Green in the mix

CMME meets with Unibeton, a company tackling keeping its expanding operation and ever-growing fleet as green as possible


The team at Unibeton at its Abu Dhabi plant

A UAE company that is making serious regional inroads in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and North Africa, Unibeton is a concrete specialist that is from over here, but is doing well over there, there and well, everywhere.

Sitting with operations manager Tolga Candan, director of strategic business development Robin Perron Jones and technical director Christopher Stanley, CMME is soon understanding why the striking orange and white ready mix trucks of Unibeton have remained a fixture of the construction industry in the Middle East through the downturn while spreading its wings globally.

“About three years ago I was asked to look at international relations,” says Jones. “We knew the crash was coming and we couldn’t be ring-fenced within the UAE and needed to go elsewhere. And then our friends on the World – Impregilo and dredging company Jan de Nul – asked us to look at the Panama Canal.”

While its partners were to later attempt to do it themselves (and run into trouble with the mix design of the submerged locks on the project), Unibeton had realised that it could chase down its international aspirations. Within the region, the company has enjoyed rapid progress in KSA – it is hopeful of winning work on the Kingdom Tower in addition to wins on KAFD and Jeddah Airport and Qatar where it is working on the massive New Doha Port. It is also keenly watching progress across North Africa for its nascent operation there.

“We’re also in India, have representatives in South Korea and Turkey. We’re looking at Peru at the moment, Canadians are working with us, we’ve been to Malaysia and Indonesia.”

It’s an impressive stretching of its arms, especially in a relatively short timespan, but Jones is cautiously upbeat.

“The risk profile is top of the list for the owners, but at least we’re liquid,” he says. “It’s a difficult market out there but in the long-term we will be looking at more markets. We’re consolidating until we go further afield.”

Since 1995, Unibeton has poured 35 million m3 or $3 billion worth of concrete. Its current capacity stands at 10 million m3 and at the height of the UAE boom it was pouring in excess of 5 million m3 annually.

Unlike some of its competitors, Unibeton has held onto 36 batching plants, preferring to move them to support its international work; as well as 336 transit mixers. Even without their distinctive livery the trucks would stand out.

Its operation in the domestic market is supported by its network of plants. Strangely its plant in the Western Region, was established in Seoul not Abu Dhabi.

“We have 70% of market share there and that is all based on a trip we did to Korea,” says Jones.

Only starting in 2011, Unibeton’s Saudi expansion has been breathtaking with production increasing ten times over annually.

“If you took ours and all the other ready mix companies’ production in KSA we could hit 20 million m3 (together) but they’re looking at 80 million m3 per year – which they’ll never make. The ideas are there, they’ll just take a longer time.”

“On KAFD in Riyadh we started doing 10% of it and ended up doing 60% of it,” says Stanley.

“They had never experienced a UAE level of standards,” Chandan adds.

With the average plant costing $5 million to refurbish, every step Unibeton takes represents a large investment. Oman is next on the radar and the company has acquired land close to Muscat.

“Because of our green production they’ve gifted us a very upmarket industrial location.”

Its progress in developing greener production and methods has won as many plaudits as it has contracts. Whether it’s via its fleet management system uTtrack or products such as Green Concrete and Self-Compacting Concrete, Unibeton is raising the bar in terms of the contribution ready mix contractors can make to greener buildings. Much of its R&D in the area falls under Stanley.

Stanley is due to fly out to Singapore the day after to deliver a speech to a global conference when we meet. And while he is the author of two books, hundreds of scientific papers and occasional BBC and CNN interviewee, Stanley comes across as someone who is happier in a laboratory than an airport. The appreciation of his talents and experience are keenly felt. (“We call him Mr Concrete,” says Candan. “He didn’t invent concrete…” “…but he’s old enough to have almost done,” jokes Jones.)

“Maybe 80% of our concrete is what you would call green,” proudly states Stanley.

Unibeton works closely with consultants and architects on many projects, using a combination of its expertise, existing solutions and often new ways of construction, such as in Makkah where it produced lightweight concrete of 70mpa for an architecurally and demanding project.

“Strong can be beautiful,” says Stanley. “We had to develop new technologies in order to do that.”

He adds: “We try to be a one-stop-shop. Consultants come to us in the early stages when they’re planning and we show them the best way of doing it; and formulate the specifications. During the construction phase we’re there helping them. This is where we score.”


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