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Duct Tales

Manufacturers brace for the increasing demand for ductwork and design in the region

| | Apr 15, 2010 | 1:29 pm
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They are used in HVAC to deliver and remove air, ensuring acceptable indoor air quality and thermal comfort. As such, they form a key part of the central air conditioning system. As such, adjusting the air condition and appearance of buildings depend largely on duct quality. The needed airflows like supply air, return air and exhaust air have a lot to say about a project’s sustainability, depending on the type of ductwork (duct system) and duct design (planning or laying out) being employed.

A redesign carried out by Lee Company, a US-based design/build mechanical contractor, on Georgia Tech’s Campus Recreation Center, for instance, managed to cut the project’s HVAC/ plumbing budget by over $100,000. This involved using fabric air dispersion duct, which replaced the originally specified double-wall round aluminium. Lee also threaded fabric duct through bough trusses in the centre’s fourth-floor gyms, and branched out for complete floor coverage.

One of DuctSox’s projects at the Red Sea Mall, in Jeddah

One of DuctSox’s projects at the Red Sea Mall, in Jeddah


Fabric ducts have not been unheard of in the Gulf and the Middle East, but customers here need a lot of persuasion from manufacturers and distributors to use them for cost-efficiency and sustainability. “Still the customers/clients are not familiar with fabric ducts,” says Tawfiq M Attari, global sales and technical director for the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) market of DuctSox. “But, as we now have a lot of references, the clients start to like the idea of using fabric duct in their projects.”

Not only do they save on material and labour costs, fabric ducts do not as well require interior insulation and exterior epoxy coatings, which ward off condensation and corrosion, respectively, in natatorium (structurally a separate building containing a swimming pool) environments. In a case study on the project, Michael Saunders, one of its engineers, says, “Fabric duct offers a bonus over metal in natatorium environments because pool chemicals do not degrade polyester fabric material.”

The Sedona fabric duct that Lee had used in the $45-million, 289,000-square-foot (sq ft) recreation centre at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in Atlanta, was also manufactured by DuctSox, in Dubuque, Iowa. The duct’s comfort-flow air dispersion and linear vents had helped cut both material and installation costs. The gray, fabric duct with a diameter of 56 inches distributes dry, conditioned air along a wall of exterior windows and three 36-inch diameter ceilinghung branches on the entire length of the pool surface.

The duct’s length hanging 50 ft over the pool, which was originally built for the 1996 Summer Olympics held in Atlanta, features DuctSox’s Sonic Vent technology at three custom-manufactured positions of one, five and 11 o’clock. This is aimed to distribute air evenly while avoiding deflection against the 13-ft-deep ceiling joists running in-between. Enclosing the mammoth pool is the 100,000-sq-ft Aquatic Center, which also presented a host of HVAC design challenges for Georgia Tech, Lee Company and Hastings + Chivetta Architects.

Tawfiq M Attari

Tawfiq M Attari

“The trick was to get high enough velocity from the fabric duct, but not so much that unnecessary evaporation is caused at the pool surface level,” Saunders says of the ductwork and design for the project, whose anchor is the 13,300-sq-ft pool. In a case study, he adds: “In the case of Georgia Tech, we like the balance we’ve achieved.”

Open-ceiling application projects similar to Georgia Tech’s recreation centre holds great promise for the Gulf and the wider Middle East market, says Attari, although it’s not yet as big as in the US or China.

“But it is growing fast, and we are trying to open new markets by innovating fabric duct, such as our Under Floor and our Kitchen Sox, for use inside the office buildings,” he adds, revealing that the company has already got a “very good share” of projects in the UAE and the Gulf.

In an e-mail interview, Attari stresses that DuctSox, whose MENA offices are in Riyadh and Amman, is planning to open new technical and sales offices across the MENA region, to take advantage of the growing market. He remarks, “We believe that Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar and KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] are the biggest markets due to the big projects under construction in these countries.” The company has ongoing projects in the UAE (Nestle Factory, Phase 2) Qatar (new Doha International Airport) and Jordan (Royal Boxing Arena).


As its duct is 55% recycled, DuctSox is proud and confident that a product’s eco-friendly characteristics will further enhance a manufacturer’s market share. One of DuctSox’s “best advantages” is its innovative products, the latest of which are the Chemo Sox (for chemical factories), Under Floor fabric duct (server rooms and high-rise buildings) and Kitchen Sox (kitchen areas). The company makes it a point to produce two or three new products or innovative product ideas a year to advance in a competitive market.

There is, indeed, a stiff competition out there that manufacturers and distributors need to contend with through competitive prices and by being in contact with their customers. Companies must get the feel of what the customers want or are looking for, says Syed Arshad Ali Shah, formerly marketing executive of Dubaibased Al-Mira Steamatic. He adds that, for instance, customers want ducts with light materials for easy installation and those which they can open easily for regular cleaning.

He also stresses that manufacturers and distributors conduct information and education campaigns on the importance of maintaining air quality within buildings and other residential, commercial and manufacturing facilities. But the companies themselves must improve their lot, Ali Shah says, noting that some distributors here lack the capability and resources to carry out big projects, such as those in hotels and retail facilities.

Attari says DuctSox is almost the only duct manufacturer he knows which visits the construction sites for installation training and supervision without charging the customers or contractors. “And we make the visits, for the customers to give them the best solutions for their projects all around the Middle East,” he adds.

“Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the Gulf area and it has the biggest projects, and we are working sideby- side with the contractors in KSA to make our market bigger in KSA.”

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