The 2020 edition of the MEP Middle East Conference broke new ground – moving to an all-new digital realm to overcome the obstacles thrown our way by the global coronavirus pandemic.
The event featured three in-depth panel discussions, covering Engineering Net-Zero Carbon Systems; Evaluating the Current Landscape of the MEP Sector; and Transitioning Towards a Digitalised Future.
MEP Middle East Editor Tom Oxtoby said: “The switch to a virtual platform allowed us to deliver our usual high quality event in a safe and secure setting – welcoming even more participants than we’d be able to host in our traditional physical spaces.
“From a personal point of view I was very proud to be part of the team that helped guide our publication into this new space, and my colleagues deserve great credit for demonstrating their agility in this sense.
“There was no denying the incredible standard of conversation and insight provided by our expert panelists, and the feedback we have received so far pays testament to the quality of our guests. I owe them my personal thanks.
“I also need to thank our man in the middle Prabhakar Kesavan, Regional General Manager at Voltas, who guided the day’s talks as chair with a skilled hand despite the odd curveball thrown his way.
“I’d also like to thank our sponsors for the day – Voltas, Polyfab and Trimble – who helped make the conference possible.”
The entire conference will soon be available to rewatch on the Construction Week YouTube channel. But until then, read what some of the leading figures in the industry had to say about some of the burning issues dominating the MEP and HVAC sphere today.
Engineering Net Zero Carbon Systems
Cundall Sustainability Partner Alan Fogarty
“I think MEP is vital to net zero solutions. HVAC engineers in particular can see where energy is going in a building.
“On that basis they can advise architects on the opportunities for passive solutions, the impacts on energy systems, and best design of those system. Getting to net zero means every aspect of low carbon energy must be considered. It’s an incremental challenge.
“Sometimes building codes can restrict the way people think about buildings, preventing innovation. But then there are some aspects which will drive design forward.
“Codes can make poor practice visible, catch it, and lift standards of all buildings as a result. You need a balance of looking at what elements can bring the industry up, but leaving enough room for innovation.
“The performance gap is an issue. As an industry we have not done proper energy calculations in this sense. By trying to actively predict what a building will consume at the design stage we can see what systems are likely to do and make the changes as necessary.
“As an industry we have failed very badly in closing the gap to how a building is performing, and learning lessons from existing buildings and how they are working.
“The more difficult task is the net zero 2050 target for existing buildings.
“There are so many – so many in poor condition and getting up to standard is a massive task. People need to think about it as the sheer number of buildings is phenomenal.”
AESG Director Philippa Grant
“Every situation offers opportunity. It has been a terrible circumstance we’ve all had to manage over the past six month. You have to make the best of the situation.
“Before coronavirus, a lot of discussion was taking place around the number of deaths linked to poor air and water quality. The pandemic has really thrown a light on the issues we face today.
“A stronger focus has been on the health and wellness factor of sustainability, and it is spoken about more and more.
“We are seeing new technologies looking to improve air quality in cities and buildings, and a lot of interesting research and outcomes will come from this.
“We need to be constantly questioning how we can improve this, not just copying and pasting the last project. But it needs full collaboration and the whole industry to engage.
“If everyone tomorrow woke up and said ‘we want all projects to be net zero’ we could achieve it now. Everything is available, but it needs a concerted effort from people to seriously want to do this.
“Legislation comes from both sides. There needs to be a push from government, and here in the UAE there has been a top-down approach with forward thinking leadership – and that has driven uptake.
“But it also needs the industry to want to drive it. Realistically, we are a few years off, there will be the pioneers and slowly everyone will get on board.”
EmiratesGBC Technical Director Majd Fayyad
“We all agree that climate change is a global crisis, but for us in the Middle East the consequences are more critical.
“The Arab region is considered one of most vulnerable, as per an IPCC report in 2014.
“Here in the UAE, if you look at the projections you will see an increase of 2-3 degrees in the summer months. We need to take rapid action to avoid harmful impacts. For us from the building sector the solution is net zero carbon buildings.
“Buildings worldwide contribute to 39% of global CO2 emissions. Here, buildings consume 70% of electricity. Looking at current stock you will find many inefficient buildings. Compare them to best practice and you find a huge difference.
“We need to look at buildings in supporting health and wellbeing. Coronavirus has underlined the importance of urban resilience, the need fore more walking and cycling spaces. We don’t have the luxury of time. We need to act fast and act now. We have only 10 years to do it and the coming couple of years are foundational to working to achieving net zero.
“This requires work from all stakeholders and government. I’m optimistic that partnerships between the private and public sector are the key to achieving it.”
Evaluating the current landscape of the MEP sector
Associate Director at Burohappold Pedro Cadima
“My experience dealing with small practice sub consultants is very interesting. Where you have relationships with clients there is still work to be done.
“It has not stopped because of Covid-19, but clients are more wary and cautious. The onus has fallen on showing value to clients.
“Smaller firms are still doing OK. To a certain extent bigger firms with thousands of employees are doing OK – but those employees themselves are less OK as the work that supports them is no longer there.
