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’Design, education and supervision are of paramount importance’

Rahul Duragkar, Managing Director, Emitech Group, speaks on the importance of a holistic design approach to ensure the proper installation of HVAC equipment, bottlenecks in the shift from a capex- to an opex-driven mindset and trends related to affordable housing. Excerpts from the interview with Hannah Jo Uy…

| | Apr 18, 2018 | 10:31 am
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Could you comment on the importance specialised MEP services offer to a project, especially when it comes to the proper installation and commissioning of HVAC equipment?
The most important part of the whole process is when we start the shop drawing and the individual design of the projects. Proper thought must be given to the location of the equipment, where to place the HVAC units and indoor units particularly, with regard to the noise level it is going to generate and to the kind of application we are looking at. For example, if it is a hotel room or a residential unit, it must be quiet. So we look at how the duct and the placement of the machine are going to impact the noise levels of the room. We also look at how we access the machine. There must be proper access for maintenance. We must be able to clean the filters, and if there are chilled water applications, then there are control valves – those things are important and must be considered during the design stage.

Also, in terms of MEP, we need to coordinate water heaters, if there are firefighting pipes, sprinkler pipes, plumbing services and, of course, the condenser drain. We must decide how the water is going to be taken out of the machine. That is a major cause of concern. If there are no proper slopes and traps, that can be an issue in the system’s operations.

These are important aspects that mature companies should consider to fall under the responsibility of a good designer. Ensuring a proper thought process during the design stage is number one. Also, we need a good engineer on site, who facilitates installation and considers all the details in the design team’s drawings. If there is great design but a lack of actual execution, there will be a mismatch. Design, education and on-site supervision are of paramount importance.

What about instances where the company takes over a project or development at a later stage and is tasked with having to navigate consequences of initial poor design practices?
In some projects, they use us as an equipment supplier and in equipment installation, but the actual installation of MEP services, including the HVAC, is done by a party not in our control. For example, a contractor asked us to be a supplier of equipment, including fan-coil units, but installation was done by a sub-contractor, who was not very qualified.

From the perspective of clients and main contractors, they select a great supplier or great equipment from a reputed manufacturer, but they ignore the team that is going to install it. Later, they face problems during the operation, exhibition and completion of the work. These are common problems. This is mostly plan-driven, owing to the economics of the project, where they ignore the importance of a qualified design and installation team.

Is the company doing projects outside the UAE? Is the mood buoyant in view of the World Expo 2020?
All our projects are based in Dubai. We have about 12 at the moment, of different sizes and values. We have Khalidiya Palace Hotel, which is a four- star facility, and where we provide complete MEP services. Our scope includes HVAC, and complete electrical and mechanical services. We are doing two large-sized schools with GEMS and Ambassador. We are doing the Al Wasl Experience Centre, located in Sheikh Zayed Road, and we are doing a pharmaceutical facility for Wockhardt BIO AG.

In the last six months of 2017, we have seen a lot of insurgence of projects. Main contractors and developers are rushing, and there have been projects in the pipeline being developed, which are getting into the construction stage. From what I observed, based on general trends, 2018 and 2019 will be a busy period for contractors and sub-contractors.

Could you comment on the implications of the implementation of VAT on payment schedules among contractors, consultants and clients?
VAT is not a cost for business; it’s a cost for the end-customer. But yes, as per client perspective, they were a bit reluctant to the idea that they must pay VAT. Some of the clients wanted to rush delivery before the actual implementation. However, I see minimal effect; people are adjusting to it, and they have accepted the reality that VAT has been implemented. It will take a couple of months more to get adjusted [to the regime], but as such, business has not been affected, except for the people who must adjust the system and software. So apart from that, the industry is in a transition phase.

What has been the trend in terms of the cooling system of choice in residential and commercial markets? Do you see greater uptake of VRF technology and inverter-based split systems over traditional split systems?
In 2016, following the government’s announcement of the ESMA regulations, efficiency was given a lot of importance regarding selecting the equipment. It was made mandatory to provide equipment with high efficiency, in line with building requirements. Since then, there has been implementation in the market, and manufacturers have been upgrading their equipment to be the most effective over their competitors. Earlier, no one had inverter systems, but then inverter technology came in. VRF technology has the natural advantage of being highly efficient. Clients have accepted the fact that these are better technologies. There has been larger awareness and importance given to more efficient equipment, and there is also more demand.

