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Zenith Steel - Leading East and Central Africa to automated structural steel fabrication


“African steel construction is growing, definitely,” says Raheem Biviji of Zenith Steel Fabricators Ltd in Nairobi, Kenya, in the midst of a conversation covering steel and technology trends. 

“This growth is not a change from concrete to steel construction,” Biviji stresses. “Increase comes from growth. An increase in growth leads to a higher demand for steel to sustain that growth. In countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, these markets have really grown to a high level,” Biviji says.

As the Managing Director of Zenith Steel Fabricators Ltd., Raheem Biviji knows his market. His job is to focus on the strategic growth of the company from the design and engineering aspects. Biviji has a long, 17-year history with the company.

Keeping on top of the change with technology

In East and Central Africa detailing and design are primarily still done in 2D. Thanks to Zenith Steel, Kenya is the only market with a fully automated steel fabrication line in the whole region - someone had to be the first. After choosing FICEP equipment and Steel Projects PLM for production management, the company can now utilize Tekla model information in the optimal way throughout the whole fabrication workflow. The rich Tekla Structures model data exports directly to Steel Projects PLM and automatic nesting information replaces manual nesting before passing the information to FICEP equipment, resulting in better accuracy and overall usage of raw material. 

Accuracy improves when Tekla models and automatic FICEP beam drilling and cutting lines are combined with Steel Projects PLM. Fewer trial assemblies are needed on site as everything fits. “This brings huge savings as you can be sure that no time is wasted,” says Biviji.

But what drove Zenith Steel to become a forerunner of technology? “We wanted to change with technology!” explains Raheem Biviji. “Most of the large companies use Tekla Structures. So that’s what we wanted too. 

I found the possibilities of new technologies by visiting many steel exhibitions. I also read a lot and stay well aware of the industry trends. There is a lot of talk of Tekla, how it is abreast of the industry. We took a decision to go with Tekla,” Biviji tells, satisfied.

To really stay on the frontline with technology, Zenith Steel chose Tekla Structures and a fully automated line from FICEP along with the steel fabrication software Steel Projects. This trio makes a perfect combination for achieving a notable productivity increase and improved accuracy.  

“We continuously strive to improve. Our management and operation philosophy is to design, fabricate and install structural steel aided by the best technology,” says Biviji. 

“We make decisions on technologies based on the quality of the end product and time elapsed when using these technologies. Our priority is the needs of our clients, which mostly center around economy of their project, the quality of products and the time period for delivery of the whole project.” 

Shifting gears: from manual to technology 

“The use of BIM is of great significance in managing and coordinating subcontractors. In particular, it is easier to detect clashes between the main steel frame and MEP services. Once clashes are identified, they can be discussed, and solutions can be given during site coordination meetings,” Biviji explains.

3D modeling and model-based data is important in project planning. With the model information linked to Steel Projects, it is possible to plan for procurement and optimization of materials, and also manage fabrication cycle and traceability. This brings better estimation and control of projects costs.
“Models also enable better conceptualization of the final product, a notable advantage. Using the accurate details on sizes, the orientation of steel members can be obtained,” Biviji says. “Fabrication information from Tekla is far more accurate and reliable when compared to using other steel detailing inputs. The data is directly linked with Steel Projects and FICEP machinery to ensure there are very few work interruptions, if any. And it keeps an effective control of project timelines.”  

The time/status factor (4D) of fabrication is brought back to the Tekla model from Steel Projects PLM for project follow-up on site and customer communications. Steel Projects can also be used to manage stock and plan purchases.

A good example of the innovative information use is scribing. A beam is automatically marked out based on the information from the Tekla model. Automatic marking replaces measuring tapes and measuring errors, which can turn into financial losses. Increased accuracy brings great savings.

“Another quick example of technological automation is the latest generation of the FICEP TIPO plate machine. Something that used to take us 3-4 hours to process now takes us only 10-12 minutes. It’s remarkable,” says Biviji and continues: “Use of model information in our different departments leads to a seamless flow of highly accurate information. It is very reliable as models can be viewed for correction and design.”

An African pioneer twice over

Zenith Steel is a pioneer in multi-story steel buildings in East and Central Africa. The company has a vast experience in design, fabrication and erection of structural steelwork. They specialize in, for example, warehouses, factories, stadiums, churches, water tanks, towers and bridges.
Additionally, Zenith Steel is the only fully automated steel fabrication company in the East and Central Africa. Facilities like theirs are the trend in an industry that has seen a massive increase globally in the recent years – now also in Africa.

“Our priority is to provide our clients with the best quality in structural steel products,” says Managing Director Raheem Biviji. “Our holistic approach to structural steel projects includes sound structural design, best quality of fabrication and high speed of erection for faster completion of projects.”

“The world leading technologies in our automated fabrication facility mean the best quality and project schedules for our clients. This, essentially, is a great advantage over our competitors. Seamless flow of information from design, fabrication and erection means that all departments work as one team. This means that more work can be done much faster,” says Biviji.

Bumps along the road are turning into strengths

However, everything was not smooth in the beginning. Initially there was a lot of resistance to new technology from the staff. They were afraid that new technology would replace people. “But we are constantly adding people, not reducing,” Biviji tells. 

As the level of accuracy and overall productivity has become substantially better, the company can hire more staff. Zenith Steel is moving into Tekla fully in the near future. They actively educate engineers about the new possibilities in steel fabrication by organizing seminars. 

“We are also trying to get fabrication design more linked to BIM with Tekla Structures, FICEP and Steel Projects. It will be amazing. We are pushing towards automation to reduce fabrication times. Plus, we get higher accuracy and tremendous quality improvements. Not to mention that we save a lot of time on site. When you calculate the impact on every ton of steel, savings are enormous. Because, as you know, any inaccuracy on site raises expenses exponentially.”

“We are also making our staff’s lives easier with the new technology,” Biviji states. “Once they’ve seen the benefits, people become happier and more receptive to new technologies and skills. Then the morale rises and brings positive energy into the company. Nontangible benefits are beginning to materialize; for example benefits on job security are becoming more evident.” 

“Using the FICEP automation technology with Steel Projects PLM and Tekla Structures is very important to our employees. Building Information Modeling exposure gives them a competitive career advantage,” concludes Raheem Biviji.