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MEP Conference round-up

MEP's big hitters had plenty to say at Qatar conference

ANALYSIS, Business, MEP, Projects, Hottest topics, Qatar

In early June, a carefully assembled selection of the MEP industry’s leading figures gathered at Doha’s Grand Hyatt Hotel for the fourth annual MEP Qatar Conference. A well-balanced mix of contractors, consultants, architects, developers, and other industry representatives gathered to listen and contribute to debates on the issues of the day.

Chief among these was Qatar’s imminent World Cup stadium projects and the challenges and opportunities that these venues present to the engineering community.

In a lively discussion, Hilson Moran regional director Matthew Kitson highlighted the role of architectural design in minimising the extent to which heat from outside the stadia is able to mix with the air inside.

WSP’s Bart Leclerq was called on to share his experience of working on Al Ain’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium to explain how cool and energy efficient venues can be delivered in the GCC, while Mercury MENA CEO Adnan Mian and Arab Engineering Bureau’s Hani Hawamdeh offered their views as a locally based contractor and consultant respectively.

Another topic obsessing the Qatari industry over the last year has been the Doha Metro project. This was addressed in the MEP Engineering in Transport Infrastructure panel discussion, which highlighted the immense impact that the metro project will have on the industry in Qatar due to its use of BIM, but also presented the sizeable MEP challenges that have to be overcome before it is delivered.

Perhaps the highlight of the day came during a panel discussion on The Importance of HSE in MEP Engineering, which prompted fevered engagement from the delegates on the floor.

Health and safety has become an issue of critical importance to Qatar and its construction industry, and it was certainly evident from the discussion that it is something which the MEP community is eager to tackle and improve upon.

Crowd Control
The 2014 MEP Qatar Conference conference kicked off in germane fashion, with an interesting discussion on Opportunities and Challenges for MEP in Stadiums.

Chairman Jolly started proceedings by asking Matthew Kitson, regional director Qatar at consultant Hilson Moran, about the difficulties of hosting World Cup matches in the heat of a Qatari summer. “It’s not only about mechanical engineering,” Kitson replied. “ It’s also about building physics.

It starts with the shape of the stadium. One of the issues here is designing stadiums so that it is 26 degrees [celsius] on the pitch, whereas it is 48 degrees outside – that’s quite a challenge. Part of that is trying to keep the hot wind out of the stadium. So, as mechanical engineers, we’ve got to start thinking as environment engineers.”

Regarding Qatar’s plans to design the stadiums so that they can be disassembled and reused in other countries, Bart Leclerq, head of structures at WSP Middle East, said this was possible for some sections of the stadiums, but not for all.

“There is definitely an opportunity to do modular buildings and maybe even have the mechanical element modular as well,” said Leclerq. “Some elements of the stands can also be made modular. However, in terms of the overall structure of the wall and the roof, I think it will be much more difficult for this to be reused.”

Hani Hawamdeh, president of ASHRAE Qatar Oryx chapter, continued on the point of the stadiums’ legacies and said that challenges lay in designing the venues so that they can be used in the years following the World Cup.

“How can we build these stadiums with the flexibility so that they can be used for multiple functions?’ said Hawamdeh. “It’s not just for the different types of games other than football, we are talking about the general impact – some flexibility to allow people to use it from day to day and at weekends.”

On the issue of Qatar’s promise to make the tournament a zero-emission event, Adnan Mian, chief executive officer at MEP contractor Mercury MENA, said the process of the stadiums’ construction should also be considered when trying to achieve efficiencies.

“I think we need to be looking at two elements here: one is achieving sustainability during the construction stage and the other is post-construction after the stadiums are built,” he said.

Travel Agents
While Doha is perhaps undertaking the most talked about metro project in the region, the implications of other large-scale transport infrastructure projects in the region was also considered in the MEP Engineering in Transport Infrastructure panel discussion.

Doha’s metro and wider railway system will require significant levels of skilled labour, the panel said, as will the planned projects in Riyadh and Dubai – which is likely to look to upgrade its infrastructure systems before its hosting of the 2020 World Expo.

“It’s not just Doha that is working on rail, there is a huge system in Riyadh; there’s Etihad Rail, and expansions to Dubai Metro,” Lee Hall, head of operations for Atkins, commented.

“All of these projects will be looking to the same relatively small pool of technical experts. To work on a metro as a designer, you have to understand how design and build works, the level of detail that contractors need, and you have to have BIM expertise.

“That’s going to be quite a small group of people, and all of these projects will be looking for them. As consultants, we have to think about how we can widen that net,” he added.

Picking up the topic chairman Jolly told delegates: “When a city like Doha announces such plans and projects over the next decade, you’re going to have a large influx of professionals coming into the region, through various different groups.

“The projects will need design consultants, MEP consultants, engineers, construction supervision professionals, and contractors – you need that just to address the demand of work that is going to be necessary.

“What is important is that the right internationally recognised people are brought in, and they have the right experience and record of working on these large-scale projects.

“There needs to be an understanding of codes, requirements, and an understanding of cultural issues – so that is going to be quite a small group.”

Safety First
The Qatari government is working to clarify and define the country’s health, safety and environment (HSE) regulations, the MEP Qatar Conference in Doha heard during a panel discussion on The Importance of HSE in MEP Engineering.

It was also revealed that the Qatari Ministry of Labour is in consultation with other governments to guide the development of the laws.

