Scaffolding and formwork is emerging as a crucial, technology-driven and highly evolved component of the construction industry in the GCC.As a skeletal support structure, scaffolding is the most fundamental aspect of construction. In its simplest form, scaffolding consists of a grid of aluminium or galvanised steel ledges, and transoms, joining parallel ledges to form ladder-like structures, with solid, square slabs. But with rapidly evolving construction technologies, scaffolding too has become more sophisticated, ergonomic and safe - with innovative towers, climbing, decking and shoring systems, and complementary accessories and components. Today, "the demand for quality aluminium scaffolds is growing irrespective of UAE's market conditions," says Shadab Ahsan, Managing Director, Ascend Access System Scaffolding LLC. The company, headquartered in Dubai, specialises in the manufacturing of aluminum mobile scaffolds and aluminum ladders.Formwork designs for infrastructural and residential purposes have also kept pace with developments - apart from conventional slab versions, beam slabs made of metal and reusable modular formwork are very much in vogue. Groundbreaking architectural growth has spurred formwork designs to adopt hydraulic and other advanced mechanical systems in order to reduce building time, deliver strength and durability. In the recent past the construction boom in the GCC region made this industry highly competitive with many international companies setting up shop here.Changing rulesIn 2010, with global recession, Dubai saw a 65 per cent dip in the value of real estate. Latest data from Jones Lang LaSalle indicates a greater slowdown, with less than 600 real estate transactions in the third quarter. The rest of the region too has suffered some degree of recession except countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar that continue to keep hopes alive with their determined push for growth. Increased government spending is shoring up the development with new orders and projects.In this new scenario, scaffolding companies have had little choice but to adapt in order to remain afloat and augment their bottom lines. Market trends have turned around, say industry stalwarts - a market driven by 80 per cent sale and 20 per cent rental earnings, today makes as much as 90 per cent of its money from rentals and resale with greater demand from short-term and budget projects.Firming footholdsOn the positive side, it is evident that despite the downturn a majority of the big players still believe in the potential of the GCC market and are willing to bide their time till the situation improves. And they have reason to back their optimism - the Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi construction scene looks promising due to big investments in infrastructure projects, while other markets are also showing some signs of recovery.A good example is Riyadh Scaffolding, a two and a half year-old, end-to-end scaffolding solutions provider that is doing good work to earn as much as 70 per cent of its revenue from major contracts in Saudi Arabia. Formwork frontrunners Doka, who worked on prestigious projects like Burj Khalifa are also benefiting from the infrastructural boom in Qatar with the FIFA World Cup and the Dohaland development taking off in a big way. Doka's flexible formwork is being used in malls and towers as well as roadways, metro networks, harbours, ports, railways and airports, although the latter involves larger volumes of concrete, load and scale of work.ADSF (Al Dhabi Scaffolding & Formwork LLC) is making a name for itself in scaffolding and formwork in Dubai and UAE. It claims to pioneer the use of new, state-of-the-art materials in the UAE such as the world's fastest panel shoring system TABLA. Innovate support and decking system, lightweight scaffolding, shoring system or formwork and falsework accessories are ADSF's USP.Peri GmbH, a Germany-based company has also stepped up its services in the infrastructure sector - the Saadiyat Island Bridge is a good example of its work. The company extended its expertise to include oil and gas projects by working on the Ruwais refinery, where it built circular foundations for 17 tanks; as well as the Al Jaber Energy Services' Habsham project. Another player, Spanish company Ulma, is rapidly expanding its presence in the region and is currently making a name through its work on pump stations, and a few bridges in Dubai's Business Bay. RMD Kwikform is another firm with a large portfolio of bridge projects.Some companies like Harsco have resorted to rebranding as a growth strategy - it bought scaffolding subsidiaries Quebeisi SGB and Hünnebec under the single identity of Harsco Infrastructure.Promising futureOver the last few years the construction industry has been choosing advanced technology, labour-efficient, flexible and lightweight formwork and scaffolding systems over labour-intensive, low-cost systems, prompted by labour shortages and long turnaround cycles that were adversely impacting bottom lines.Frequent, fatal construction site accidents, and falls from great heights are a cause for worry and concern. Besides ensuring that watchdog agencies carry out more thorough inspections, there is a move by companies to ensure better training and safety equipment for their unskilled labour. For the first time in the GCC region, there is a growing awareness regarding the use of counterfeit products and poor safety standards and procedures. But this will take time to change completely since it involves a transformation in mindsets and more stringent enforcement of rules.A completely 100 per cent wood-free scenario is a distinct possibility in the near future, as plywood is gradually being replaced by plastic, which is an almost inert material. It does not shrink or expand, does not react to heat or cold or absorb moisture; is fully repairable and can be easily cleaned.Finally, the movement towards embracing green technologies in construction will spread to formwork as well. Although plastic will play a greater role, it will also mean lower demand for wood-based products, which in turn will ease the pressure on the environment. Faster building times and more ergonomic technologies could lower pollution and reduce the overall carbon footprint of construction. And although what practices and balances help to achieve this remain to be seen, it is certain that in the future, scaffolding and formwork will emerge as a crucial, technology-driven and highly evolved component of the construction industry.