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Site Visit: India’s Construction Disruptors

Big Project ME heads down to Tamil Nadu to visit KEF Infra One Industrial Park, an Indian off-site manufacturing facility that aims to transform construction around the world

When one thinks of hubs of construction innovation and technology, India may not immediately spring to mind as a leader and pioneer in the field. After all, a visitor to a construction site anywhere in the country can spot a plethora of health and safety violations and inefficiencies within minutes.

If the general impression of construction is that it is a traditional and change-resistant industry, the way it operates in India takes that cliché to extremes. Not only is manual labour the primary driver of the building process, but the use of technology and systems remains fairly limited, especially beyond the major cities and metro areas.

However, this could be about to change, following the launch of KEF Infra One Industrial Park, an integrated off-site manufacturing park in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu. Since it opened its doors in December 2016, the facility has become a benchmark for India’s construction industry, delivering a number of high-profile projects across India and highlighting how technology can be used to meet the country’s massive demands.

This is borne out by the announcement that KEF Infra, a division of KEF Holdings, a multinational diversified group with operations in strategic investments, infrastructure manufacturing and healthcare development across India, the UAE and Singapore, had revenue of $150 million in 2017. This was due to robust growth in the company’s order book since the launch of the park, the world’s largest and first-ever fully integrated facility of its kind.

Of the projects delivered last year, the company highlights the 37,161sqm Meitra Hospital (500 beds in two phases; 209 completed) in Kerala as a particular highlight, given that it was completed within a record time of 18 months. Furthermore, the company also manufactured and delivered 175 public canteens and 20 kitchens as part of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike’s Indira Cantreen Project in Karnataka.

KEF Infra also handed over the Embassy 7B project, a 157,935sqm commercial building for the Embassy Group which was completed in 13.5 months, and Infosys Building Phase 2, a 46,451sqm building completed in 15 months. Both projects were developed in Bangalore, just two and a half hours from the Krishnagiri site.

In the wake of all these achievements, Big Project ME was invited to tour the 42-acre flagship facility along with a select group of journalists from the GCC and India.

“We are at an exciting crossroads today, as we see a global wave of technology-led innovation that is changing the way we do business. Our operations underpin this ambition to disrupt sectors through the use of world-class technology that can deliver value more than ever before,” says Faizal E Kottikollon, founder and chairman of KEF Infra and KEF Holdings, during a presentation to the invited media.

“In the short span of three years, KEF Infra has demonstrated our ability to bring world-class proficiency in design, engineering, manufacturing, assembly and project management all under one roof, thereby transforming the traditional construction industry by significantly reducing costs and increasing efficiencies.”

Operations have already begun on the construction of India’s first prefabricated mall in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Know as The Lulu Mall, the project will cover 185,806sqm and is part of a $150 million investment by the UAE-based Lulu Group. Over the course of the coming year, KEF Infra will manufacture hotels, homes and schools, along with additional manufacturing facilities in Lucknow, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to help deliver projects all over the country.

The firm is currently executing a 92,903sqm college hospital for KMCH in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Kottikollon adds. Also in the works is Phase 2 of manufacturing for 262 Indira Canteens and Kitchens across Karnataka. Furthermore, the firm has signed on GKNM Hospitals in Coimbatore as a client.

Among the other projects in the pipeline, Kottikollan says there is considerable interest from both state and central government bodies in using off-site manufacturing technologies to improve and upgrade existing infrastructure facilities, from schools to sewage treatment plants, all over the country.

KEF Infra is also delivering a number of specialised projects in bathroom pods, MEP, joinery, aluminium and glazing for a variety of clients, including Sands Infra, Malabar Gold, Brigade, Mahindra and Leela.

Kottikollon explains that the Krishnagiri factory has specialised individual factory units for these projects, with technology, machinery and systems imported from around the world to help deliver them. KEF Infra will be expanding its offering into the hospitality, retail and other commercial sectors through these new units.

“The year 2017 was monumental for us at KEF Infra, during which we have gained the trust of numerous top companies. This has helped us to cement our position as industry leaders in the off-site construction space and fuel our drive to create sustainable and inclusive development,” he asserts, adding that the company has an aggressive growth plan in place, targeting revenues of $1 billion by 2020.

