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Talking Heads

Exclusive interviews

with movers and shakers

6th December 2019, Dubai

Tomorrow’s structures, today

Mihir Shah. © Notus Composites.

Mihir Shah. © Notus Composites.

Inside Composites talks to Mihir Shah, Managing Director, Notus Composites

IC: Hi Mihir, please can you tell us a little about your background and the formation of Notus Composites?

MS: When we set up Notus back in 2015, my focus was on three key things – developing the best flame retardant (FR) range of materials; helping customers who’d never used prepreg to adopt our technologies and providing a cost effective and flexible prepreg supply that really met the production requirements of our customers.

I had already been working with prepreg production in India for several years but was looking for a new production site that was better placed for export business. Signing our first major contract in the wind energy market gave us the momentum to make the move, and we decided to set up in Ras Al Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This new location gave us the space we needed, with room to expand (we added a second production line this year), great export links (we are pretty much in the centre of the world) and also placed us very near to some major prepreg consumers who are each working on epic, large scale builds in the Middle East.

The current status of the Dubai Museum of the Future. © Notus Composites.

The current status of the Dubai Museum of the Future. © Notus Composites.

IC: What are the key benefits composites bring to architectural structures?

MS: One of the first things people think of in terms of a benefit in using composites is the ability to mould complex curved panels to create organic shapes and structures, but there is more to it than that. New developments in concrete formwork (moulds for concrete casting) are allowing architects to produce very fluid curves in concrete too. With composites though, the weight saving is massive. Lighter panels for a façade, cladding or roof mean less supporting structure is required. Larger spans can be used between columns and smaller, less expensive cranes can be used for installation. Structural support can also be included within the composites themselves, with large roofs and domes being switched from steel frames and concrete cladding to a self-supporting structure that reduces the load applied to the rest of the building. Lightweight composite panels can be manufactured off site and then installed extremely quickly, streamlining the build process and reducing site costs. It is also possible to build insulation and other finishing details into a composite component, so the fully finished building skin is supplied in a single unit.

Render of how the completed Dubai Museum of the Future will look. © Notus Composites.

Render of how the completed Dubai Museum of the Future will look. © Notus Composites.

IC: But are there drawbacks? How familiar are contractors, for example, with composite materials?

MS: Of course, you’re correct that the construction world is still far more familiar with concrete, masonry and steel, but composites are making inroads and right now we only need a very small slice of the pie to have some very attractive volumes. For prepreg applications, we are typically talking about experienced composite manufacturers, many of whom offer a build and installation service, to ensure the finished composite parts are carefully installed by specialist teams. Another key issue is resistance to fire, where Notus is highly experienced in working alongside a customer’s architects, engineers and consultants to select the best prepreg system and ensure the correct fire performance is achieved.

Carbon palm trees at new Nakheel mall at Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. © Notus Composites.

Carbon palm trees at new Nakheel mall at Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. © Notus Composites.

IC: Notus is the only prepreg manufacturer in the world whose epoxy FR materials have successfully passed the challenging NFPA 285 and EN13501-1 tests as well as having Class A results for ASTM E84. What guarantees does this combination of certifications provide your customers?

MS: With reaction to fire being such a key issue with composites in infrastructure, Notus set out to gather as much data as we could and to test at large scale. We’re constantly testing materials at independent test laboratories in the UAE and in Europe, with tests like the NFPA 285 requiring a façade test sample of more than 25 square metres. By testing complete panel assemblies as they’ll be installed in the finished building, we aim to support our clients and their architects and engineering consultants with the test data they need.

IC: This year you’ve hit the milestone of having supplied a million square metres of fire retardant (FR) epoxy prepreg, following your delivery of materials to the new composite Museum of the Future in Dubai. Can say a little about your involvement in that project?

MS: The Museum of the Future has been a massive project for Notus. This stunning structure is nearly complete now and the most visible aspect of the whole building, the composite cladding, uses more than 600,000 square metres of FR prepreg with both glass and carbon fibre fabrics. Around 1,200 unique panels were moulded by Affan Innovative Structures using our EPFR-609 prepreg and NE11FR surfacing film before the final stainless-steel finish and window elements were installed. We were involved from the beginning and worked with Affan to pass the NFPA 285 fire test that was required by Dubai Civil Defence to approve the use of composite material in this unique building.

The façade of flagship Rolex Store at Dubai Mall. © Notus Composites.

The façade of flagship Rolex Store at Dubai Mall. © Notus Composites.

IC: What about the 45 carbon trees you made? That sounds intriguing.

MS: Yes, it’s not the first thing you think of when you think of prepreg materials, but this was a really interesting project to work on. The trees, ranging in size from 20 metres to 40 metres in height, form shading elements around walkways and an open piazza at a new retail development on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. We worked with Affan again on this project, this time using around 70000 square metres of carbon fibre UD and biaxial prepregs to produce the free-standing palm tree structures. We worked extensively on optimising the composite laminate to produce components that gave the required stiffness but were also quick to lay up and required minimal finishing before final painting.

IC: Do you have any other interesting projects coming up?

MS: The construction market is still strong in the Middle East and we have several large façade and cladding projects under negotiation right now. We are also in the early stages of some work in the commercial marine and cruise ship sectors. Composites are a key driver to lightweighting in shipping and the fire performance of our materials is starting to open some very interesting doors.

IC: How much of your business is in the Middle East and how much of it for infrastructure projects?

MS: Right now, the majority of our business is in the Middle East, with FR materials for infrastructure our largest single market. Standard epoxy systems for marine, sport and industrial applications make up the rest of our deliveries. Whilst our export business is still growing, our base in the UAE is centrally positioned to supply overseas markets and we have in the past shipped huge volumes of epoxy prepreg for a wind energy customer overseas.

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