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An Interview with XCEM CEO, Jesse Rafidi

CEO, Jesse Rafidi, talks all things XCEM and how the company is making waves in the Australian construction industry.



XCEM is an Australian company with the latest innovation in wall construction products, particularly lightweight concrete panels. XCEM was founded on the back of management combining over 70 years of experience in servicing the construction industry globally. XCEM’s products provide unique and versatile applications in replacement of many current products available on the market for wall construction. The company’s innovative approach to redeveloping outdated products and technologies has revolutionised construction materials, positioning XCEM as the face of change in the industry. We sat down with the CEO, Jesse Rafidi, to talk about how XCEM represents the future of the walling market and construction as a whole. Why did XCEM come into existence? JR: For a long time, we’ve seen and have been considering the issues associated with the current offerings in the walling market, and the simultaneous need for low-cost, as well as high-performance concrete walling solutions. Previously, walls were largely constructed from brick masonry products and render which provided a solid and low maintenance wall. Overtime, brick has been substituted for lightweight AAC (Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) wall panels and plasterboard systems which are much more cost effective and faster to install. The downside of these systems is that they require expensive coating systems and are subject to high repair and maintenance costs over the lifetime of a structure. “This is where XCEM saw the opportunity to bring back the benefits of masonry wall systems, without the associated price tags, and combined with extremely high speeds of installation.” Where has the experience and expertise in the management of XCEM come from? JR: The founders of XCEM have had a very long history in the concrete industry in Australia. We previously founded and managed Hy-tec Industries which became the largest independent concrete supplier in Australia, as well as Morgan Cement. Subsequently, Hy-tec was sold to Adelaide Brighton and continues to be one of the top ready-mix concrete companies in Australia. We also developed the first lightweight high-strength masonry blocks in Australia - the technology is now used ubiquitously across the eastern seaboard of Australia. How did XCEM grasp market shortcomings and use them to its advantage? JR: We wanted to bring back a solid masonry as a finished wall but without the slow installation speed and the high cost of brick work. “So, we developed a new product, the AlphaPanel which is installed very fast, and is very slender at only 35mm thick. The AlphaPanel is a prefinished, lightweight concrete panel which is ready for paint. It can be used for apartment intertenancy and corridor walls, as well as external walling applications.” What makes XCEM AlphaPanels the best in the industry? What are their points of difference? JR: The AlphaPanel is a precast concrete product and is only 35mm thick, compared with traditional precast concrete which is over 150mm thick. This dramatically reduces the weight of each panel, meaning it can be easily and quickly installed by hand, eliminating the requirement for cranes. The AlphaPanel is the only prefinished, cost-effective concrete panel which can be used for internal and external wall construction in high and low rise, single and multi-storey housing, and commercial buildings. Unlike other products, because of the smooth surface finish, the AlphaPanel is installed ready to paint - it does not require plasterboard lining when used internally and does not require render when used externally. The biggest health issue facing the building industry today is the health risk of silicosis, caused by exposure to dust containing crystalline silica during cutting of concrete, brick and tile products. Like the Asbestos issue before it, silicosis can cause devastating health issues for workers. AlphaPanel is the only concrete product we know of which has 0% crystalline silica content, making it the safest masonry product on the market. Are there similar products to the AlphaPanel on the market? JR: To put it simply… no! The AlphaPanel, at 35mm thick, provides the slimmest wall system available on the market which exceeds the NCC (National Construction Code) requirements for Fire and Sound Insulation. The AlphaPanel also has extremely high fire and sound insulation performance. For example, our most popular intertenancy wall system is the slimmest on the market at only 147mm thick; compared with AAC systems which are over 230mm. The slender wall systems create a large amount of extra living space in the apartment which is highly valuable to both developers and end users. Incredibly, the number of square metres gained when using an AlphaPanel wall system in an apartment provides a net saleable area gain which is greater than the cost of the installed walls in the apartment. “It’s the only concrete panel that can be manhandled and installed easily and cheaply. Other concrete precast panels are 150-200mm thick and need large cranes to install them, while the AlphaPanel can be installed with lightweight lifting equipment. AlphaPanels weigh only 47.5kg per m2, compared with precast concrete which weighs approximately 360kg per m2.” What would you consider the key differences between the AlphaPanel and competing products? Why is the XCEM AlphaPanel better than AAC systems? JR: The main key difference is that AlphaPanel is prefinished, unlike the other offerings, meaning you just set the joints and paint it like you would with plasterboard, and the whole system is at a very low price point. The AlphaPanel