Site visit: Making it in Qatar

Cathal McElroy visits Arabian MEP Contracting's duct factory in Doh

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The Hamad Medical City project has demanded high standards of hygiene in the ductwork supplied.
The Hamad Medical City project has demanded high standards of hygiene in the ductwork supplied.

Cathal McElroy visits Arabian MEP Contracting’s duct factory in Doha’s Salwa Industrial Area to see MEP in the making

Not far from Doha’s startlingly long Barwa Commercial Avenue project, just at the edges of the city’s Salwa Industrial Area, lies the premises of Arabian Duct factory – one of the manufacturing arms of Arabian MEP Contracting.

Amid the typical grit and grime to be found in such production hubs, the facility is remarkable for its clean and tidy exterior, suggestive of a strict maintenance regime as opposed to the hasty clean-up of a site expecting a media visit.

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Unsurprisingly, the factory is as clinical and kempt on the inside, where Hendrik Coetzer (director of operations), Hans Peter Kondrat (engineering manager), and Narayanan Srinivasan (factory manager), are waiting to reveal the secrets behind this extensive MEP operation.

As Coetzer begins to explain the background to the factory’s establishment, the reason for the unusual level of hygiene and cleanliness becomes apparent. “This factory is manufacturing solely for the Hamad Medical City project.

The facility we created here is to supply the HVAC project which Arabian MEP Contracting is carrying out there.”

“Supplying Hamad Medical City means we need clean, almost sterile, ductwork,” adds Kondrat.

“If the surfaces of the ductwork are not clean, you cannot have it in the hospital. It has to be almost 99% particle-free, as the air will be emitted into operating theatres and such.

Here we have facilities to clean the ducts by spraying them with an anti-microbial coating. Then the ducts will be wrapped in plastic foil and brought to the site, which is around 4km away, all the time minimising the ducts’ exposure.

Only at the last moment when it is installed will the plastic be taken off, ensuring it is as sterile as possible. I do not think any other company in Qatar is doing this: it is unique, even for European standards,” he adds.

To meet the high hygiene demands of supplying the Hamad Medical City project, Arabian MEP Contracting went to the extent of building the 1,000m² factory from scratch, beginning full operations in December 2011.

“The factory was purpose-built, and we appointed a consultant specifically so it would meet the requirements of supplying Hamad Medical City,” explains Srinivasan.

“The main aim was to maintain a clean environment. Almost 250,000m2 of ducting is going into Hamad Medical City, and it all has to be clean. I think this is also the only air-conditioned duct factory in Qatar as well.”

With this new factory came new machinery. The company sourced a range of some of the most technically-advanced manufacturing equipment available from the US, UK, Switzerland, Germany and Singapore.

Incorporating laser-guided technology, these horses of industry are manned by 75 technicians, backed up by ten administrative staff.

As each piece of ducting is different, the factory employs a job production process which sees raw sheet metal cut, shaped and assembled to strict specifications to produce various types of ducting.

Once labelled and packaged, each piece is ready to take its unique place in Hamad Medical City’s vast sequences of ductwork.

“We receive approved drawings from the project department, from which we get the specifications for each piece,” explains Srinivasan.

“A take-off is made based on the pressure class, standards, etc. and we send it to the site to verify with the project team that there is no hindrance. Once they verify it, we enter the specifications into the software connected to our machines.

There are two different kinds of operations – one is a coil line, the other is a plasma-cutting machine we use for fittings. The specifications entered into the software go to both machines and they will start cutting according to the sizes.

“The coil line has four coils, all with different thicknesses. Once it is cut and the straight duct operation is finished it will go to the zipper machine for lock-forming, then it will go to the assembly section where any fixes will be made. For the fittings, the sheets needed are taken from the coil line with the corresponding thickness.

Once it goes through the plasma-cutting machine, it goes through to lock-forming. When the assembly is over, it can then be moved to pre-delivery inspection, before it is wrapped and made ready for delivery,” explains Srinivasan.

Beyond the standard rectangular duct operation, the factory also produces fire-rated ducting in technical partnership with Firemac UK, spiral/circular ducting, as well as volume control and fire dampeners, access doors, sound attenuators, VAV boxes and louvers.

While this new facility was a fresh and interesting challenge for Arabian MEP Contracting, it was able to call upon over a decade of manufacturing experience when establishing it.

Almoayyed Air-conditioning Contracting, as the company was formerly known, had operated a smaller ducting factory since 1998 which developed, much like the company itself, as Qatar’s construction industry began to undergo a major boom.

“Our ducting operation stretches back to 1998 when our factory was in a different location – a smaller workshop which we rented,” says Srinivasan. “From 1998 to 2006, we were operating manual machinery with 20 people.

In 2005 and 2006, Qatar started to construct more high-rise buildings, so our management decided to upgrade to high-quality ductwork produced by automated duct machinery.

As Arabian MEP Contracting won more contracts on high-rise projects, the volume of the ductwork increased, so we opened a new factory (Unit 2) in 2006 to deal with the increased demand.”

As the factory in which he currently speaks (Unit 1) bears testament, the expansion did not stop there. In response to both the needs of its own MEP contracting business and the wider MEP industry in Qatar, the company began manufacturing accessories in 2007.

