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MEP Conference 2017: highlighting the biggest industry concerns

MEP and HVAC professionals gathered at Grosvenor House in Dubai to discuss nagging industry concerns

INTERVIEWS, MEP, Fire and safety, MEP Conference 2017, MEP consultancy, MEP contracting, Middle east, Retrofitting

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.”

Panel 2: Energy efficiency, HVAC and the future of building automation

On the subject of automation Chant spoke about its whole relationship to smart cities and smart applications, which is still new.

Loic Finlan, senior sustainability manager, KEO Consultants, said: “I think for any project, you need to define what you mean by ‘smart’? Does it mean clever BMS? Does it mean CCTV? What does it mean for us? It means loads of different things for different people, so there has to be collaboration and communication early on. People have to agree on what smart and automation means.”

When asked about some of the obstacles that might come up in terms of how people understand either building automation or its relationship to smart city applications, Mohsin Moin, general manager, Rubber World Industries, said: “When selecting products, we have to put in preventive measures for all the products covered by the BMS. For instance, we could be installing a hundred products in one building and connecting all to one BMS. Often, preventive measures are not being taken for all products; not taking into account the maintenance of the products and the building. So we also have to take care of all the systems linked to the BMS. If we go for preventive measures, then we won’t have to go for corrective action.”

Chant further asked Moin if he saw a fruitful relationship with consultants.

To which he replied: “Suppliers need to give accurate and complete information to consultants. Incorrect installation of the products affects the performance and the efficiency of the system. That is why care must be taken when selecting products and when installing them, because incorrect installation could lead to energy loss.”

Panel 3: Retrofitting

In this panel, Chant asked about the impediments to retrofitting. And the biggest obstacle preventing the aggressive implementation of energy service company (ESCOs).

N. Guy Winebrenner, VP, energy and environment Middle East, RTI International, said: “For an energy efficiency programme to work, you need three things: education, the customers need to understand what they can do; secondly, you need the technology that is more efficient to be available in the market; and thirdly, you need accurate pricing signals.

Chant picked up on the theme of education and asked: “How are young people in terms of basic knowledge about retrofitting and energy management?”

Hassan Younes, director, Griffin Consultants, said: “It depends on what they’re studying in university. I’ve worked with students, who are taught energy management, so they have an idea of ESCOs. But others, like mechanical engineering students, they have no idea of these things. They kind of know about energy management in general or they’ve heard about global warming, but their studies don’t touch on these essential things that, I think, should be taught in universities.

Sougata Nandi, founder and CEO, 3e Advisory, added: “Before young professionals can be part of retrofitting, they need to understand what sustainability is about and how buildings actually function. University curricula ought to teach students about their own buildings or be allowed to manage their own buildings and shown examples.”

Panel 4: Fire & safety (new codes)

Chant asked whether the new fire code has made work easier or more challenging. To which, Reem Dayoub, MEP director at Lacasa Architects & Engineering Consultants, said: “It’s made it easier, it’s made it clearer. Many items have been added to the new code, like disability access, which was only briefly mentioned before.”

Alexander Castellanos, associate director - fire & life safety, WSP Middle East, added: “The new code is meant to be prescriptive. There are elements that still need to be understood in terms of implementation. Requirements for materials and stakeholder responsibilities are clearly laid out. The challenge is putting everything together.”

Artem Artemov, deputy CCO for tubular products MENA, Interpipe, said: “The new code has no impact on manufacturers, but we are happy about the stress being given on third-party inspections. These inspections will improve the level of safety and quality of projects.”

Panel 5: Indoor air quality

The last session was on indoor air quality (IAQ) and it had Chant talking about the relationship between increased ventilation in green building and human productivity. “Do we really need to reconsider the minimum for ventilation or is it enough?”

Raef Hammoudeh, director MEP, KEO International Consultants, said: “HVAC is at the heart of IAQ, which is why I design from inside out. It’s all about providing the right environment for people, and IAQ is a big part of that. It’s of paramount importance, which is why there have to be standards and regulations.

“Of course, you need to take note that when you increase the air quantity, the cost of the project increases. And many developers are only interested in providing the bare minimum; they just want to pass.”

Hassan Younes, director, Griffin Consultants, agreed by saying: “Yes, they only want what’s legal. But it really depends on the client.”

Younes added: “Talking about research, ASHRAE did a study on schools, and it studied what was the effect on productivity when you increase your ventilation. They found out that students do better when there’s more supply of fresh air.

“People say that clients specify the minimum because they also need to look at costs, and that they don’t want to give the golden standard. We give the minimum and it’s up to the engineer, the client, to specify what they want. But that’s not really how it should be interpreted. That minimum is basically the acceptable level and not the best level. If you look at LEED, for instance, there are options to get more points. You need to talk to the clients and show them, maybe through energy modelling, how they can bring down the running costs. You need to study the issue from a life cycle cost perspective to understand the benefits.”

Hammoudeh concluded by saying: “Let’s not get hung-up on numbers. It’s not just about the amount of fresh air you introduce into a building; it also matters how you ventilate; how you introduce fresh air and treat contaminants. All those factors are part of the process of achieving good IAQ.

“You need to make the right selection when it comes to systems and design,” he surmised. 

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