The National – February 16, 2016
By Michael Fahy

UAE-based contractor launches ‘revolutionary’ modular building arm

UAE-based Amana Contracting & Steel Buildings has launched a new modular building arm, which founder Chebel Bsaibes, says could revolutionise the region’s construction industry.

DuBox is a manufacturer of modular construction units and comes after a four-year R&D programme and an investment of Dh50 million.

The company will build modules that can contain individual rooms, staircases or corridor units that can be used to build hotels, schools, hospitals and retail or offices. These are assembled at its factory, then shipped out to sites and joined together. Mr Bsaibes said that this allows the owner of a school or a hotel, say, to build a smaller capacity property and then add to it – either by extending or simply placing more units on top – if demand increases.

“With schools, the investment is big. You don’t start with 2,000 students, you start with 500. With our modularity, we can build a base size and build on to it. Every year, they can add 20 classes – plug in and play.”

He said that by doing the bulk of construction in factory conditions, then assembling and finishing on site, this can lead to a 70 per cent reduction in accidents, a 50 per cent reduction in delivery times and a 30 per cent cut in manpower requirements.

Mr Bsaibes is the founder of Amana, which is a Dh2.5 billion turnover construction firm specialising in industrial buildings.

Speaking after presenting his idea at the World Architecture Forum in Dubai last week, Mr Bsaibes told The National that DuBox is based in a 62,000-square metre manufacturing facility in Dubai Industrial City that is capable of producing 9,000 sq metres of completed modules each month. When it began trials, it took three-and-a-half days to produce a module that now takes three hours.

“We can produce 350 modules per month. Take a hotel, for example, that could contain 700 modules – for us, it’s a two-month process.”

The company is currently in the process of delivering eight buildings containing staff accommodation for Adnoc in Ruwais. The 80-week contract is due for completion in July, but Mr Bsaibes said the final building will be handed over in “eight or nine weeks”.

Modular construction is growing in popularity in other parts of the world. However, its take-up in the Arabian Gulf has been limited as it is more expensive than traditional construction owing to cheaper labour costs.

Yet Mr Bsaibes argued that the ability to deliver units quickly and with fewer defects will appeal to certain clients who need properties built quickly to gain returns from investment.

The UK contractor Laing O’Rourke recently pre-assembled 392 bathroom “pods” at an off-site factory before installing them at the new Hilton Garden Inn Dubai Mall of the Emirates, which the Laing O’Rourke strategic development director Vanessa Currie said “enabled a reduced programme, providing greater assurance over schedule and build-quality”.

Dubai-based KEF Holding has also invested in an industrial park to create modular buildings in India and set up a joint venture in Dubai with the design consultancy Tahpi to offer modular hospitals. These will be assembled at a factory in Jebel Ali which will open this year.

Mr Bsaibes said he would welcome more market entrants, as he knows that convincing conservative clients will take time and “persistence”.

“Through persistence, you develop acceptance and trust. Had it not been for Amana’s credibility in the market … Nobody’s going to accept a start-up trying this business.”