How BK Gulf Modular Systems is revolutionising the MEP sector in the region

Robbie Nelson, modular systems division manager at BK Gulf, shows how its UAE-based modular facility is revolutionising the MEP sector in the region

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Factory-produced pre-engineered MEP modules that are delivered to a site and assembled are an intelligent and advanced form of construction methodology. Dubai-based BKG (BK Gulf) Modular Systems is at the forefront of modular construction and the company claims it is UAE’s leading supplier dedicated to off-site fabrication of MEP services. Now celebrating its 10th-year anniversary, BKG Modular Systems has been producing bespoke MEP services modules and modular wiring solutions for the UAE market. The firm has catered to projects such as Abu Dhabi New York University, Dubai Opera House, and Dubai Mall.
Robbie Nelson, modular systems division manager at BK Gulf, takes MEP Middle East on a guided tour of BKG Modular Systems’ factory in Jabel Ali Industrial Area, Dubai. Nelson says: “During peak times, we have about 350 people including fabricators, engineers and administration staff in the facility. Everything you see within our module has been developed from the consultant’s design, through coordination and 3D modelling. We are producing exactly what is there in the detailed model. The whole factory is a controlled environment.”
BK Gulf’s Modular Systems Division was established in 2008. The 77,000 square feet purpose built facility is capable of delivering up to 1,800 modules per month. Nelson says: “At the moment, we’re producing 1,200 to 1,400 modules in a month, and that’s just for our standard corridor riser modules. In addition to that, we have 15,000m2 of GI ductwork [facility]. We also have modular wiring production, and have recently started the fabrication of pre-insulated ductwork.”
All of the firm’s capability was demonstrated in the delivery of the Address Downtown Dubai refurbishment project, where 1,035 multiservice modules were manufactured and installed in 26 days to complete 15 floors of the building. Nelson says that the demand has pushed the firm to boost its production capacity. “We’ve increased our production substantially over the last four years. We’ve gone from producing about 5,000 modules in 2013 for a single project, with a single contractor to currently producing over 12,000 modules, for up to seven different projects simultaneously,” Nelson proudly says.

Walkthrough
The production room that has 10 production lines, which produces, assembles and line checks up to 6 by 6 metre modules at a time. Nelson explains: “We have preparation areas for plumbing systems, electrical containment, chilled water and insulation. Since our fabrication drawings are produced from a 3D model, we provide individual detailed drawings and cutting lists to the preparation [teams]. These pre-prepared sections are then placed in the preparation racks for final assembly.”
The facility also has a modular wiring workshop. Nelson says: “Modular wiring is a plug-and-play installation for all lighting and small power circuitry downstream of the distribution board. We have wiring looms which are pre-wired conduits, with male and female plugs attached. We take the traditional design for a project, pre-measure the wiring lengths, fabricate it to the exact length and add the plugs. The cables are then referenced and tested. This will also include the final fix items such as switch plates, sockets and luminaires which are all pre-wired with the corresponding plugs. It’s a complete plug and play installation.”
Nelson would later show us the application of these modules at the ongoing MEP works in Jebel Ali Park Hotel, where the project scope includes 1,200 MEP services modules, 400 FCU (fan coil unit) modules and modular wirings for 380 rooms [picture of site on page 19].

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Robbie Nelson, modular systems division manager at BK Gulf.

