Alubond stops making plastic-filled cladding used in The Address Downtown Dubai

Alubond will no longer make the controversial panels containing cores known by the industry shorthand of LDPE.

Above, workers making sheets at the Alubond’s facility at Hamiryah Free Zone in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
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The company that supplied the facade cladding of the Dubai hotel that erupted in a blaze on New Year’s Eve has scrapped the manufacture of plastic-filled panels.

Alubond, the world’s largest maker of aluminium composite panels and the company that supplied The Address Downtown Dubai, will no longer make the controversial panels containing cores known by the industry shorthand of LDPE (low-density polythene).

“We have put a stop to LDPE production in the plant,” said Shaji Ul Mulk, the chairman of Mulk Holdings, which owns Alubond. “It’s a decision we took a few days back. We hope our competitors will follow suit.”

He said the move would not just affect the company’s UAE business, but also more than 20 countries where it exports aluminium composite panels made in its Hamriyah factory.

The Address Downtown Dubai took just minutes to erupt in a spectacular ball of fire after the alarm was raised by some residents in the building at about 9.30pm on December 31 last year. It was the latest in a string of tower facade fires linked to the use of highly flammable aluminium cladding panels. Less than three months later another massive blaze broke out in a high-rise block of flats in Ajman that was also covered with such materials.

Almost six months on from the Address blaze, officials have yet to reveal in detail what works will be required to improve the safety of hundreds of high-rise buildings across the country known to be covered with highly flammable panels filled with plastic cores. Three of the world's top aluminium composite panel makers told The National in February that regional demand for their most fire-retardant panels was almost non-existent. One major manufacturer said it has supplied just one project with non-combustible panels in five years. Such panels are about 30 per cent more expensive than the flammable alternatives that have a high proportion of plastic, say manufacturers. But an updated fire and life safety code is expected to effectively end the use of plastic-filled panels on high-rise structures by stipulating tests, which are only likely to be met by the most fire-retardant materials containing little or no plastic.

The fire safety of buildings is coming under focus during a tough period for the regional construction sector, as some projects are delayed or stopped amid weakening sentiment.

“A lot of companies are struggling, a lot of cheques are bouncing,” Mr Mulk said. “Eventually you get paid, but the cycle is longer.”

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