Strong and Structured Growth
How Min Dhama Steel Structures is providing support to infrastructure projects in Myanmar and beyond with its fabricated steel structures
Writer: Dani Redd | Project Manager: Ryan Gray
Myanmar is a country steeped in tradition, known for its golden stupas and ancient pagodas. But it is also a country that is modernising rapidly; working to develop vital transport, telecoms, energy and building infrastructure in hopes of boosting its economy.
According to a 2018 study by McKinsey, the construction industry employs approximately 500,000 people in Myanmar, a figure that has increased fourfold since 2010.
In 2018, the construction industry was valued at $9.5 billion. This is a share of around 16.5 percent of the country’s GDP and a major economic driver. Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates the infrastructure gap between now and 2030 to be worth $120 billion.
It is therefore easy to see why steel is of vital importance to the country.
One company that is pioneering in this growing market is Min Dhama Steel Structures Co. Ltd. (MDSS) – a firm with the aim of supporting rapidly growing infrastructure development in Myanmar, with additional production capacity to meet structural steel requirements on the wider Asian market.
Dr Michael King has been with MDSS as Vice President – International Business since 2018. A Malaysian citizen of mixed parentage, he spent a decade in Japan studying for a degree in Civil Engineering, followed by a master’s degree and a PhD from Kobe University. He initially pursued a career in the construction industry in Malaysia, before moving overseas and eventually ending up at Surbana International Consultations Pte. Ltd in Singapore.
“It was with this company that I had the opportunity to serve as the Tender Manager for a major PPP project in Myanmar where Mottama Holdings Group was my client. Mottama Holdings Group is the holding company for Min Dhama Steel Structures. After successful completion of the PPP tender, I was invited by Mottama Holdings Group to join their property development team,” he explains.
“From there, I switched position to be the Vice President – International Business to serve the Mottama Holdings Group in dealing with international business opportunities with various international companies.”
Dr Michael King, Vice President
An industry in its infancy
According to Dr King, Myanmar’s steel industry – and the economy in general – has been growing steadily, although it has experienced a drastic slowdown since the COVID-19 crisis. However, it is beginning to pick up again.
“Being termed ‘the last frontier economy in Asia’, I have very positive feelings that the country will keep on growing and prosper once the COVID-19 scare has worn off,” the VP explains.
“A young and hardworking workforce, a large population base and a growing economy are just the right ingredients to propel this country upwards.”
However, working within Myanmar’s steel industry is not without its challenges. For example, as a new industry few government regulations have been introduced. Companies such as MDSS must compete against cheaper imported products, thanks to a lack of tariffs on such activities.
Due to the lack of industry standards, MDSS has been using internationally accepted norms such as AISC since inception. This means it has the capacity to supply most international projects, while the company also continues to advocate for change within Myanmar’s steel industry.
“We are actively working with other industry players and Myanmar Steel Association (MSA) to forge a better and regulated environment and acceptable local industry standards,” Dr King says. “This is part of our commitment to contribute to the industry.
“We have been able to compete and survive under this competitive environment and this has made us into a strong and cohesive unit.”
But despite internal cohesion and its adoption of internationally accepted standards, Dr King believes that there is a perception that companies from Myanmar do not have the production capabilities or market insight of other international companies.
It is a perception he is intent on changing.
“I have been receiving many foreign visitors to the factory during the last two years and more than 95 percent of our guests are amazed to find such an established fabrication facility in this part of the world,” the Vice President explains.
A company on the rise
MDSS was founded in 2014 and is located within the Shwe Pyi Thar Industrial Zone in the north-eastern part of Greater Yangon. It can fabricate any type of steel structure used in the construction industry. This includes factory buildings, high-rise offices or residential buildings, spatial roof structures for stadiums and airports, steel bridges, and commercial shopping complexes to name a few.
“We start by designing steel structures, produce shop drawings – which indicate how each steel part is to be fabricated – purchase steel plates or hot-rolled steel members and cut and weld them to form the required shapes and sizes. We are currently the largest local user of Tekla® software, which is especially suited for producing steel structure shop drawings,” explains Dr King.
MDSS’s main products are built-up
H beams and box columns, which are the basic building blocks used to assemble and form steel structures. It can produce up to 4,000 metric tonnes of finished products per month and aims to ramp this up to 6,000 metric tonnes by next year.
Dr King believes there are several important ways in which MDSS can distinguish itself from its competitors. For a start, it is a part of Mottama Holdings Group, which has 3,000 full-time employees and a 22-year track record working in Myanmar. It has subsidiaries in construction material trading, ready-mixed concrete supply, construction, property development and logistics support.
“This allows us to provide a more holistic and turnkey solution to our clients with the strong support of our upstream and downstream subsidiaries,” the Vice President says.
“It is this strength that sets us apart in the local market. We can get feedback from our group subsidiaries to further innovate and improve ourselves. To showcase this, our group tagline is actually ‘Innovation through Experience’.”
According to Dr King, the quality of MDSS’s machinery also stands it apart. It uses state-of-the-art CNC and semi-automatic welding machines procured mainly from Italy, Taiwan, and Japan.
“Our founder and Chairman, Mr Yang Ho, had the foresight to invest in the required technologies from the beginning to develop our capability to be on par with competitors in the region. I believe that our machinery and production facility is one of the biggest and most sophisticated in this region,” he says.
Thirdly, Dr King is proud of MDSS’s box column line, which has the capacity to produce 800 metric tonnes of products per month. Domestically, there is limited demand for box columns, something which the firm is looking to address.
