dubai Metro.”
Ducab’s fire performance cables are intended for applications requiring circuit integrity during a fire. The halogen-free cables generate very low smoke and are said to maintain circuit integrity for three hours under fire conditions.
When it comes to fire hazards, Shaw states that ‘under-sized’ cables are a big issue in this region.
“We estimate that 40 per cent of the flex sold in the UAE is either under-length or under-sized. Under-length means that the customer is being sold an insufficient quantity, but under-sized cables are much more of a safety issue.
“If an under-sized cable is fully loaded it will overheat, so it’s a serious fire risk. People can die as a result of fraudulent cables, so we are pushing very hard to make people aware of the dangers of under-sized cables. It’s difficult for the layman to tell if a cable is under-sized so it comes down to integrity.”
Shaw believes that Ducab’s integrity and quality is illustrated by its numerous certifications.
Ducab was the first Emirati organisation to achieve the ISO 14001 environmental certification and is also the first manufacturing company to be awarded Emirates Quality Mark by Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) in the UAE.
The company claims to ensure stringent control measures at each stage of the manufacturing process, including incoming raw material inspection, in-process inspection and finished product tests.
Ducab’s supporting test laboratory contains technology certified by BASEC, a third party accreditation body that has been approved by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service.
Shaw continues: “Our pitch is that we provide quality – the guaranteed life of our cables is 25 years but the expected life is 40 years. Even as an expert it is difficult to tell one cable from another so a lot comes down to trusting the supplier. There are lots of hidden things that the layman can’t see so we make sure we deliver these. We are focused on replacing inferior products in the market.”
It’s not just safety that is on the agenda for cable manufacturers – the air of responsibility also extends to the environment.
All types of cables used in the onshore oil and gas industry require protection against chemicals – such as acids, bases, aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons – that can penetrate towards the conductors.
Traditionally, an environmentally-unfriendly lead sheet has provided this protection.
According to Anil Khanka, Middle East sales manager for Kentucky-headquartered General Cable, the use of lead has been phased out in Europe.
“In the Middle East, oil, gas and petrochemical cables usually have a lead sheet as added protection against petrochemicals. We are trying to find a lead-free solution.
In Europe, lead is not really used in cables due to safety and environmental issues. There are more stringent regulations over there concerning the use of lead. We are only manufacturing lead sheet cables for the requirements of the Middle East.”
Another company that is exploring a lead-free solution for the Middle East is Qatar International Cables Company (QICC), a joint venture of Paris-based cable manufacturers Nexans.
In response to the growing market demand for more environmentally friendly cables, Nexans undertook a five-year programme to develop a new lead-free chemical barrier which is marketed as Hypron.
Nexans’ lead-free product comprises an aluminium coated tape, a high density polyethylene sheath and a polyamide sheath. It also has a lower weight and a smaller cross-section than a lead sheet cable, which improves the ease of handling and installation.
Cyprien Federspiel, general manager, QICC, explains that unlike lead, Hypron does not degrade in soil and the polymers are easily recyclable. He adds: “In Europe, lead sheaths have been replaced by aluminium but over here the soil conditions are very aggressive – it is very hot and there is a lot of salt in the ground which corrodes aluminium very quickly.
Lead is a very stable material – that is why it is used here. However, Hypron is a reliable and environmentally-friendly alternative.
He also outlines other responsible measures that have been undertaken by Nexans. “All the wooden drums of the cables are made from wood from renewable forests, mainly in Eastern Europe and Brazil.
We feel it is our duty to be environmentally responsible. We have also built our factories to ISO standards and we are going to develop more certifications in the coming months.”
Regarding opportunities in the cable industry, Federspiel comments: “The cable market is fairly conservative – there aren’t many innovations but it is booming.
It’s more of a closed market so it’s important to form strategic alliances with infrastructure contractors. Qatar is a key market, partly due to the upcoming World Cup in 2022 and the investment that will result from the hosting of this competition.”
Ducab’s Shaw also pinpoints Qatar as a hot market for cable manufacturers. “Qatar is still building. The great, shimmering prize of the World Cup will stimulate further construction.”
He continues: “We see growth opportunities in a lot of areas. We can now compete in Europe. The GCC did take a dip but it’s now coming back, with Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar particularly strong. North Africa has a large population and is developing a lot of infrastructure and we also see opportunities in Iraq, Iran and India.
Our company is in exactly the right place. China is of course a huge market but we are not looking there right now – we have enough in our region to focus on.”
In terms of specific sectors, he says that oil and gas investments in the GCC are “streaming away” and that the company’s range of oil and gas cables were very successful in 2010. He adds: “The good news in the downturn is that Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) and Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) have both continued or ramped up their investment in their distribution networks – the medium voltage cable that runs down the middle of the road. We are selling huge amounts of that.”
Bahra Cables is similarly focused on opportunities in the GCC. Zaim adds: “We will double our capacity in the next two or three months and we are expecting to get a good amount of business in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman and Saudi Arabia. At the current time, the Saudi Arabian government is awarding a lot of projects and we expect the cable manufacturers to have a good share in the market.”
Yet General Cable’s Khanka underlines the challenges in the GCC market. “A challenge in this region is the number of cable manufacturers – the capacity of the factories is higher than the demand.
The demand was going down last year but it is picking up. In Europe the demand is decreasing but the companies have a high capacity so they are trying to sell their products in other regions.
I see India, Brazil, Vietnam and Venezuela as the emerging markets for the industry.” Khanka says that General Cable is trying to penetrate the saturated Middle East by selling niche products.
“In the Middle East there are a lot of cable manufacturers with a huge capacity. We are focusing on a niche market – the offshore and marine industry – so we mainly provide oil, gas and petrochemical cables.”
Shaw concludes that the key challenge for global cable manufacturers iw the availability of credit and the high price of copper.
He states: “In the UAE and elsewhere, credit for construction is still very tight. People may want to buy cables but they can’t get the money. Meanwhile, copper, which constitutes the majority of the value of the cable, has increased in price dramatically. In February 2009 it was less than US$4,000 per tonne and now it is over US$10,000 per tonne.
This surprising rise has put a tremendous strain on cable manufacturers and also the contracting industry which is still recovering. Our prices have to follow the price of copper otherwise we don’t have a business.”