More MEP engineers adopting prefabrication in the Middle East

MEP engineers are catching up to the use of prefabrication in the region, says Rejil Kumar, general manager, Weathermaker Limited

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Rejil Kumar, general manager, Weathermaker Limited.
Rejil Kumar, general manager, Weathermaker Limited.

While project inefficiencies and improved technology adaptation is driving prefabrication, MEP engineers are slowly catching up to the new ways of working, which requires a bit of adaptation and change in approach to building projects, says Rejil Kumar, general manager, Weathermaker Limited.
Training and orientation of MEP engineers towards the culture of offsite building requires an understanding of new possibilities. Kumar says that an integration of a prefabricated MEP strategy at tender stages alters the approach of MEP contractors to deliver projects. One should take advantage of the improved use of 3D design, allowing sufficient time for fabrication design, and ensure smoother workflows and reduced rework. Kumar says that a good coordination strategy between the onsite and prefab factory at all stages in an integrated manner will help ensure that everyone works in tandem and modules are fabricated in time for installation at site. He says: “Unlike traditional sites where there is a sequence of material arriving at the site, upfront material planning is super critical for prefab manufacturers, as all the materials are required at a time together.”
However, like most disruptive technologies, offsite MEP has been facing a few challenges mostly originating from getting the project stakeholders to embrace and adapt to new ways of working. Kumar  lists some key challenges successful MEP contractors have addressed such as ability to integrate the prefab strategy into the overall project delivery strategy. Early mandate by client and consultant helps alter the project environment to suitably plan, adopt, sequence and collaborate between multiple stakeholders; in a work environment where timelines are short, stakeholders are blinded by the single objective of delivering the project, that is, the ability to think out of the box is scarce. Prefab module manufacturers play a key role in educating the industry and sharing the success stories of offsite MEP to drive this change; re-orienting of consulting engineers to modular construction since it departs from their standard (usual) approach to supervising MEP works. Their approach and attitude can be a road-block  or  path to the success of projects, depending on their understanding and orientation towards prefabrication; there should be successful adaptation of prefab MEP requires improved and early and multi stakeholder buy-in, as it impacts the collaboration, project sequencing, project control and measurement, certification of work completion, in a way which is much different to the traditional MEP construction; and a mono discipline approach to engineering of MEP projects runs contrary to integrated work flow culture of prefabricated multiservice MEP racks. However, this is being changed by the use of 3D design and emphasis on improved coordination between the multiple disciplines. 
On how off-site construction reduces cost and ensure high quality, Kumar says: “Reduced learning curve for tradesmen in a controlled environment along with lesser distractions (no scaffolding, dependency on other trades, availability of material etc.) helps improve the quality of the work. Furthermore, since the access to the work front in a factory is at a comfortable working level compared to project sites, the work environment is considerably better leading to improved quality.
“While most MEP projects have aggressive targets on labour management, labour over runs are a common occurrence in the industry due to several factors such as labour discipline, site logistics, safety, requirement of scaffolding, etc. However, these factors either are managed with ease in a factory environment leading to certainty of labour costs for a MEP subcontractor.”
Kumar says that MEP prefabrication helps to address multiple woes faced by the industry. However, the biggest advantages most of the customers experience is reduced project timelines, and rework at improved predictability, which is often faced at construction sites.
He says: “In an industry besieged by labour productivity and project delays, the acceptance and wide spread use prefabricated MEP as a lever to manage projects, has been catching up slowly but steadily. Although the advantages of offsite construction are evident, we have witnessed MEP contractors on both ends of the spectrum – the ones that are yet to accept and the ones who are work with offsite construction central to the delivery strategy. 
“Some of the recent requirements of stringent project timelines, have necessitated use of prefab although not envisaged during the conception of these projects. This has been ably assisted by the success of a few early adopters’ who have successfully deployed prefab MEP strategy.”
According to Kumar, currently, modularisation covers about 30% to 35% of the scope of MEP work sites in projects with typical repeatable designs. Kumar lists down some concluding factors that can encourage specialist subcontractors to provide modular MEP systems: 
Drivers of improved adoption rate include client and consultant driven mandate for prefab coupled with committed leadership and communication with MEP contracting firms; increased use of virtual design, improved fabrication intent in design software across the construction ecosystem encouraging fabrication intent and offsite fabrication; project timeline pressures and availability of quality sub-contractors; logistical complications in some project sites, also necessitate the use of prefabricated MEP racks, to reduce the number of trips undertaken to these sites; and limitations of remote project locations, summer work times in the region are some of other factors driving contractors to consider prefabricated MEP components.

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