The Middle East’s penchant for scraping the sky is wellknown. The UAE is currently home to the world’s tallest manmade structure in the form of Emaar’s Burj Khalifa. The developer also announced their plans to break its own record with a $1bn tower for Dubai Creek Harbour – a structure that will be taller than its counterpart. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is looking to one-up its neighbour with the construction of Kingdom Holding Company’s (KHC) Jeddah Tower. The height of the structure, which was known until recently as Kingdom Tower, is set to top 1 km. Even when it comes to Gulf-located developments that aren’t likely to grace the pages of Guinness World Records anytime soon, loftiness is still prevalent. To provide context, according to data released by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), 106 structures with heights of 200m or above were completed globally in 2015.
However, last year UAE, which usually leads the region in supertall buildings, there were only two skyscrapers handed over, compared with four in Qatar. The 2016 Year in Review report by Chicago-based CTBUH highlighted the 235 metre-high Regent Emirates Pearl in Abu Dhabi as the tallest building in the Middle East to be completed last year, but it ranked only joint 27th worldwide. The 212 metre-high The 118 Tower in Dubai was the only other 200 metres-plus building finished in the UAE.
With this in mind, FM companies dealing with high-rise buildings are constantly applying new innovative methodologies and solutions to ensure that their facilities are as clean on the outside as they are on the inside. FM today speaks to experts, who give insights into the equipment market and the latest solutions that are being applied to high-rise buildings.
With over 20 years of experience operating in the UAE, Megarme was founded as a professional inspection, repair, and maintenance (IRM) provider. Though the bulk of its work is focused within the construction and petrochemical sectors, the company also supplies support services to a number of the region’s FM providers. Daniel Gill, Head of Business Development and Marketing, Megarme, observes that the High Rise Cleaning and Equipment Market has advanced over the last few years. “Construction of complex high rise structures requires advanced cleaning and access techniques. The equipment currently used by Megarme are supplied by industry leading manufacturers who continually advance the design and functionality of their products to improve efficiency and safety. The market also required to provide innovative hybrid access solutions to increase the efficiency of productivity,” adds Gill.
In March 2015, DTZ was awarded the commission to provide ‘full service’ FM consultancy for the Kingdom Tower. And over the last few years, Michael Moore, Operations Director- KSA, DTZ, has witnessed a noticeable move to rope access as opposed to Building Maintenance Unit (BMU) style cleaning techniques in the Kingdom. “This in itself is quite interesting as rope access is becoming the ‘method of choice’ for both existing and in some instances new projects. Although I wouldn’t like to do the job myself, I can see there are a number of potential advantages to using this cleaning methodology. Particularly in the relatively new FM market of Saudi Arabia, it takes time for new concepts to be accepted so I guess it will be some time before we see a drone or robotic cleaning over here,” says Moore.
Trends and Innovation
Given the fact that the market is evolving there is no doubt that there many new trends and innovations entering the high-rise industry. Nanotechnology is one of the biggest changes that have taken place in respect to innovation in this sector, especially with the self-cleaning glass, paints that reduce heat and chemicals that can increase the lifespan of various surfaces. However, experts believe that these are in the early stages of development but over time will become a major source of building fabric protection. Having received an innovation award for the self-cleaning glass, Moore explains that it has been extremely effective on super high-rise buildings as well. “This innovation coupled with the harvesting of AC condensation would effectively allow the building to ‘wash its own face’ on a daily basis. This would not only save the developer hundreds of millions of Riyals across the whole life of the building, more importantly, it would achieve a significant reduction in the exposure of the workforce and public to the risks associated with working at heights,” adds Moore.