“Not many are aware of the potential of such products, especially for use in seismic-resistant structures. We have extensively used box columns in our own developments such as M Tower and Harbour Trade Tower to promote this product locally,” he explains.
In Myanmar, then, MDSS is working hard to educate people and promote its box columns.
But seismic-prone countries such as Taiwan and Japan are already very much aware of the benefits offered to structures by these – MDSS sees a strong potential to export box columns to these countries and other developing markets.
A fourth way in which MDSS can distinguish itself from the competition is through its strong supply chain.
MDSS strives to form good working relationships with its network of suppliers, thereby ensuring timely supplies without the need to stockpile. An added advantage is that it can rely on its sister company, which deals with construction materials, to provide backup services in emergency situations.
The local supply chain ensures that MDSS can procure locally available items, including a reliable supply of high-quality paints.
It also relies on eight groups of subcontractors, who collectively provide around 400 subcontractor workers in its factory.
“We treat each and every labour force similar to our own staff as we believe that they are part of our extended family, working towards the same goals,” the Vice President says.
“Similarly, when we pursue new opportunities, we want to be treated as supply chain partners by our clients and customers as we strongly believe in creating lasting relationships between all parties. Our new project pursuits are mostly founded on close relationships rather than on random competitive bidding.”
There are several landmark projects which MDSS is proud to be a part of. Topping the bill is the M-Tower, a landmark structure developed, built and fabricated by the subsidiaries within Mottama Holdings Group.
“The building height here in Yangon is regulated in relation to the height of the much revered Shwedagon Pagoda and as such, we had to limit the building to 26-storeys high,” Dr King explains.
The M-Tower has a diagrid structure, which protects the building from extreme seismic sources.
“Our founder and Chairman wanted to build this tallest steel structure building in Myanmar and show the industry that it is possible to build such a building with local capabilities, even though we are located in a seismic zone,” Dr King says.
The building’s interior is currently being fitted out, and it will be opened to its first tenants in April 2021.
Another flagship project is the Myanmar Aquarium, a concession awarded to Mottama Holdings Group by the government. A curved, contemporary structure perched on the banks of the Kandawgyi Lake in downtown Yangon, it is the first of its kind in the country and will be a major draw for tourists once it opens in the first half of 2021.
“We had to collaborate with various international partners to bring this project to life as an aquarium requires substantial specialist knowhow. Our steel structures are used for the roof structure of the main aquarium building while the annex restaurant complex next to the lake is a full steel structure building,” Dr King says.
MDSS is also working on several other building projects, including Terminal M – a commercial and lifestyle complex in Mingalardon – and the Harbour Trade Tower, a 22-story office building in Yangon. The company also supports infrastructure development projects by supplying the steel parts for building.
“Our contribution in this area is quite substantial as we are able to count projects such as the 225 MW Myingyan Power Plant, Naypyitaw International Airport’s roof structure, the Yakult factory, Carlsberg factory and Nissan motor car factory as records of our performance,” the Vice President says.
As with many industries, COVID-19 has led to an industry slowdown, especially within the private sector. However, there are still many foreign-funded infrastructure developments in the pipeline – MDSS is gearing up to support the construction of large steel bridges, intracity viaduct structures and industrial zone developments.
“We are pleased to be associated with Yokogawa Bridge Corporation as we are currently assisting them with works for two major bridges in Myanmar. This is the beginning of our foray into this market segment. With the track record and experience gained, we hope to secure more bridge projects soon,” Dr King says.
Over the upcoming months, MDSS plans to focus more on government infrastructure projects while waiting for the private sector to pick up. The slowdown caused by pandemic has enabled it to restructure its organisation, reconfigure production lines and purchase new machinery.
However, it is also still pushing ahead with ambitious expansion plans – it has recently increased its land area from 70,484 square metres to 90,500 square metres by acquiring two additional plots. Its production area has therefore increased from 55,482 square metres to 77,500 square metres.
“The objective here is to not only increase our production capacity but also to tailor the production lines to suit market demand and future projections. We will ultimately bring our monthly production capacity to 6,000 metric tonnes of finished products from the current 4,000 metric tonnes,” the Vice President explains.
Such expansion will continue – Mottama Holdings Group is currently negotiating with the government for the development rights on 64 acres of land in downtown Yangon.
“If this $2.5 billion development becomes a reality, it would further propel our Group’s move into the property development arena and indirectly provide MDSS with further avenues to showcase our capability to support huge projects,” Dr King says.
Increasing its production capacity means MDSS will be producing more steel parts than are in demand locally. Because of this, it is looking to expand into new markets. Such expansion plans are based predominantly on its existing customer relationships, rather than on market demands. For example, it has a strong relationship with a client in the Philippines, and so plans to continue exporting there.
The company has also begun exploratory talks with counterparts in Japan. It sees particular potential in its box columns, which are widely used there. Although initial forays into the market have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr King is optimistic that there will be a big market for MDSS’s products in Japan in the future.
“Another area that we are looking at is to supply for oil and gas related projects. We are currently in close negotiations with a French partner on some small oil and gas related support structures and we hope to be able to secure a contract from them for a project in Saudi Arabia,” he adds.
All in all, MDSS appears to be a young, nimble and rapidly growing company with a promising future ahead of it.
Unsurprisingly, the conversation ends on a positive note.
“We have only started to actively promote our services overseas for the last two years, but the response has been very encouraging over this relatively short period of time,” the Vice President concludes.
“As such, we believe the future potential for us to grow bigger is definitely there.”