With an investment of more than $100 million, the KEF Infra One Industrial Park covers a total area of more than 92,900sqm and features a diverse range of high-end technology and machinery that aims to transform the manufacturing and delivery processes in the construction industry. To do so, the facility integrates automation and data exchange with manufacturing technologies, creating a network of smart factories driven by human enterprise and cyber-physical systems. This approach creates durable and sustainable products in an environment that prioritises performance speed, efficiency and precision, Kottikollon says.

“Today, India is at the cusp of growth led by innovation. We are witnessing an age where technology is being effectively integrated into infrastructure for the first time, thereby heralding the Industrial Revolution 4.0. Our aim is to fast-forward this progress through radically changing the infrastructure landscape in India. Off-site manufacturing of infrastructure reduces delivery time by up to two-thirds and considerably expedites the construction process,” he explains, telling Big Project ME that adopting off-site manufacturing means project developers will see considerable benefits due to the reduction in time spent on construction.

“Time is money. Normally, what happens is that in conventional construction, you have to deal with consultants [which eats up a lot of time]. Here, we’re eliminating all of that. We use sophisticated design software which allows us to do the architectural, structural and MEP designs – and then we can modularise it. This allows us to do all the clash detection at the design stage, and we can do everything in-house through our own designers.

“That’s one aspect of the cost reduction. The second is the material wastage – construction wastage in India is 12% on average. Our facility reduces it to 2%. That’s a 10% saving, which is in itself huge.”

Another benefit of moving construction processes off-site is the positive environmental impact: “If you ask me, I think that’s the biggest benefit – protecting the environment. [At KEF Infra One] we can use the right materials that are suitable for the environment, and there are no debris, no dumping and all that, which is a huge carbon negative.

“For example, we built the Infosys campus in Electronic City. They just moved in last month and they’re showing a 40% saving on energy – that project is LEED Platinum-certified. In fact, this park itself is going to be LEED Gold-certified.

“A lot of people talk about new technologies and software that have come forward [over the last few years]. But the challenge is implementation. Everything fails on the ground, but that’s what we’re solving now. Unless and until this is resolved, we won’t see the value coming in. it’ll only be on paper.”

One of the major challenges facing the facility is the acquisition of resources in terms of both materials and manpower. The Krishnagiri facility has a workforce that is made up of 80% qualified skilled labour, along with 650 engineers. However, with expansion and new facilities on the cards, Kottikollon says KEF Infra is aggressively recruiting.

“The challenge for us now is to move resources into various places. Right now, we’re looking at only Hyderabad and Lucknow for this year as we build the team up. We’re recruiting many young, fresh engineers so that we can train them and then move them on to the next locations in Bombay and Delhi.”

Another challenge to overcome is the acquisition of materials. While India has a lot to offer, Kottikollon concedes that quality control is an issue.

“For example, wood. India doesn’t produce a lot of good white or beech wood. Everything comes from Bosnia or France. A lot of sanitary fittings are also being imported from Australia for the hospital projects,” he says, pointing out that while the company currently sources these materials from overseas, he also sees it as an opportunity for foreign firms to come down to India and build a base around KEF Infra’s facilities, so as to bring down costs.

“Our aim is to bring technology to a mass market like India,” Kottikollon says, explaining that significant investment is being put into research and development, with an R&D facility currently under construction which will be ready within six months.

“We’re also building a research facility with the Manipal Institute of Technology, where I did my civil engineering. The aim of creating this facility with the university is to help us develop new materials. It will be opening in March of this year. We’re constructing everything off-site now.

“We’re also helping to train architecture and civil engineering students so that they go into off-site manufacturing learning, as well as also into the research and development of different materials,” he concludes.

SITE INFORMATION

Total Site Area:               92,900sqm on a 42-acre campus

Total investment:          $100 million

Service Area:                   Within a 300km radius of Krishnagiri

Accessibility:                   Railway station – Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu

Seaport – Chennai Port (264km) and Pondicherry Harbour (188km)

Airport – Kempe Gowda International Airport (75km)

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