Arch. Hisham El Sergany, Commercial Director of EGYBEL: We started with the slogan "No Way to Compare", and thanks to our unmatched quality, we undertook some of the largest Egyptian projects. Fortunately, the current projects are concerned with quality as a prerequisite for implementation.
interview : Ali Dagher
The urban system is, without a doubt, built on the unbreakable partnership between the architectural industries and their building materials. The superior and diverse production of the materials involved in the construction industry is a vital tool to truly showing architectural and engineering creativity. In addition to this, the architectural industries, in general, are the main driver for most economic activities, thanks to the investments accompanying them as well as the size of the manpower and job opportunities they provide.
The industry of aluminum facades for buildings is one of the most important industries of modern building materials. So, modern architectural trends and aesthetic appearance of buildings cannot be completed without the use of aluminum and glass facade systems, in addition to all door and window systems. This industry has grown and developed significantly, thanks to a group of investors who lead the evolution of construction in Egypt.
EGYBEL comes on top of these companies with a relatively early start, as its production began in 1989 and has since developed significantly and occupied an advanced position among the most important producers of aluminum façade systems in Egypt. The company has managed to reach the most important customers, real estate developers, and official bodies. During its long career, it has executed great mega-projects due to the high quality of its products, as it is one of the few companies that truly stand by its promise to uphold the utmost highest quality of standard technical specifications in production.
That’s why it was important to meet with the leaders of EGYBEL Company to closely get acquainted with the company's products, work & production systems, and the projects they have implemented. So, it gives us great pleasure to meet with and interview the commercial director of the company, Engineer / Hisham El-Sergany, we asked him and he answered, and here is the rich, fruitful dialogue:
EGYBEL is one of the well-established companies in the production of window and facade systems since 1989 till now. Can you talk about the advantages that made the company on the top of the list of the most important companies in Egypt?
Since the establishment of EGYBEL in 1989, the company slogan has been "No Way to Compare" and this slogan has remained for about a year and a half and behind this slogan has been the quality of a distinguished product that cannot be compared to any similar product in the market. Then we changed the slogan from "No Way to Compare" to "Setting the Standards". At that time, tenders for façade aluminum works were proposed in square meters and without an accurate description of the works. We saw that this method is wrong and unfair for several reasons, which are illustrated by the following example:
A sliding door, which has an area of 10 square meters, contains two handles, one left and one right, and four wheels. These same accessories are installed on 1 square meter sliding window. If the handles and rollers are imported, they cost about 300 or 400 Egyptian pounds, in this case, how are these costs charged, is it on one square meter or 10 square meters?
This example demonstrates that quantities cannot be priced based on a square meter basis. Also, the types of glass differ from transparent to colored, reflective, or double insulating for heat or sound proof. Knowing that there are many types of glass, how can the quantities of business items be calculated per square meter in light of all these variables? All these reasons make it more reasonable to deal in pricing with the unit, not the square meter.
We started communicating with the consulting offices to modify the method of bidding and the methods of measuring the items of the facades, as well as mentioning the specifications of EGYBEL or similar or equivalent products in the description. The aim of this was that the market would not be filled with poor types of products that affect the quality of the local architectural scene. Specifications drive the industry, and their application is the only way to improve quality.
From here, EGYBEL has had a strong stand since 1991 and launched the new slogan "Setting the Standards". And until now, we are continuing to communicate with consultants to work on continuously developing and keeping abreast of market developments - note that when we say EGYBEL specifications, this does not mean that we are the only ones who have the best specifications, but we emphasize that the product must abide by or stick to the same standard specifications that we set, and we welcome serious competition at these limits.
For example, Germany is very developed industrially and technologically because they set strong standard specifications for their products which are adhered to by all their producers. We, at EGYBEL, have also set high standards for the product to satisfy customers and there is nothing to worry about when there is fair competition with the same specifications. We are happy because a good standard will advance the industry. The issue of specifications took a lot of time and effort until it began to be imposed on producers and suppliers, and the market began to pay attention to the issue of quality seriously and firmly.
Thanks to this, EGYBEL was able to build a good reputation for itself throughout its history as we have had customers for more than thirty years who have trusted our product due to the excellent quality of the product and the after-sales maintenance service.
After the recent boom in the field of construction projects in Egypt and the openness of the local market to Europe after the full implementation of the GATT, and at the time when the markets of the Gulf countries began to shrink, a lot of international architectural system producers began to come to Egypt. As a result, we have already met with many of them and have implemented several Projects using some international systems. It is a positive thing that the armed forces always understand and require high quality in all projects that are implemented under their supervision, and this greatly helped in the development of the industry and upgrading its quality level.
A company with this level of product quality is sure to have trained human cadres and a good number that allows for the current volume of production. Can you talk about the size of the workforce and the level of training in the company?
The number of trained workers ranges between 350 to 500 workers and employees due to the number of contracted projects and the stages of their implementation in time. There are some difficulties regarding the availability of the necessary skilled labor because the boom in the field of construction in Egypt provided the opportunity for many skilled technicians to start a private activity and open their own workshops.