How have the UAE’s national goals influenced construction practices in the context of energy efficiency and better building performance?
Yes, the industry is more aware. It’s still an ongoing process. The awareness must be more, and it must be maintained. There have to be continuous efforts to make sure there is compliance, and we should again set higher goals. We should not stick to that level. Institutions should encourage greater awareness about compliance, so they can come up with products that offer higher efficiency.

Would you say there has been a shift in emphasis towards opex over capex in the market?Unfortunately, the UAE has not been an end-user market. Developers are not end-users in almost 80% of the projects. It’s only in 20% of projects, mostly schools, hospitals or other industries, where people who buy the equipment are end users themselves. In those scenarios, yes, they give a lot of importance to opex over capex, and they are ready to spend more money for more efficient products. But if you look at the other 80%, the trend still sees developers that are not end-users, so the kind of importance they should have on the opex is not given. There has been shift in awareness, but it will take more time here, because developers are not end-users; they are leasing out or renting out the properties.

Could putting a premium on more energy-efficient buildings help move the industry towards greater appreciation of lifecycle cost?
Yes, it’s the same concept with smart buildings. Some buildings come equipped with smart home technology and have more automation in place. If you offer something more sophisticated with more advanced technology, as a developer they can demand more premium. But the shift in the market is more towards affordable housing now, and that doesn’t allow the same mindset to propagate.

In the context of affordable housing, do you see a shift in terms of the type of cooling solution people are opting for?
In terms of affordable housing there is little we can do about reducing the cost for the MEP services, including the air conditioning. I don’t see there are much choices. The cost reduction can be seen in the quality of civil works or finishing and maybe the cost of the land that can be reduced. They can reduce the cost on the type of light or sanitary fittings, but when it comes to the type of air conditioning, it must at least comply with government regulations. It puts a lot of pressure on the contractors and suppliers, because the client comes with a low-price tag, but he must comply with government and municipal regulations.

For MEP, there is hardly any choice in terms of reducing the price or offering a cheaper technology in terms of affordable or non-affordable housing. Yes, we can cut down on automation, maybe cut down on BMS and some features, but that doesn’t drastically reduce the price. Especially in this country, where it is hot, and it is a necessity.

Could you comment on the growing strength of HVAC manufacturers from China? What are your thoughts on the acceptance of products from China?
Most clients and developers want European products for their projects. When it comes to value engineering, all that is coming from China is not bad; there are quality manufacturers. Some players are good and offer value for money, so there is willingness to accept their products, particularly on affordable projects, where the main concern is cost without compromising on quality. If they can offer same performance, there is willingness to accept. What clients are demanding are larger guarantees and longer warranties, five years or more, for these kind of products. It’s a case-to-case basis; some manufacturers can offer this guarantee – in those cases, there have been success stories among Chinese manufacturers. But rather than origin, the quality of the product is going to make the difference. If they maintain the consistency of being good, they will gain [greater] acceptance in time. It’s not that everyone is going to ignore them. But yes, the product must have high-quality standards, and there must be service support available during the operation.

The UAE is moving forward with solar power. What are the possible implications of emerging technologies in this field on the HVAC industry, especially in the context of the growing move towards nZEBs?
Air conditioning is an essential service in the country, owing to the weather – it’s not optional. Solar can be used for internal and external lighting. But for air conditioning equipment, there is larger demand for electricity to operate the machines. Solar, so far, has not been a reliable alternative source of energy for air conditioning, which is still largely dependent on the use of electricity. The kind of space required for solar installation is also an issue; we do not get the kind of space required in buildings for panels. Projects, like solar parks, where there is mass generation of solar energy, which can be transferred to the grid to be used for various sources, will be more helpful than having individual buildings with solar facilities to be used for air conditioning.


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