Shelter for all

Written on the 10 August 2009

Shelter for all

An innovative Burleigh-based company’s unique ‘Leggo for big boys and girls’ masonry system has cemented a niche in global construction markets.

Formblock is one of the world’s first commercially manufactured mortar-less masonry systems which, through the use of its unique plastic bridging mechanism, provides significant cost savings in time, steel, concrete, formwork and labour requirements.

For managing director George Ryder, the road to success has been long and arduous. Following a meeting with then prime minister of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1989, Ryder was asked to design and manufacture building materials to assist in creating low-cost housing to fulfil the president elect hopeful’s slogan of ‘shelter for all’.

With the unfortunate task of turning down the president’s proposal, Ryder was asked to create an affordable product which the large labour market could use to build affordable housing. This got Ryder thinking about the very product, which 20 years later, is taking the world by storm, one block at a time.

The product has been largely well-received by international markets after long periods of approvals and tests. According to Ryder, the most important aspect in the export process is making sure your product is cost competitive.

“Fortunately our product is affordable over there (in the US). A lot of effort goes into creating these export products and you may find it is not cost competitive which is then a problem. You’ve got to get across there and get product awareness,” says Ryder.

Ryder explains the Formblock system has the ability to make projects 20 per cent more cost-effective largely due to its simple design.

“There are more people being born and the skills side of things is deteriorating. Therefore we created a product that doesn’t require as many people to use. With our product, workers are able to pile about 1500 blocks per day,” explains Ryder.

“What this means for the developer, or the funder, is that the wage bill decreases. The difference in cost then directly translates to the developer.”

One development project in Miami (US) was recently shafted due to the economic downturn. After a considerable amount of research and development, Ryder and the team at Formblock calculated a total saving of around US$2.9 million on concreting alone through the use of its unique bridging system.

“We suggested to the developer to look at also gaining quotes on sub trades considering they would be significantly lower due to the lack of work. The developer then consulted with the pharmaceutical company who signed a 30-year-lease contract,” says Ryder.

This kick-started the building process and in turn allowed Formblock to export their product to the US. The project will equate to roughly $150,000 worth of plastic being shipped to Miami in a 40-foot container.

“This is about one month of nonstop work for us. We will be producing about 270,000 bridges to export to this project. This is significant for us because we are talking about making a delivery to the other side of the world,” he says.

Similarly, Formblock has had success in Dubai, after providing 2.5 million bridges to the Motor City project. Ryder explains he had to use a fresh approach to gain approval in Dubai.

“I went to see the government in Dubai and said I wanted to bring the product in and they said this will take between six to nine months for approval. So I bought some of the products and built a wall from scratch. Then I invited the government officials and demonstrated the safety to them by swinging the wall around and picking it up to demonstrate its sturdiness. This was all they needed to see and we went back to the office and got all the stamps of approval,” he explains.

While the successes have been large and impressive, Ryder says it has been a lengthy process which he could not have undertaken without the help of various government organisations.

“The assistance of Business Gold Coast and Austrade has been fantastic and already we’ve been exposed to 10 different markets internationally,” says Ryder.

“We are working with the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (EFIC) to manoeuvre the finance part of exporting. I don’t believe you can do it without their help.”

Even though Ryder has conquered his dream market, there is no stopping the team expanding further across the globe.

“The jewel in the crown was always going to be America. But we are looking at exporting to India next, where it would be very practical to utilise this product to build houses for underprivileged people. It’s not cost-effective to build conventional houses. With our product you can utilise the community labour; it’s easy to use and for the same money you were going to spend on a small house, you can build a house three times as big.

“Austrade has advised me to go straight to the builder in India who says he has enough men to build massive developments. We’ve got the products ready for the market. We want to spread our wings.”

According to the 70-year-old managing director, the key to Formblock’s global success has been persistence.

“You have to have the passion, it doesn’t come unless you put in 25 hours a day; we were hell bent on sticking the flag in another country and that has paid off,” he says.


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