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Kone is elevating people-flow management in the Middle East

From artificial intelligence to major contract wins in the GCC, Kone Corporation’s new equipment business director, Bas Degeling, explains how the company is elevating the flow of people amid rampant urbanisation in the Middle East

Going up: Kone is aiming to become an innovation leader in the Middle Easts booming property sector.
Going up: Kone is aiming to become an innovation leader in the Middle Easts booming property sector.

Bahrain Airport Company (BAC) is building a $1.1bn (BHD414m) terminal that will see the flow of passengers increase by more than 50% upon completion.

To ensure people are transported in the smoothest way possible, there was only one company BAC thought to approach: Kone.

Finland-based Kone Corporation designs escalators and elevators for major building projects all over the world, notching up sales of $8.9bn last year. In the Gulf, the organisation wants to improve the flow of city life, as rapid urbanisation transforms not only the Middle East’s major residential hubs, but the housing demands of its citizens too.

Kone’s new equipment business director, for the Middle East and Africa region, Bas Degeling, tells Construction Week that the engineering company wants to position itself “as an innovation leader” in the region.  Selling itself as an innovation provider is part a strategy to help Kone customers’ – building developers of low and mid-rise structures, as well as skyscrapers – remain competitive in a challenging sector. Degeling says buildings that are “smart and easy to navigate through” are more likely to attract tenants than those that are tricky move within, or have slow or clunky machines hindering people movement.

“Nowadays, many developers try to differentiate themselves from others by making their buildings technologically advanced. Why would a tenant pick one building over the other? Because it easier to get from point A to point B in a smoother way,” Degeling says.

“At Kone, our mission is to improve the flow of urban life, to make cities better places to live in and to help people move conveniently and safely in these rapidly urbanising environments,” he says.

Kone keeps the flow of urban life ticking like clockwork by selling solutions, not equipment, to GCC property planners, Degeling says. The Helsinki-headquartered business ended 2017 with orders to supply its equipment to major infrastructure projects in the Gulf. The “most exciting” orders, according to the director, included contracts for the passenger terminal at Bahrain International Airport (BIA) and the Riyadh Metro rail network in Saudi Arabia.

Kone supplied 145 elevators and escalators for the new passenger terminal at BIA last year, says Degeling: “The order is part of an extensive modernisation project at BIA, aimed at making the development one of the most modern and futuristic airport buildings in the world.”

Set for a soft opening in 2019, the new terminal will see the number of passengers BIA handles each year rise by 55% from nine million to 14 million. Kone has supplied 85 elevators, 40 escalators, and 20 autowalks, equipped with Kone e-link monitoring, for the project. Kone’s e-link monitoring offers single-device, real-time monitoring of all escalators in a building. This can speed up reactions to malfunctions, allow operators to analyse traffic flows, and allows the user to lock elevators remotely.

Kone’s second big order came from the Riyadh Metro, commissioned by the Arriyadh Development Authority. 

Kone won a contract to supply 418 elevators and escalators for Line 3 of the project. This is the longest of the six Riyadh Metro lines, stretching 41km across 22 stations. Kone supplied 262 escalators and 156 elevators, of which 96 derive from its Scenic portfolio, which boasts a range of custom-made, high-end glass-walled elevators designed to leave a lasting impression. 

Degeling says there are many similarly “exciting announcements” that can be expected from the company in 2018, adding that an increase in urbanisation could lead to growth opportunities in the GCC. According to the director, one billion people may move into global cities in the next 15 years, and more than a third of these people – almost 350 million – will move into cities in the MENA region. This influx will bring with it a shift in the type of buildings that GCC cities will build, notes Degeling.

With this rise in population growth comes the demand for smarter buildings that facilitate smoother movement, which is “a great opportunity for a leader in vertical transportation,” says Degeling, adding: “The power of technology is changing all aspects of how things are done nowadays.”

Kone is meeting technological innovation with a “major breakthroughs” in elevator and escalator design, he adds. In February 2017, the company updated for its elevator maintenance services and also launched a round-the-clock system that uses IBM’s Watson – an artificial intelligence platform.

According to Degeling, this marks an improvement in elevator maintenance, as users can customise a service designed to meet the needs of building owners and facilities managers. This bespoke service, complimented with artificial intelligence (AI), is expected to be piloted in the Middle East “very soon” says Degeling. 

The company has also launched JumpLift, a self-climbing elevator that supports jobsite safety and construction efficiency, and the Kone UltraRope – a lightweight rope that cuts down on the high energy consumption and stretching that is associated with steel ropes. This is a product designed with high-rise buildings in mind, because it can enable elevator travel heights of up to 1,000m. Degeling says the UltraRope “sets a new benchmark for high-rise buildings” thanks to its “eco-efficiency, reliability, and durability”, coupled with its performance metrics.

While it may have been said that construction is less tech-savvy than other industries, Kone appears ready to equip the sector with escalators and elevators fitted with future-focussed technology. From AI and self-climbing jump lifts to aesthetically-pleasing elevators and smart monitoring systems, Kone boasts “many innovations designed to create a smoother flow of people”, Degeling says, emphasising Kone’s bid to become an innovation leader in the sector.

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