acts as the structural element, fire and acoustic barrier, as well as the finished surface. Because of the pre-finished surface, when used internally, the AlphaPanel does not require any additional plasterboard lining, so you are left with a solid concrete internal wall with high impact resistance and very low repairs and maintenance requirements. When used externally, the AlphaPanel eliminates the requirement for render. There are a lot of issues with render, it is very difficult to achieve a uniform finish; it bubbles and cracks over time, many renders are combustible, and lastly it is very expensive to apply. Why is the AlphaPanel the best option for internal and external walls? JR: There are so many compelling reasons why AlphaPanel is the natural choice. For internal walls the fact that the AlphaPanel is smooth and prefinished, this eliminates the typical requirement for a number of additional linings and finishing used to create a ready for paint surface. Because the AlphaPanel is made from high strength concrete, the finished walls have high impact resistance which significantly reduce the repair and maintenance costs associated with plasterboard. The walls are installed much faster with fewer components required. The AlphaPanel internal wall systems are also the slimmest wall systems available on the market, creating extra living space in the property, and creating significant value for the property developer. When used as an external wall, due to the AlphaPanel’s smooth surface that is ready for paint, it not only eliminates the need for render but solves all of the visual issues associated with it, such as bubbling and cracking. Most importantly, the AlphaPanel eliminates the huge cost associated with rendering walls. When used to replace precast concrete externally, the system provides a dramatic cost reduction of approximately 75%. Speaking of cost, is there much discrepancy in terms of pricing across the competition? JR: The system is extremely cost competitive and is regarded as one of the lowest cost solutions available on the market. For example, as an external wall system, AlphaPanel ready for paint costs $110 per m square installed and ready for paint, compared to AAC systems which are in excess of $140/m square, rendered brickwork which is over $180, or precast concrete which is over $400 per m square installed. Who can use the products and what can they be used for? JR: XCEM’s range of wall systems traverse the walling market, and are widely used for apartments, high-rises, internal and external walls, houses, townhouses, and also for commercial and industrial developments. We’re currently supplying into a host of Australia’s largest builders and developers, including Meriton, Richard Crookes, Decode and Landmark. These builders have converted to the AlphaPanel because of all the qualities already noted. We are also super happy to be currently supplying a number of single and multistorey houses across NSW. Why was XCEM the best option for Eminence by Meriton? JR: Meriton wanted to use the AlphaPanel to replace a lot of their precast concrete work. One of the main benefits of switching to the AlphaPanel is the cost difference. Effectively, the cost of AlphaPanel was 75% the cost of precast concrete, which is a massive saving for any builder. The other benefit is that because the AlphaPanel walls do not require any cranes for installation, it takes the construction of these walls off the critical path of construction and frees up time for other activities on the site. These benefits combined with the cost saving could not be ignored. Sydney’s iconic 19-storey Opera Residences used XCEM. Why did they choose to use XCEM’s AlphaPanel basement wall? JR: They wanted to cover the excavated rock face with a painted wall which provides visual benefits, as well as helps with the odour and moisture from the rock face. The AlphaPanel performs exceptionally in water and moisture mitigation due to its non-porous properties and being a cementitious panel. So, they chose the AlphaPanel because it is a prefinished panel with an extremely slender 35mm footprint to allow for more space in the confines of the car park, and it could be installed fast and at a low cost - truly a premium basement wall solution for them. What’s next for XCEM in 2021? JR: In 2021, we’re looking to expand our market. We are just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to application in NSW. The initial focus for XCEM is to ensure we are the product of choice for all the internal and external wall applications in the apartment market. The other key area for us is to secure single and multi-storey houses. Our current partners are constantly extending the use and application of AlphaPanel on their projects and through word of mouth we are attracting a lot of interest from several other large developers and builders. In the housing market, we see a huge opportunity for our product for external walls - our solution for houses comes in at a price point that is competing with solutions of much poorer quality. So, homeowners will get the benefit of a solid, lightweight wall at a really great price! Designed for simplicity and installed for high performance, XCEM’s innovative AlphaPanel Wall System has been rapidly gaining traction amongst notable figures in the Australian construction industry. Builders and developers are designing the 35mm precast AlphaPanel into their builds to be used in both internal and external wall applications, including intertenancy, corridor, service risers, external facades, balcony walls and basement walls. If you're interested or if you would like to learn more, email info@xcem.com.au or call 1800 88 9236 to arrange a visit to XCEM’s Ultimo showroom to see the different display walls.

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