Extent of modularisation
According to Nelson, the market is improving quite radically when it comes to prefabrication. Elaborating on the market, Nelson says: “I think the market is partly driven by the complexity and competitiveness of the Middle East market. The Middle East, and UAE especially, is well known for iconic projects. But time constraints around such projects are tight. And so, people are looking for alternative methods of delivering such projects. Prefabrication is one of them.”
But can complex structures be modularised? According to Nelson, yes. He adds: “I think that in terms of prefabrication, everything we do is bespoke. We are prefabricating the MEP services to fit in all types of buildings. There’s a common misconception that prefabrication only fits a certain model that’s repetitive and that it has to be a square building. That’s true and we can produce modules quicker than in the typical method.
“However, what we find that in all sorts of projects, especially here in the UAE, buildings have unique designs. In the past, we have executed projects such as the Al Bahr Towers, Abu Dhabi, which are twin-cylindrical towers where we prefabricated the whole corridor. Also for the Dubai Opera House, we modularised sections of MEP and installed them. So, we’re able to bring the benefits of off-site manufacturing to any type of
installation.”
Another important point to understand is the extent to which an MEP module be modularised. Nelson says that that the firm is “always trying to improve and extend the level of prefabrication in a project”. He explains: “Initially, we started with ductwork, pipework, and electrical containment modules. That’s grown over the past 10 years. Now, we’ve included modular wiring as part of our capabilities and now we are including fan coil units with valve packages and electrical connections. We’re looking to incorporate some parts of the building structure. For example, the top of the heads of corridor walls will be part of the module. We hope to include different parts of the building structure, as the modular system develops.”
The extent of modularisation largely depends on the end client. He says: “The clients are all aware of off-site manufacturing. They’re aware of the benefits it brings to their project. One of the things that I think we can bring with our experiences is the level [of modularisation] that can be taken to. The more we can incorporate, the more benefits we can bring to the site from an offset manufacturing point of view.”

Modular wiring workshop.

Prefabrication and MEP sector 
The key aim of any prefabricator or off-site manufacturer is increasing the quality, efficiency and productivity; reduce wastage; and improve health and safety. He adds: “We provide benefit to both the MEP sector as well as the contractor. On the design side, we are adding a lot of details to the 3D model when it comes to manufacturing and installing any MEP services. We maintain their design. What is modelled and what is drawn is what is being produced.
   “Typically, in a traditional build, you can end up doing something that wasn’t intended by the designer. That can either compromise the performance of the system or increase the final maintenance [cost] for the client. We provide benefit to the [MEP] contractor in a much more straightforward way. We are able to reduce the dependencies that he has on the main contractor. When you’re building traditionally, you’re waiting on the walls to be built. We can produce corridors and risers, all before the structures are even built.”
   This essentially is a parallel construction methodology, which allows the main building structure to be erected in tandem with the off-site fabrication of MEP services, reducing dependencies and potential delays to the progress of the works.
When it comes to quality, BKG Modular Systems has a stringent process. It has an in-house QA (quality assurance) department that monitors and reviews from the start of a project the materials coming in and the final product that’s going out. In addition, there is a three-stage inspection for every module that it is produced. Nelson says: “Quality is in the heart of everything we do. We ensure that in our production lines, we have the space available to produce full corridors so they can be seen, verified, and measured, both by us and the client. This is done to ensure what we’re giving to the end-client is of the highest quality and the module will go and fit in first time.”
Nelson admits that despite the advantages, one of the challenges in prefabrication is early engagement. “The earlier we can be engaged in a project, the more lead time we have for coordination, procurement, fabrication, and delivery. When we get involved at a later stage, there’s bit more catching up to do. That’s one of the main the main challenges.”
Logistics is another challenge, says Nelson. “Rather than shipping individual small components to a project, we’re shipping huge modules that can sometimes weigh up to a couple of tonnes. Logistics is something we look at closely. With the experience we have in the team, we produce specific logistics plans for projects or clients, on how we’re going to physically deliver the modules and how we are going to
coordinate.” 
More and more MEP engineers in this region are aware of the prefabrication revolution taking place. For the past 10 years, the firm has worked with a whole array of clients, consultants, and engineers dealing with prefabrication. He concludes: “The positive thing I’m seeing now is that the people who have worked with us in the past, are actually coming back to using prefabrication. They’ve seen the benefits that prefabrication has brought to their project, and they’ve witnessed new ways to use it.

“I think as prefabrication grows in the market, the knowledge within the engineering community also grows with it.” 

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