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Inside the UAE-owned KEF Infra One Industrial Park, India

by Rajiv Ravindran Pillai on Apr 8, 2018

We all know that Lego pieces can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct buildings, cars, and other complicated structures. 

A very similar philosophy 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.

Last month, MEP Middle East visited an off-site construction facility 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.

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

Kottikollon says the reason modular engineering is not yet more commonplace 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 [lack of integration in] 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 [mechanical, electrical, and plumbing] designs. We then modularise it.”

Prefabricated apartments are designed to be stacked one on top of another, “like Lego”, says Kottikollon. He adds that prefabricated MEP is all about planning and collaboration – the earlier stakeholders are involved in the project, the more opportunities there will be to save space and time during construction.

Prefabricating philanthropy

Kottikollon says KEF Infra came to fruition as a result 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 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, and so on.

“However, the study revealed that run-down infrastructure in government schools, such as lack of toilets and dilapidated buildings, was the root cause. I wondered why no-one was addressing the issue. That’s when off-site manufacturing came to mind. Back then, we rebuilt an entire school in 95 days.”

Kottikollon says that KEF Infra has constructed about 68 government schools in India.