Why is the reputation of MEP contractors so poor?

There needs to be recognition of the total involvement of MEP throughout the project

COMMENT, MEP, Projects, Developments, MEP contractors

It is an inescapable fact that despite there being a great number of MEP contractors operating within the Middle Eastern construction market, there are very few capable, competent and proficient MEP contractors.

That is as far as main contractors see it anyway.

Why is the reputation of MEP contractors so poor? It cannot be simply due to incompetence, if that were so then the current stock of MEP contractors would be very much reduced. Simple rules of commerce would determine their fate.

In conversations with the main players in the construction world both here and overseas, when the MEP on a project is mentioned a common reaction is to say: “The problems on every project begin and end with the performance of the MEP contractor.” There is a simple reason for that, the MEP on a project extends through every part of the project, every room is within the scope of the MEP. No other trade is similarly exposed to the number of issues as those that have the potential to disrupt the MEP works.

It is rarely appreciated that the MEP installation is by its very nature an uninterruptable flow of current, electrically speaking, water speaking, air flow speaking. It has to be installed in the same way that it has to perform, continuously.

This has always been the root cause of the problems and will continue to be if the designers don’t utilise the tools available to them through BIM. Most of the disruption could be avoided if BIM was used to its fullest. Areas of clash would be identified early in the design process and every part, route and penetration in connection with the installations could be pre-determined and co-ordinated leaving just the human error to contend with.

There is no doubt that the earlier that the MEP contractor can become involved in the design process the better chance there is of being able to eliminate constraints. Selection of appropriate suppliers for key installations can be identified up front, long lead items can have their impact reduced and by the very nature of their specialist areas such as chillers, generators and vertical transport, other up front input will reap huge benefit to the programme.

What we are advocating here is the recognition of the total involvement of MEP throughout the project. MEP contractors are not in any way the same as the painter and decorator so they should not be treated the same way. MEP is responsible for the installation of the “life blood” to the building, the early and conscious contribution that MEP can provide to the project team must be seen in the same way.

It is also very well worth discussing another form of life blood, that of cash. The absence of cash in a commercial enterprise has very much the same effect as a lack of blood has on the host. Why must we continue to ignore that in the Middle East construction sector? The lack of funds is endemic throughout this critical sector of the economy.

How can any client enter into an agreement without accepting that the timely payment for the works performed is the most critical element and obligation? In France for example, it is obligatory for the employer to deliver a 100% joint bank payment guarantee before the works commence. Why can we not have a similar arrangement here? It does not place any additional burden on the employer but it gives the contractor, and hence the subcontractor, comfort from a financial perspective and leaves them to concentrate on the work. Win-win!

Andrew Robertson is Middle East president of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)

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