New smart technology allows monitoring of user movement, light levels, air quality, etc. providing data that allows optimal working environment without energy wastage. David Pine-Coffin, National Director – Property & Asset Management, JLL, says that developers, occupiers, and managers try out new technologies and start to understand how to use the resultant data so that buildings and occupants can intelligently interact with each other. Coffin points out another innovation that has helped in the efficiency of the service – Smart Watch Technology. “This is capable of feeding data directly into company’s pay roll information bypassing the need to fill time sheets etc. Greater transparency on an employee’s movements and durations taken to complete tasks assigned. There are options to upload training videos on Standard Operating Procedures or Health & Safety issues, virtual tool box talks etc,” he adds.
When it comes to equipment, Gill points out one innovation that has helped in the efficiency of the services provided by Megarme is ‘Tensioned Netting and Deck Systems (work positioning platform) with Rope Access System. The innovation provides many benefits like a suspended flexible modular work platform, access to areas which were previously only accessible using rope access techniques, minimum on-site equipment is required, etc. Gill also goes on to observe an increase in demand within the market to involve rope access service providers during the construction phase and assist with various construction works with minimum disruption to client scope, resulting in faster handover of assets by the contractors to the client. “Megarme have been involved with various technical projects in the region providing consultancy, construction, providing Hybrid Access Solutions (stabilized suspended work platforms, rope access) which saves client costs for scaffolding, cranes and cherry picker rental,” says Gill.
As with most things robotics is something most believe will eventually play a part in automating some aspects of the cleaning industry but that is a few years away and at present many experts say that it is in its infancy stage. However, they all agree to the fact that robotics entering high rise cleaning will affect the market to an extent. “We believe robotics
entry into the market will boost the productivity and potentially reduce asset owners’ costs for the high rise cleaning market, however, the innovation will take the time to perfect and require a lot of input from the current market leaders. We also believe that not all structures and facades will be suitable for robotic cleaning and maintenance meaning that the requirement for hands on people based access will exist long into the future,” says Gill. According to Coffin, robotic systems can offer a faster more efficient service saving time and money and does not put workers at risk.
“It (Robotics) is able to work in higher wind speeds and temperatures and on vertical, horizontal and slanted facades but is most effective on flat surfaces. It cannot address cleaning of complicated facades or address issues such as checking, repair, and replacement of aviation lights, silicon, glass and lighting systems or cleaning/ maintenance of other types of building fabric,” he adds. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, Moore says that use of robotics for high rise structures has a long way to go. “The mindset is still very much to use low-cost labour as the ‘go to‘ solution. I do think robotic systems will become more popular in other more mature FM markets where labour is more expensive and there is increased recognition and focus on high standards of health and safety,” he adds.
Skyscrapers create diverse vertical communities, which impose social, operational and economic challenges. High rise structures accommodate thousands of office workers/families or visitors and have always had logistical challenges that vary from building to building but the most common issues are Environmental, Health & Safety Management. Says Coffin, “This does not just mean complying with the annual fire drills and implementing a rigorous system of preventive/reactive maintenance but ensuring that all mandatory certifications are in place, ensuring proper supervision of any works/fit out in the building and insisting proper fire & risk assessments are actioned.”
The more recent challenge, Coffin points out is in supporting the emergence of these vast vertical urban communities is accommodating changing customer expectations. “High rise communities are now expected to provide not just a vertical community but an environment that is optimal for the occupants’ health and wellbeing, less demanding on the environment and sustainable in terms of operations,” he adds. Access and particularly safe access is always the challenge, says Moore. “We have witnessed extensive systems installed then abandoned; we have seen other instances of BMU systems failing with disastrous sometimes tragic consequences. As always, the key to success is a thorough and professional FM design review to consider and optimise maintenance in terms of material/equipment selection and of course safe access and appropriate maintenance techniques,” he adds.
However, at Megarme, Gill says that they working hard to bring awareness to the market to involve IRATA certified company during the consultancy/design stage of the project which enables to develop a unique access and cleaning strategy for the maintenance cleaning of the structures. “This helps clients make educated decision to invest in the most appropriate access system for the cleaning works,” adds Gill.