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MEP Conference 2017: highlighting the biggest industry concerns

by Rajiv Ravindran Pillai on Jun 1, 2017

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The third MEP Conference UAE 2017 this year was much bigger and better than ever before, with several industry leaders from the MEP and HVAC fraternity thronging to the event to hear and get heard. The issues may have been well rehearsed, but the solutions suggested by experts over panel discussions were revolutionary.

Holley Chant, executive director corporate sustainability and commissioning, KEO International Consultants, moderated the event, but not before reminding everyone that all growth cycles have an end. She asked whether MEP experts considered innovative and sustainable ways to address plateaus of slow growth and  how climate change is impacting the environment at an alarming rate. She called it a period of disruption and said that resistance from the industry to adopt sustainable practices is still an ongoing issue.

Panel 1: A difficult year in review

Chant led this panel by asking if companies nowadays are more selective about projects considering that the times are tough. “How do you consider what projects to look at and take?” she asked.

Ghady Mouajes, export sales manager, at Advanced Plastic Industries (API), replied:  “Being selective is the right thing to do. I always keep in mind that I have two constraints: time and effort. We’re all limited by time; we’re all limited by effort. So investing – wisely – the right amount of effort, the right amount of time, is really important. To be selective, the factors that we rely on are: the project size; nature (what is the project? is it a project we are interested in?); impact (are we able to change something? are we able to create value for our clients?); and financial risks and how we can mitigate the risks. We have to choose wisely because we do not have the capability to bid on everything.”

Subhash J. Pritmani, vice president and CEO, Semco MEP, added that the reputation of the contractor is also of importance. He said: “A very important thing is, other than funding, is the track record of the main contractor. If the main contractor has a dodgy reputation – what is your entitlement when the job is coming to an end? So you have to be really careful when it comes to choosing your main contractor.”

At this point, George J. Berbari, CEO, DC PRO Engineering, offered a revolutionary suggestion: “In larger projects here, there are costs hidden, in terms of extension, etc. and they will cut price in the same format. The main contractors have a syndicate. We don’t have a syndicate for the MEP industry. I propose an MEP syndicate, where you can exchange information about contractors – who pays, who doesn’t pay; where you can also share complaints about bad practices in the industry. Everybody is being driven to very low costs. A syndicate would be a solution.”

All panel members agreed that forming such a syndicate would be an ideal resolution.

Chant, being a sustainability advocate, brought the discussion back to environmental issues. She said: “Design-and-build can really enhance sustainability by bringing a contractor in earlier or having a relationship between the contractor and designers.”

Darrel Strobel, managing director, MEP Engineering at KEO International Consultants, said: “Design-build is not that frequently used in the Middle East; however, interest is growing. Ultimately, it drives the cost down, which is a good thing from a client’s perspective.

“One of the negatives is that the client leaves control of the quality of the project, and the contractor is telling the designer to cut corners, use a cheaper product. Since they are employed by the contractor, they have to do it. Ultimately, the clients may not get their dream property.”

Sameer Daoud, group chief development officer and managing director, Drake & Scull International, asked and answered: “What is really the objective of value engineering? To cut costs or improve quality? Both are ideal, but all stakeholders have to come together.”

Chant said that in a really tough market, there are two different philosophies – “some say that in a tough market, we should focus more on niche and others say to diversify.”

Daoud replied: “There are two types of diversification – geographical diversification or you can diversify your business by bringing new services. Is diversification right or wrong? It depends on the nature of your business. You can only diversify when you have reached a state when you have saturated the market, and this is the time for you to grow into other areas.”

Another panellist, Azzam Messaykeh, CEO, Faisal Jassim Group, said: “From a supplier perspective, we are looking at the global stage. We have acquired a lot of knowledge about representing products, and the most important thing is localising the product and doing local manufacturing. Dubai should become a hub for manufacturing. For suppliers here in Dubai, the direction is to go global.”