Recent research into the Middle East facilities management market, showed that mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) is the most in-demand service. The research was conducted by Frost and Sullivan and CMPi, organisers of FM show Working Buildings Middle East.
Most installations are considered to have been designed, approved, installed and commissioned to IEE Regulations, but as many people working or living in newly built developments in the region will testify, the installation of MEP works often leaves a lot to be desired.
Contractors just build and go. It is the FM who sees what goes wrong and has to deal with it.
The problem with MEP installations is that they are the last thing to be implemented within a development. At this stage, time and money constraints often play their part and costs can be cut to get the job done in time. "I'd say that 70% of MEP works we come across are installed correctly," claims V.R Gudekar, manager of facilities management and maintenance division, Bahwan Engineering. "In the other 30% there are problems such as air conditioning units being installed in areas that are difficult to access, plumbing lines that haven't been installed properly and access chambers that are so small nobody can get down into them."
David Graham, general manager, Farnek Services argues that it is not necessarily the mechanical and electrical installations that pose problems but the plumbing ones. "Often the waterproofing is compromised. Water systems are often assembled and made to appear to be well constructed but because there isn't water on the site they haven't been tested. When you energise the system and introduce water, they leak all over. There are also cases where concrete has been placed into drains, blocking them," he explains.
The Oasis Court supermarket fire in Dubai in 2005 was caused by ceiling insulation catching on fire. This is just another element that is often overlooked according to industry professionals. Mike Whelan, managing director, Resolco International says that buildings in Dubai often use substandard insulation: "It's easy for companies to ignore insulation as an after-thought, as it is one of the last items to be installed in a building and costs are often cut. This results in incorrect products being used that are energy inefficient and pose fire risks."
According to Gudekar the MEP contractors just aren't aware of the difficulties faced by facilities managers when developments are handed over. "Contractors just build and go. It is the FM who sees what goes wrong and has to deal with it. Labelling and naming of assets is something that is rarely done. You always have to refer to drawings to see what things are linked to. This takes time and if there is an emergency you don't have time. It is little things like this that if done correctly would make a huge difference."
Part of the problem could be the difficulty in attracting experienced people to the region. "There is still a supply and demand issue with skilled people due to the large numbers of projects on line and proposed," says John Terry Baptiste, senior facilities manager, Emrill Services. This is a phenomenon that is unlikely to change in the near future. Over the past decade the number of engineering graduates has decreased while construction worldwide is increasing at a pace never before seen. Huge growth in China and India means the Gulf faces tough competition to attract the best staff.
The other problem is that in the Middle East region the MEP contractors do not always install the best equipment. Products such as BMS are sold to the contractor and not the end-user. As the market is cost driven and time-bound the contractors usually look at the price as opposed to the benefits of a system, resulting in lower-end products being used.
Baptiste believes one of the best ways to make sure that MEP works are correctly installed with the correct equipment would be to have FM consultants employed alongside the MEP contractors. "FM consultants should definitely be employed with the contractors. This would enable smoother transition from construction to operation but more importantly if the process is managed correctly, long-term operational costs should be greatly reduced,"
Eurostar Facilities Management is one company that overlooks MEP installation before developers hand over properties to tenants. Indira Sharma, business development manager, Eurostar Facilities Management explains: "We as a company come on board two months prior to the handover to assist the developer. We do an audit of the building before the occupants move in and give it to the developer. It highlights what is wrong with the building. The problem with the MEP installations is that the developers often have time constraints and this is the time when a lot of minor things, which may become major at a later date, might be overlooked. The developer can then fix the problems before people move in."
Sharma stresses that this is an important process for the developer if it wants happy clients.It is also a learning process developers can benefit from seeing where problems arose in one project and making sure they don't arise in the next.
And of course there is also the call for FM to be included in the design phase of developments. Money spent on the initial consultation can be made back during the remainder of the building's life with reduced maintenance and increased sustainability.
Although this will keep costs down for the FM and building owner, it doesn't save the developer money. What it will do is increase the building's appeal.
With the region attracting interest from the wider international FM-savvy community, easy to operate buildings are on the radar.