“In terms of coronavirus everyone has been learning. Change is happening rapidly and the industry is able to attract better people.
“There was a time when taking three months to do a heat loss calculation was the norm and totally acceptable.
“But it is no longer boring to be a building services engineer. I don’t think we will be replaced by AI anytime soon, but in terms of the pandemic what it’s doing is bringing in work sharing collaboration.
“It’s not really new, but the platforms are second nature to the people coming out of university.”
Partner at GRFN Omnia Halawani
“At the moment we have cities that are reactive and not proactive.
“[In the future] we will be seeing more requirement for dynamic models.
“We will look at our reliance on man power; we will be seeing advanced technology and robotics used in construction, plus 3D printing in design. There will also be more use of drones."
Director MEP at KEO Martin McFadden
“For industry collaboration to take effect properly we need an appropriate amount of time so all optimal solutions can be advised and incorporated.
“Looking ahead, prefab modular assemblies created through 3D digital printing will also necessitate collaboration and integration of the supply chain like never before. It is a big challenge for all of us.
“We have a fractured arrangement right now where different entities are participating at different times.
“The type of collaboration necessary isn’t capable of being undertaken when we only have design on board before the contracting entity.
“As they come in, design step back, so no there is participation between them and the end-user for occupancy and FM.
“That’s how we sit. Not exclusively in this region, but also elsewhere across different markets and sectors.”
VP and Head of IOGB at Voltas Suresh Kumar
“In 2004 we had the SARS outbreak in China and Singapore. Voltas learned to be cross-functional as a team, to communicate from top to bottom.
“We moved quickly in terms of requirements when it came to coronavirus.
“Voltas has an FM division, and the government supported us to collaborate between client and end-user and gain an understanding of what needed to be done.
“While there were impacts we could continue to work. Everybody was new to this problem. Each one of us had to come up with our own solutions.
“We had issues because we were told you couldn't transport a group of 60 workers at a time, or start at 6am.
“Coronavirus taught us that there were a lot of options we were not utilising. Imagine all these digital solutions. We never thought we could do things we are doing.
“A lot of change in MEP in terms of automation is coming: offsite prefabrication, BIM, modular fabrication. But you will find availability of labour in the market harder. People will not be moving for work.
“MEP has never had a revolutionary change in automation. But we will see more products that go from shelf to site. These revolutions are coming.”
Transitioning towards a digitalised future
Senior Engineering Consultant at Ramboll Mahmoud Hameed
“Great progress has bee made over the last 10 years. What coronavirus has done is expedite the conversation.
“Business has to move quicker than ever before to meet the demand of clients. In some cases this situation has built on initiatives of the past – working from home, investment in IT infrastructure, and webinars – we are seeing more and more of that.
“However, we have also seen ideas coming from scratch. We were more offline – even today you see firms draw out designs for review.
“The train is moving and if you don’t jump on you will be left behind. Revit saves a lot of time and can be accessed by everyone.”
Head of Operations at Voltas Gumeet Nanda
“If you look at construction in general it has lagged in adopting technology. There is a lot of room for improvement, so why have we been held back?
“Everyone in isolation is adopting tech in some way but it is not integrated. If standardisation comes in, it will be a good opportunity.”
Technical Director at AECOM Reid Donovan
“We had a week to get ourselves organised [when Covid-19 arose].
“From a project perspective we had already shifted to 360, so all our work was Cloud-based anyway. We can all access models from anywhere and all the info of a project is available.
“We have brought in a digital director to oversee a ‘one common data source’ for the business. We don’t do drawings any more, we play with data in a model and one of the outputs is a Revit model. We are trying to eradicate all mundane tasks like manual calculations, Excel sheets.
“It’s about taking that away and having one common data environment where all our outputs are generated from. “
Regional Director at Trimble Paul Wallet
“Discussion about what we need to be doing to improve has changed.
“When people went into lockdown the scenario was to continue operations. For many it was all of a sudden. There was then a big surge of people wanting to use services to enable them to continue business.
“Digitalisation conversations have always been on going. BIM has been talked about for a number of years but there has been inherent resistance.
“The majority see it as a big investment. People knew it was available but didn’t want to take the time to invest. Now there is no choice but to, and once started they saw the value of deploying digital tools.
“The premise of BIM is to build well co-ordinated and highly detailed model, but then have enough info to actually replicate on-site as originally created in virtual space.
“We see contractors going on to site with 2D drawings, and it needs a very skilled tradesperson to work out how the 2D and physical build relate.
“Taking a digital model and projecting it out to physical world gets the information flowing in the right direction.”
Director of MEP at WME Nicholas Byczynski
“We found that with the tools we already had, MS Teams etc, we were only scratching the surface of what was possible.
“First thing we did was look at how we can change the way we operate with what we had. There was so much power in what we had, we just had to embrace it.
“Consultants had the advantage over other industries because they are already working remotely with people around the globe. Clients meanwhile expect people to come to them.
“This whole process has shown we need to do more with what we already have. We seriously started looking at digitalising last year. We were in a bubble.”