Responding to a question from the floor about the potential benefits of Qatar developing statutory health and safety regulations, head of corporate QHSE at Qatar Project Management, Alan Crawford, said that Qatar’s Ministry of Labour already has this in mind.

“We’ve had some discussions with the Ministry of Labour and they have acknowledged [all the concerns] we have raised here,” he said. “They are in the same place. They have been overcome by the speed of things. I know they are talking to government regulators from other parts of the world to learn lessons. There are an awful lot of things that the Ministry of Labour are trying to do and a lot of them are forward-thinking.”

Crawford added that, until statutory regulations come into force in Qatar, it was the responsibility of those in the construction industry to ensure that onsite health and safety adhered to the highest international standards.

“I think the solution is, we’ve got an awful lot of internationally renowned contractors in this room, and it is incumbent upon us to take the lead and do what’s right ourselves. The ministry will no doubt catch up – and they are trying – but in fairness we’re probably a little bit ahead of them.”

Health and safety standards in the Qatari construction industry have received widespread criticism in the last year, with international media focussing on the number of fatalities the country’s construction industry has experienced.

Crawford was participating in the panel discussion beside head of safety at Jacobs Paul Lindsay.

Law of the Land
One of the hot topics at this year’s conference was addressed during the Regulatory and Contractual Requirements and Mitigating Risks panel discussion.

In a market where many of the major contracts are drafted by government, a common complaint is the risk can become unfairly weighted down the consultant, contractor and sub-contractor chain.

The best way for MEP companies to protect themselves from risk is to ensure they fully understand the terms of contracts before they sign on the dotted line, said John Coghlan, Legal Director, Addleshaw Goddard.

“The reality is that you don’t want to be signing a contract and just putting it in a drawer, you need to understand the contract and how it works, and that your delivery team are all competent individuals who understand it too,” he commented.

“The reality is that you won’t have the opportunity to negotiate the terms and conditions.
“You can try to, but it will push the risk back to the contractors, which will then be pushed to the sub-contractors. What needs to be done is identifying the risk and understand the best way to manage it.”

Rachid Ghamraoui, general manager of Besix Sanotec Middle East, said that MEP firms have to make any concerns they have over contracts clear from the outset.

“Are the contracts going to be changed overnight? I don’t think so,” he said.

“But even if you cannot negotiate the contract, my advice is get it well understood and highlight your issues.”

Just in Time
The Materials and Logistical Management, Smart Procurement and Local Manufacturing panel discussion sought to address one of the more pressing problems faced by the industry in Qatar.

Rania Martin, MEP manager at QDVC, introduced the topic with a presentation outlining her views on successful procurement. Martin emphasised the need for designers to have a good knowledge of manufacturers and their products which should allow harmonisation in the selection of materials and a good sizing of the installation to target cost reduction.

Prefabrication of certain installations during design stages was also encouraged, as was the need for a procurement strategy that outlines materials that can be secured in-house, and what needs to be sub-contracted out.

Martin was then joined on stage by Saleh Al Tayeb Mubarak, associate professor of civil engineering at Qatar University, and Steven Humphrey, director of program cost consultancy at Aecom. The group discussed the difficulty of utilitising locally manufactured products on many of the region’s projects, with Mubarak saying that many design teams “are from overseas so they have no idea about the local materials” that are available.

Humphrey added that one of the main barriers to local manufacturing taking off in the region is the uncertainty over the “continuation of demand”, because of the “design it, bid it, build it” nature of projects in the region and the lack of long-term strategic partnerships.

On air
While the MagiCAD BIM workshop got underway in the Al Aqool room, Nasser Hatem, MEP manager at REDCO Construction, closed proceedings in the main hall with a presentation on Energy Efficiency in HVAC Systems.

Hatem emphasised the environmental impact of HVAC power consumption in the region and suggested a number of ways in which energy efficiency in HVAC systems could be improved, such as more suitable equipment selection and better maintenance.

Concluding, he added: “All of us, from owners, clients through to engineers, we have to look for any small factors that can increase the efficiency of HVAC systems due to the importance of this subject.”

With the issue then thrown open to the floor, chairman Jolly then fielded a question on the receptiveness of clients to energy efficient systems. “From a design consultant’s perspective, energy efficiency is one path of a holistic selection process,” he said.

“It’s important we understand from the client what their drivers are and what their capital cost restrictions are. Ultimately, what we are trying to achieve is the most cost-effective, sustainable solution that satisfies the regulations and the client’s aspirations. ”

Working models
The Understanding the Importance of BIM to Optimise MEP Design and Engineering workshop, hosted by Gold Sponsor MagiCAD, heard that there was still work to be done to convince contractors that BIM is the way to go on projects.

Brett Saxby, MagiCAD’s export sales manager, said: “BIM is a fantastic tool for MEP; a BIM project should not be a scary idea. Obviously there is a learning curve, but if you use BIM from the start then it is just as easy as traditional methods.

But delegates said they often came across problems when trying to encourage the use of BIM. “In reality, that’s not how it works,” said one.

“Eighty percent of the time, the main contractor doesn’t want to use BIM; they’re happy with their 2D drawings. You, as a sub-contractor, want to use BIM, but it has to be client-led.”

“It’s difficult to sell concepts in the Middle East,” said another.

“Somebody needs to mandate a full project using BIM, with full collaboration. Then people can look at a finished project and say ‘that was delivered using BIM, delivered before schedule, and everybody made money’. That’s when people will step forward and say ‘that’s what I want to use’.”

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