Dimitri Papakonstantinou, managing director of Plafond, is displeased with the pace at which the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) sector in the region adopts technology.

For the most part, according to him, the construction industry has not changed its building approach “in the last 150 years”.

Information technology (IT) and innovative engineering have the power to transform the MEP industry, and  Papakonstantinou says contractors that embrace technology will reap the benefits. “[Three-dimensional] modelling has been around for a while,” he explains. “It is being implemented more often now.”

Papakonstantinou says “3D printing will have a good effect” on the MEP sector, which is positive news given “there is a directive from the [Dubai] government for its use”.

Commenting on the use of other tech tools, he continues: “Things are still slow in robotics. There are machines laying bricks  10-20 times faster than humans do. There are technologies around [to be used] and so, we have to change [our processes] because we are lagging behind compared to other industries.”

Papakonstantinou goes on to point out that although some new construction materials have been developed of late, the processes being followed today still tend to be inefficient. Adopting modular construction would help, he says.

“In traditional construction, we have tradesmen working in congested areas on sites. However, in modular construction, only a fraction of that number is required, due to its controlled environment. With modular construction, we combine site services together, ensure they’re on track, and send them to site.

“For one of our projects, we completed all corridors in four days, from the fabrication of the rack to the installation on site. Modular construction is definitely going to be big trend going forward.”

So, should modular construction be adopted on all jobs? Papakonstantinou thinks so: “If you had off-site prefabrication implemented at the design phase, I believe the benefits would be great for everyone, from the client – who would get their building sooner – to the contractor, who would save time and reduce material and labour wastage.”

Being different

Plafond’s modular facility houses three production lines across a total area of 2,000m2. The company offers MEP, fit-out, and facilities management (FM) services, which  Papakonstantinou says sets the firm apart from its competitors: “I want to focus on increasing our capacity and expanding the facility.

“We deliver everything ourselves on the MEP side, except the most specialist [components]. This gives us a lot of control over the quality, delivery, and procurement, since we do not need to be reliant on third parties. The same can be done on the fit-out side, with our gypsum carpenters, masons, and so on.”

Plafond, formed as a fit-out and MEP firm in 2012, subsequently added FM to its activities. Today, it employs more than 1,600 staff workers across its fit-out and MEP operations. “We have been fortunate to have people here who have been in the business from the outset,” says Papakonstantinou.

“Around 70% of the staff has been here since the inception of Plafond. They know the core values of the firm.

“As a team, we are focused on looking at modular and more innovative ways of building. We are interested in better ways of construction.”

According to Papakonstantinou, the firm will target only specific segments of the construction market with its resources.

“We target projects usually in the range of $60m to $100m (AED220.4m to AED367.4m). Mostly, we focus on mid-sized MEP projects,” he explains, adding that this is a smart option for Plafond, which faces little competition with this approach.