It is worth noting that many of the owners of these workshops are technicians who have previously worked in the company, which means that EGYBEL has produced competencies learned in the company and then established small companies and independent workshops that carry out good quality works in light of the openness of the market in Egypt.
During its long career, it is certain that there are projects that you have participated in or completed by the company that represented the company's springboard and reasons for pride for the work team. Can you talk about the most important projects that the company has accomplished during that period?
In the beginning, there is a very distinguished history, which is the date of the establishment of EGYBEL. It was followed in the same year by the beginning of the spread of the company and that was with the participation of the company in "Le Marche", where the beginning was with a small booth of about 8 square meters containing only two windows. The quality of the displayed windows and the way they were opened attracted the attention of the public, and within a very short period, the company had a long list of very important and distinguished clients, starting with President Mubarak, may God's mercy be upon him, and most of the community men, including politicians, businessmen, famous artists, writers, and others.
The second boom contributed to the transfer of EGYBEL from a company that carries out aluminum works in private residences and residential buildings, to a company that implements mega national projects such as the covered hall complex project in Cairo Stadium in September 1990, where the highly acclaimed architect Magd Masarah was the designer of the project, and Dar Al-Handasah was the general engineering consultant.
At that time, the project was put up in a tender for aluminum works in February of the same year, and the African Games were scheduled to open in September, meaning that the period required to implement the work was very short, and the volume of work was large in addition to the fact that there were many items of curtain wall work in it. There was no company in Egypt that had previously produced and implemented this type of façade.
The tender was raised and the competing companies announced the formation of a union to implement the project due to its enormity and the difficulty of implementing it by one company, while EGYBEL entered the full tender and got it. We set a condition that the contract must be signed and work must begin before 1/4/1990 and we explained that if this date passes without starting implementation, it will be difficult to deliver on the first of September due to shortage of time as the actual period of implementation is only 5 months. We entered into discussions with the Arab contractors, the general contractor for the project at that time to sign the contract before April 1st, and the agreement was already reached, and immediately after that work began and the project was completed during the specified period. Today, and after 31 years, the covered halls are still available in their red, blue, and yellow colors, in addition to the hockey stadium in green, all of which were painted in the EGYBEL factory. The paints were not affected by any weather factors and the quality of the paints and the degree of their gloss did not change after all these years.
Through our follow-up to the company’s news, we found that EGYBEL gives its customers a guarantee of up to 20 years on paints. What is the quality of the paint or its innovative manufacturing method that makes you confident of its performance for that long?
EGYBEL, since its establishment and throughout its history, strives for continuous development, keeping pace with global developments in the industry and the field of aluminum painting through converting it from its original anodised color to other very accurate and difficult colors as well.
The idea of painting aluminum with powder by the electrostatic method is simple. It starts by treating the aluminum extruded profiles chemically before painting them in basins and then entering the paint booth. The powder is prepared in its various colors by charging it with high electrostatic charges and then the powder is sprayed on the profiles and adheres to it temporarily. After that, it enters the convection oven where it melts and permanently adheres to the aluminum, and then comes out to the place of packaging. The treatment process preceding painting is the most important stage, where aluminum is dealt with to prepare the metal surface to receive the paint layer, starting with cleaning the surface from grease and oils deposited during the extrusion of aluminum profiles through several chemical preparation stages to the last stage, which is the deposition of a chrome layer on the aluminum surface that acts as a medium for binding the powder to the aluminum surface.
As chrome is a toxic substance, it must be treated environmentally before its disposal in public sewers, so that the chromium salt is separated into solid disks that are disposed of in the places designated for toxic waste, and the water returns to being suitable for agricultural use. This process is very expensive, but EGYBEL's commitment to the environment is an integral part of its total commitment to quality in all stages of the business.
We started the production line with this method and specifications, and after a short period, we approached a major scientific institution in Europe called Qualicoat. This institution has set specifications for all aluminum sectors that are allowed to be exported to Europe and has linked the export to obtaining the Qualicoat certificate.
We contacted the institution to know more information about these specifications, requirements for obtaining a higher certificate, and the tests that must be done daily to ensure the quality of all stages of painting. Indeed, we had all the required specifications and more, and we obtained a Qualicoat certificate in 1997 and at that time EGYBEL was the first company outside Europe to obtain this certificate. EGYBEL still holds this certificate, which is renewed every year after careful review and inspection by the awarding body.
It is worth noting that there are two types of Qualicoat certificates:
- The first type is called Sea Side, and it is for painted aluminum profiles to be used in areas close to the sea and exposed to harsh weather factors. This is the certificate that EGYBEL has obtained since 1997.
- The second type is Not Sea Side and it is not recommended for use at exposed to weather conditions.
As for exporting, when and where was the first export operation carried out by EGYBEL?