In the years since, it has acquired even greater production power with the establishment of a third duct-manufacturing unit (Unit 3) in 2011, specifically for other customers, an electrical switchgear factory and, of course, the new Unit 1 itself.

Collectively, the three ducting units produce around 750,000m² per year – the largest duct-factory capacity in Qatar, according to the company.
Notwithstanding this impressive output, there is even more to come.

Unit 4 is currently under construction in the New Salwa Industrial Area, and promises to bolster the company’s position in both its contracting and manufacturing capacities.

The 5,000m² facility is set to begin operations later this year, and is designed to meet as much of the Arabian MEP Contracting’s supply needs as possible.

“That will be a complete unit manufacturing mechanical and switchgear components, as well as facilities management for Arabian MEP projects,” says Coetzer.

“It has a total of 12,000m², with 5,000m² for ducting, and 1,000m² for switchgear and 1,000m² for facilities management. Looking forward to the new factory, I can only see bigger things, and I think the vision is clear about where we want to move.”

With Qatar almost guaranteed a healthy construction sector in the next decade due to the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the move is presumably smart business.

Feeding off the country’s ongoing investment, Arabian MEP Contracting secured a $30.2m HVAC contract in September 2012 for Qatar Solar Technologies’ (QSTec) polysilicon production plant at Ras Laffan Industrial City. Consequently, production at the company’s Unit 2 manufacturing facility has become entirely dedicated to supplying the considerable demands of the project.

For Kondrat, as Arabian MEP Contracting’s engineering manager, such ready access to the materials needed to carry out the contractor’s projects is invaluable.

“We can have what we need made overnight if necessary, as they work nightshifts here, and it will be ready in the morning. We can also come here and talk to Narayanan directly if it is a complicated matter.

This would be very difficult to do if he was an outsider. Narayanan is also involved in meetings in the very early stages of a project to improve planning. I think this close relationship with our supplier gives us an edge on other MEP companies in Qatar, unless they have the same set-up.”

Coetzer says that, while manufacturing in Qatar allows direct access to the products the company needs, the operation can still suffer from delays in securing raw materials and machinery from other countries.

“The materials we need for our projects are available immediately. The travelling distance between the projects and the manufacturer is cut, so the materials get there quicker. We can also arrange meetings and negotiate changes and deliveries without difficulty.

“However, getting all this equipment, raw material and spares needed to manufacture these products can cause problems. There are delays in getting this to Qatar from other countries on time.

Whether the raw materials come from Japan, India or Saudi, whichever is approved by the consultant, there is a lead time until it arrives. Planning is very important,” notes Coetzer.

While this is an issue, the team still thinks that manufacturing has a bright future in Qatar, and can see the government making significant moves in this direction.

“The government has opened up a second phase to this industrial area where they offer a very low price for the land to set up factories,” says Srinivasan. “They also have plans for a third and fourth phase, as well as possible free zones. This is boosting the manufacturing industry. We are also getting some help with importing items through tax benefits.”

As this push to make Qatar more of a producer and less of a consumer continues, Arabian MEP Contracting can also see a point where it, too, might be selling more to the market than it is producing for itself.

“As per our management expectations, we will have Unit 4 completed by the middle of 2013,” says Srinivasan. “It will be solely for Arabian MEP projects, while Units 1, 2 and 3 will all be dedicated to outside customers. We are expecting, as time progresses, that will we have more and more outside customers.”

This view is backed up by none other than the man at the top, CEO Vasanth Kumar. He says the company’s manufacturing operation will play a huge role in determining its future achievements, and that now is the time to commit itself fully.

“I believe that pre-fabrication is the key to success in large-value projects with compressed timeframes, and hence the company is pressing ahead with huge investments to establish new production facilities for prefabricated ducting, as well as prefabricated piping for HVAC chilled water piping and fire-sprinkler piping systems.

A company in the making
Arabian MEP Contracting, the parent company of Arabian Duct Factory, has only been known as such since early 2012. The company was first known as Almoayyed Airconditioning Contracting, established in 1999 following the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 1998 to establish a joint venture company between AL Malki Group Qatar (51%) and Almoayyed Group Bahrain (49%).

The company started as a Grade C contractor involved in only HVAC works, and was led by chairman Ali Ibrahim Al Malki, with F.Y. Almoayyed as vice-chairman. Vasanth Kumar, the company’s current CEO, was the company’s branch manager.

Almoayyed Airconditioning Contracting quickly progressed to a Grade B contractor in 2001 when it started a mechanical division.

This was followed, in 2003, by an Al Malki buy-out from Almoayyed Bahrain, and the establishment of an electrical division. The buy-out logically led to a name change in 2005 to Arabian Airconditioning Contracting, when the company also established a fully-fledged MEP division.

By 2008, the company had gained Grade A Certification, and had amassed a workforce of 3,500. Two years later, Vasanth Kumar took the helm as CEO, which was shortly followed in 2012 by the change to the company’s current name, Arabian MEP Contracting.

The company won both MEP Company of the Year and Subcontractor of the Year at the 2012 Construction Week Qatar Awards.

Facts:
- 99% Ductwork surfaces have to be 99% particle-free for hygiene purposes
- 4Km Ducts wrapped in plastic foil and brough to the site, which is about
4km away from the factory
- 250,000m2 Ducting going into the Hamad Medical City project
- 1,000m2 Size of the new factory built by Arabian MEP Contracting

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