Prefab can ease time and quality challenges for the GCC's contractors
With pressure mounting to build faster, better, and cheaper, prefabrication presents an opportunity to boost efficiency while at the same time cutting costs
The sheer number of complex projects currently on the horizon means that, as a method of construction, prefabrication is gaining traction.
Clients and contractors alike are continually looking for more efficient ways to deliver projects, whether this involves increasing quality, improving programmes, ring-fencing budgets, or delivering margins.
Prefabrication has demonstrated that it can benefit all stakeholders in a project and, in the region, it is becoming a more common choice as a method of construction. The concept of prefabrication is not necessarily new in the Middle East, however. Pre-cast concrete is widely used, for example, and in industries such as oil and gas, the method has already been adopted and its benefits are well understood.
The most obvious benefits of prefabrication are that it can offer a quicker, better quality, more efficient solution than traditional methods. These benefits are achieved by using prefabrication as a parallel construction method – by manufacturing off-site, in parallel with the on-site construction work, many of the dependencies and risks associated with traditional construction are eliminated.
Entire elements of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) services, such as corridors, risers, or even low-voltage wiring, can be fabricated off-site without reliance on preceding trades or prior clearances. And removing these dependencies reduces the risk of delay or disruption, greatly improving the likelihood that planned timelines are met.
A good indication that prefabrication is proving to be beneficial is that contractors, clients, and consultants that have used prefabrication in previous projects are keen to use the method again in their subsequent projects, and to expand the scope that it covers.
By manufacturing off-site, efficiency and quality can be controlled, reducing the manpower on site, or the time spent on re-working and return visits. By removing the traditional programme dependencies, the certainty of on-time delivery can be increased, and the cost of extended prelims or lost revenue can be reduced.
Quality-wise, prefabrication ensures a high standard of control and transparency. Each step of the process is tracked, monitored, controlled, and inspected. Completing the inspection of work off-site allows a much more comprehensive inspection of the works to be carried out than would otherwise be possible. This increases the quality of the installation and boosts confidence about the completion of project works.
Despite the benefits of prefabrication, the method also has its challenges. These generally fall into three categories: engineering, logistics, and change control.
To mitigate the challenges of engineering and logistics, it is important to start reviewing them as early as possible. The more effort that can be put into detailed engineering and planning of logistics, the greater the reward will be when it comes to the execution of the works.
Change control, meanwhile, is a challenge that can be tough to predict, and this must be taken into account when considering the extent of prefabrication to deploy for a particular project. For example, main service runs in concealed areas, such as risers, would be less susceptible to change than front-of-house works and finishes. It is important to remember, however, that change control is a risk that can also impact traditional build projects.
So, do engineers in the Middle East fully understand prefabrication? Awareness about the possible applications, the availability, and the advantages of prefabrication among MEP engineers is growing rapidly. A base of knowledge has always existed, either from experience gleaned in other industries, or from international markets.
BK Gulf has been producing MEP prefabricated modules for projects within the UAE for 10 years. This has demonstrated the possibilities and advantages of prefabrication.
It is not only the projects delivered in the past that have increased awareness, but also the fact that, as the construction market strives to become more efficient, companies and individuals are actively seeking the solutions that prefabrication promises to deliver.
Robbie Nelson is modular systems division manager at BK Gulf.