We all know how Lego pieces can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct objects such as buildings, cars, roads and other complicated structures. 

The same philosophy, well almost, is applied to modular construction, which is a process in which a building is constructed off-site, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built structures — but in less than half the time.

MEP Middle East witnessed an off-site construction facility last month where building modules are developed. Since the launch of the 16ha KEF Infra One Industrial Park, in India, KEF Infra has witnessed robust growth in its order book. The industrial park currently has a manufacturing capacity of more than 500,000m2 per annum.

Faizal E Kottikollon, founder and chairman of KEF Infra and UAE-based KEF Holdings, says: “In a short span of three years, KEF Infra has demonstrated our ability to bring world-class proficiency in design, engineering, manufacturing, assembly, and project management, all under roof, thereby, transforming the traditional construction industry by significantly reducing costs and increasing efficiencies.”

Kottikollon says that the reason why modular engineering is not yet very popular is because people are unwilling to accept change. “People are happy to remain with what they know,” he says. “And this is why it has not really gone leaps and bounds into the market because of a certain disintegration of engineering. In conventional projects, you will have around 10 consultants; fire and safety, electrical, and air conditioning are all done by different people. This is what we are eliminating. We use the Autodesk design software Revit, which allows us to do architectural, structural, and MEP designs. We then modularise it.”

Prefabricated apartments are designed to be literally stacked one on top of the other. “Like Lego,” says Kottikollon. Furthermore, prefabricated MEP is all about planning and collaboration; the sooner the stakeholders are involved, the more opportunities there will be to save space and time during construction.

Prefabrication out of philanthropy

Talking about how KEF Infra came to fruition, Kottikollon says that this was because of his interest in philanthropy. His journey began in 1995 with the opening of Al Ahamadi General Trading in Ajman, following which the business launched a valve trading company. He then created Emirates Techno Casting, which is an integrated facility incorporating engineering and design labs. After selling his valve manufacturing business to Tyco International for $400m in 2012, Kottikollon’s passion for philanthropy led him to India. “My philanthropy work started in Calicut, India, for government schools,” he says. “We worked on a study with Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calicut, to understand what were the challenges faced in the public education system. We assumed that some of the issues might be teachers not being up to the mark, lack of motivation among students, etc. However, the study revealed that rundown infrastructures in government schools, such as lack of toilets and dilapidated buildings was the root cause. This surprised me and I wondered why no one was addressing the issue. That’s when off-site manufacturing came into our mind. Back then, we rebuilt an entire school in 95 days!”

Kottikollon says that KEF Infra has constructed around 68 government schools across India.

All automated

At KEF Infra One Park, automation and data exchange are integrated with manufacturing technologies, where a network of smart factories are driven by human enterprise and cyber physical systems. Technology creates products that are durable and sustainable, which pioneers speed, efficiency and precision.

Kottikollon adds: “This technology, provides a much longer life to the building because it is produced with steam curing, and on the site there is water curing. The strength of prefabricated concrete is much higher than conventional concrete. And also, it is done using Building Information Modelling (BIM). That means, with every element going into the building, we know the life of that particular product in the system. So, maintenance becomes much easier. And everything is tracked today with technology.”

The maintenance cost will be nil, says Kottikollon. He also says that using a graphic concrete technology, the requirement for painting buildings is eliminated.

Kottikollon says: “All the steel is produced using robots. It’s all automatically done from the design stage directly; the interface is with machines. This is German technology. All welding is done using robots.”