Five years back, when a government school in Kozhikode, Kerala, wanted to erect a new building atop its ramshackle one, it wanted the job to be done during the 60-day summer vacation period so that students were not inconvenienced when school resumed.
KEF Infrastructure India Pvt. Ltd (merged with KEF Katerra) successfully lived up to the challenge with its “first modular construction project in India", recalls Faizal Kottikollon, chairman and founder of KEF Infra. Ever since, KEF Infra has only further honed its skills on the so-called pre-fabricated or modular construction with digital technologies that are clubbed under the umbrella term—Industry 4.0, according to Kottikollon.
Industry 4.0, which refers to a digital-led, collaborative manufacturing regime, includes technologies like sensors, connected devices (read: the Internet of Things), and software and applications such as manufacturing execution systems.
Construction is a laborious task. There are as many as 18 consultants involved in a typical project for KEF Infra. The company uses many technology tools, but primarily the so-called Building Information Modelling (BIM) system “to make the whole process smoother and faster", according to Kottikollon. KEF Infra’s internal team works with the concept architect of the client. “We have our own structural design team, and our own mechanical, electrical and plumbing teams, among others. They all use BIM as a single platform," he says.
The company also uses robots. According to Kottikollon, “Each team member can see what another member is doing with the use of BIM and correct the clashes—between different concrete structures, including electrical and plumbing lines, for instance—if any. In addition, we interface these drawings to our robotic lines." The robots can “directly read the designs" and begin manufacturing the component to be built. Furthermore, he said, “We use robotic welding instead of binding wire commonly used by most Indian construction companies."
KEC Infra operates at BIM Level 500, which means that “from the drawings, we can produce the (building) elements directly. Also, we know which element should come first, so there is no confusion at the construction site", says Kottikollon. He likens the construction work done by his company to how cars are built in modern assembly lines. “The only difference is that while the car is assembled in the factory, we build the components in the factory and bring them to the site to assemble the building," he adds.
According to Pradeep Nair, managing director for India and Saarc at Autodesk India Pvt. Ltd, a provider of software design solutions, “If we capture the information about how buildings perform, this data, collected over a period of time, can yield all the building designs that are possible for a given set of constraints or performance criteria. This enables architects to work with some initial building designs rather than start their work from scratch."
The process, called “generative design", Nair adds, is yet to be adopted by most Indian companies and will likely be “the next frontier" for construction firms in their digital journeys.
■ KEF employs 1,460 people, of which 800 work on technology and design
■ The firm built 350 Indira canteens for the Karnataka govt—at the rate of three canteens per day, on an average