The first export operation was in 1990 and it was to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then the State of Libya and the State of Qatar, which EGYBEL established a branch there, and work is still going on in this branch until now. We have also implemented some works in other African countries such as Sudan and others.
I know that EGYBEL is not only a supplier for aluminum sectors but also a provider of design services regarding façade engineering works. You help the designer choose the most suitable materials and sectors. Can you talk about this distinctive service?
We have experience in the field of facade engineering. Most of the works assigned to us or that we study are inaccurate and have some inconsistencies because they are literally transmitted and not specific to the façade engineering specifications suitable for the Egyptian market.
For example, a specific description may be made for heat or sound-insulating glass for an entire building, so we study the facades according to sun directions, street noise, and building height, and accordingly, we suggest to the consultant the possibility of dealing with each facade of the building separately to achieve the required performance without exaggerating the cost. This is called Value Engineering, which helps to bring the cost of the building to the budget allocated to it by the owner without compromising the performance or quality.
Green architecture and environmental sustainability are all modern architectural trends that aim to conserve resources, especially energy and water, and obtain operational efficiency for the building. How do EGYBEL systems and façades contribute to making the building more sustainable with the use of glass in cladding facades?
This question has been the subject of controversy and a long debate between me and some of my friends who believe in the idea of Islamic architecture, a term that I do not agree with since it converges architecture with Islamic thought in life. When some say that the mashrabiya is an example of Islamic architecture, this is an inaccurate word because the mashrabiya is an architectural solution that Muslim architects implemented at the time to reduce the heat load on buildings because there were no air-conditioning devices. The evidence for this is that if Islam had appeared in Sweden, for example, then it is certain that Muslim architects would have applied different architectural methods that would have not included Mashrabiyas.
As an example of the lack of harmony, you sometimes find the four facades of some buildings with sun breakers placed on them even though the northern side is not touched by the sun. Architecturally, the purpose is to complete the aesthetic form of the building, knowing that it costs the owner more for unpractical things. Facades that can't be reached by the sun do not need sun breakers; this is what we learned in green architecture.
One of the ABCs of architecture is that service places that produce odors such as kitchens and bathrooms are opposite to the direction of the prevailing wind, and these things do not need to be studied or researched, they are facts.
On the positive side, there is also a modern trend that I have been hearing about for 30 years that now seems to be entering the scope of implementation, which is the use of facades to generate electricity in the building itself. Currently, there are transparent glass units that have photovoltaic cells that fulfill the building’s electricity needs during the day in addition to storing some energy to use at night to light up the building. In my opinion, this is a real breakthrough in the use of facades to generate energy and electricity. Indeed, there are current buildings with zero consumption of electricity thanks to the façades and the design.
In short, the synergy of architectural design science with the science of facades and with the concepts of environmental sustainability has created practical solutions to environmental problems in buildings. There are details in the facades that must be studied because the facades are visual and environmental relationships that affect the spaces surrounding buildings and also affect the psyche of building users. I hope to seek the assistance of cadres who have previously carried out these works for consultation before launching the works of the facades. The aluminum contractor must be present during construction to determine the places on which the aluminum installations will be placed so as not to be surprised by the change in sizes.
Egypt is witnessing an extraordinary building movement that included all sectors (housing - infrastructure - roads - communications) and others. As an Egyptian architect, how do you see the implications of these projects on the overall urbanization in Egypt, and do these projects have economic prospects on the building materials market?
Certainly, the current urban movement is compatible with the location of Egypt and its geographical, economic, and cultural importance, but with conditions, the most important of which are:
Maintaining the quality of specifications and adhering to their implementation in those established projects. For example, after the fire that occurred in the Grenfell Tower in England 5 years ago, attention to the requirements of technical specifications for implementation and building materials requirements has been paid, including, aluminum cladding. It is strictly prohibited to use aluminum claddings that aren't fire-resistant.
Building protection from fires and the transfer of fire from one building to another or from one floor to another have been topics of extensive research and most of the world's companies have applied the results of these studies to protect their buildings from fire. British specifications set, for example, 92 cm as an isolating distance between one floor and the other, to be completely isolated with non-combustible materials, so that if a fire occurs, God forbid, it does not move to the higher floors, or at least the transition will be slow.
My final question is related to the Cairo International Hub for Urban Partners - our goal is to show the Egyptian construction experience to the world, especially the participating delegations from Arab and African countries, with the aim of opening markets for Egyptian products, experiences, and companies. Is there a word or recommendation you would like to direct to the forum?
In the beginning, the idea of gathering all the parties in the construction industry under one name is very good and desirable. I would like to add a simple point, which is giving educational lectures by various specialized experts in various fields and handing over CPD (Continuing Professional Development) Certificates to the attendees.
As for the Young Architects Competition (YAC), I hope that it will deal with different designs and topics later to accommodate the creativity of young people through reading, learning, and taking advantage of modern technology. The idea of the competition, in light of the challenge of the Corona pandemic, is very important, and I consider it one of the steps that we are supposed to follow and motivate the new generation of young architects to create and innovate.