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A stitch in time.

Firmly established as a vehicle to maximise supply chain efficiencies in the West, the prefabrication concept is in its infancy in the Middle East region's MEP sector. Blaise Hopkinson reports.

While many an MEP engineer's childhood discovery of the joys of Lego and Meccano might have inspired the choice of career, somehow the brilliance of modular prefabrication as espoused by those globally recognised educational toys has yet to filter down to the Middle East, where the concept is still in its infancy in the MEP sector.

Saving time, manpower and money, prefabrication makes absolute sense for numerous MEP applications because it eliminates on-site fabrication impediments and gives project managers and contractors far more control over quality and installation times.

It also makes infinite sense from a pure sustainability perspective, improving performance, reducing waste of on-site materials while also cutting building site access issues, especially on congested urban projects.

While obvious cost savings can be realised in terms of site inspection periods, waste, installation expenses and safety, labour costs can be controlled much more effectively. One element of the labour cost savings is that since much of the highly technical work is done off-site by specialised professionals, actual on-site skills levels can be reduced.

This can, in turn, help alleviate the current and impending skills shortage in the Gulf MEP sector and also contribute to localisation targets, particularly in the GCC countries. Safety, which is particularly in focus because of world media and human rights scrutiny on the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar construction projects, can be greatly enhanced through the effective integration of prefabrication techniques and processes.

"The good news is that the prefabrication concept as it applies to the MEP business is gaining momentum as it offers significant benefits," said Vasanth Kumar, Chief Executive Officer of Arabian MEP Contracting.

"Prefabrication is the solution for project constraints such as those with a very limited time available for MEP installations or the lack of adequate space on site to deploy more manpower to do field installations, power shortages, labour camp restraints or even unfavourable or extreme weather conditions on site," added Kumar.

"Time is money," said Nasser Ezz Edin, general manager, Commodore Contracting MEP, which has substantial in-house

prefabrication capabilities.

"For example, all our air conditioning ducts for all our projects are prefabricated here," he said. "The project requirements come through to this office and then you will find every day a hell [of a lot of] of products. We do all the fabrication here and at the site we do the final installation."

One of the best arguments for off-site prefabrication is the reduction of disparate manpower from dozens of different companies on the actual construction site, said Darrel Strodel, Managing Director, MEP Engineering at KEO International Consultants in Qatar.

"Instead of having 100 different trades on site, with prefabrication of, say, bathrooms or elements of bathrooms, you have only a few different sub-contractors which leads to much greater efficiency, far less damage and great cost and time savings," said Strobel.

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He cited London Heathrow Airport's Terminal Five (T5) construction. Major elements were prefabricated at two nearby, purpose-built consolidation facilities and transported by road in the dead of night to avoid disruption to traffic and passengers using the existing terminals.

The new terminal complex was already half-built in early 2005 when the 87m-high air traffic control tower was erected, having been prefabricated at the dedicated off-site facility.

This allowed for the structure to be built in a controlled environment, out of view from the airport's traditional daytime and evening passengers and airline personnel.

Uplifting the 32m-high conical top section of the control tower and moving it 2km for installation proved one of the project's most daunting engineering challenges. Flatbeds with 144 wheels enabled the construction crews to move the unwieldy tower component right across the airfield with no apparent ill-effects.

Strobel compared the prefabrication programme for T5 as "one giant Lego set".

Closer to home, MEP Arabian Contracting has made significant investment in substantial in-house multiple workshop prefabrication capabilities in Qatar.

"It gives us the edge over our competitors in offering more value-added solutions to our clients. We do prefabrication of HVAC air distribution systems and prefabricate plant room mechanical piping for both HVAC and fire-fighting works," Kumar said.

"In case of air distribution systems, our state-of-art duct factory ships segments of prefabricated ducting systems directly to the jobsite. This includes thermal insulation, acoustic insulation, fixing accessories such as volume control dampers, motorised dampers, fire dampers, access doors, sound attenuators and other elements," he said.Kumar explained that since the prefabrication is done in a controlled factory environment it offers greater productivity, consistently high quality of products and much faster delivery to the site.

"In addition, the manpower requirement on the jobsite is reduced significantly which translates directly to huge savings in terms of labour costs borne by the contractor," he said.

While prefabrication processes and integration are still in their infancy for projects in the Gulf, leading Sharjah-based fabrication and erection company Technomak takes a global view on prefabrication and was recently the successful bidder for elements of the smelter modernisation for Kitimat Aluminium Smelter in British Columbia, Canada.

Technomak constructed all the modules at the company's various facilities in the Sharjah Hamriyah Free Zone using their distinct advantage of access to the nearby port with a 13.5m draft jetty side and with past experience in heavy module fabrication for offshore clients.

"Considering the geographical challenges like hot weather conditions, Middle East summer timings with mid-day breaks and the holy month of Ramadan (with limited working hours) Technomak completed this prestigious fast track project on time with 100% safety and stringent European quality records," said Technomak CEO Haxer Ali.

"This modular approach to construct such a huge plant outside the project-site boundary will provoke global aluminium giants in the near future to optimise the total investment cost, which has been used by the oil and energy sectors in offshore projects until this time," Ali said.

The contract involved 140 tonnes of self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) frames, spreader bars and other small modules for the coke dry conveyor gallery, personnel elevators casing and staircase.

The total project was executed within a record time of 12 months with no lost time incidents (LTI). The scope of work included steel structure supply, fabrication and erection of modularised buildings, mechanical installation of equipment, plate work erection, piping erection including Hydro tests, chutes, duct and stack erection thermal Insulation for piping, duct and chutes and all Electrical and Instrumentation works, all to the specifications to meet the extreme climatic requirements of western Canada.

FAS (free alongside ship) delivery of all modules and stick built items for the plant were handled by Technomak.

Prefabricated MEP systems are slowly finding favour in the region, said Mark Fletcher, Head of MEP at multidisciplinary firm SSH.

"So far we have not utilised prefabricated MEP systems but this will be considered for repetitious systems where speed of construction, whilst maintaining quality, is a must.

"Within our normal design remit we specify a specific product such as pump sets."


- 87m height of t5 control tower

- 1 Year No lost time incidents

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Publication:Construction Week
Date:May 17, 2015
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