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Case study: GE Aviation Centre in DAFZA, Dubai

Randa Hakim recounts the triumphs and tribulations involved in delivering General Electric’s Middle East Aviation Technology Center within just 100 days

Physical construction works at GE’s DAFZA facility were completed within a 100-day timeframe.
Physical construction works at GE’s DAFZA facility were completed within a 100-day timeframe.

Situated in Dubai Airport Freezone (DAFZA), General Electric’s (GE) Middle East Aviation Technology Center was officially inaugurated in Q4 2015. The facility is the brainchild of General Electric Aviation (GE Aviation), a GE subsidiary that specialises in the design and manufacture of aircraft engines.

The GE Middle East Aviation Technology Center will support customer operations by leveraging data analytics, domain experience, and software capabilities to enhance productivity and performance, according to its creators. It will also act as a GCC hub for the company’s support data scientists, user experience designers, and application developers.

To build this type of specialist facility would prove challenging under any circumstances. The fact construction works at the GE Middle East Aviation Technology Center were completed within a timeframe of just 100 days makes this project particularly impressive.

As GE’s senior construction programme manager for the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey (MENAT) region, Randa Hakim played an integral role in the facility’s rapid development.

“From initial concept to complete handover, I was fully responsible for the management of all aspects of the concept design, team mobilisation, implementation, and budget delivery – not to mention programme and quality criteria. This was my mandate,” she tells Construction Week.

“Physical construction work commenced in mid-May, 2015, with the project handed over 14 weeks later at the end of August, 2015,” Hakim continues. “The pre-construction and design activities that led to this work commenced five months previously, when the initial concept was developed. The office covers 2,200 sqm of space. 500 sqm have been designated for co-creation, with the inclusion of collaborative areas and a customer experience hub. The centre was built in 100 days – the result of more than 100,000 man hours.”

Following a competitive, single-stage tender process, Al Tayer Stocks – a joint venture between UAE-based Al Tayer Group and South Africa-headquartered Stefanutti Stocks – was appointed to undertake construction work at the DAFZA site.

“The contractor’s strong reputation in the market, its previous experience with GE, and its high quality of delivery were all crucial factors in the selection,” Hakim recounts. “IT Works, Al Tayer Stocks’ specialist information technology and audio-visual sub-contractor, managed all of the technological installations.”

Turner & Townsend was selected to oversee project and cost management activities, and to represent the interests of GE. Following this appointment, Allen Architecture Interiors Design (AAID) – formerly Artillery – was engaged as lead design consultant.

“AAID subsequently engaged a company called Cundall as its MEP consultant,” Hakim explains. “Forst Giant was then appointed as our software developer consultant for the project.”

The overall project cost, including all professional fees and the establishment of complete operational facility, was $7m (AED25.7m). In addition to supporting the timely and economic delivery of the project, it was Hakim’s job to ensure that the centre would meet the needs of her GE colleagues.

“The GE Middle East Aviation Technology Center is a space like no other in this region,” she says. “In order to understand the space planning, feature requirements, and the level of technology required, we had to first fully envision the operational functions and outputs of the facility.”

The design and construction of a complex that was fit for purpose required in-depth collaboration within GE. Hakim explains: “Working closely with the engineering and aviation professionals was essential to tease out all the details required through the initial design stages. We focused on cost optimisation, which was achieved through a two-stage process that identified all possible areas for cost reduction. Contractor workshops also proved useful in this regard.”

To this end, Hakim and her team set about delivering a facility with systems to match the innovative nature of the work that would ultimately be conducted at the site.

“This project was different from any other due to the vast extent of software and audio-visual equipment required to meet the operational needs of the engineering and aviation team,” she points out. “It was also important to keep in mind that, since the centre will aid the development of physics-based analytics, its co-creation lab and collaborative environment are instrumental to the continuity of the relationships between GE Aviation and its regional customers.”

Indeed, technology sits at the heart of GE Aviation’s DAFZA facility. The centre boasts an array of video walls, the largest of which consists of 27 individual screens that can display “multifaceted” imagery. Interactive touchscreens and a 2.5m Pano Multitouch Table were also installed. The centre’s myriad screens are all supported by a bespoke software package that integrates and presents real-time flight data.

“In addition, we installed a 3D printing facility and built a scaled plane engine from acrylic material,” adds Hakim. “We leveraged GE’s software platform, Predix to build apps that can ingest data from jet engines, analyse this information in real time, and then use it to maximise productivity and performance.”

Despite the challenging nature of the GE Middle East Aviation Technology Center project, Hakim says that experience gained during its construction will inform and inspire the future endeavours of her team.

“By raising expectations, you encourage people to become more creative and use their abilities to the fullest,” she concludes. “We will keep raising the bar and embracing future challenges in order to allow creativity and learning to continue.”

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