In Conversation: We use robotics even to place tiles

Sumesh Sachar, CEO, KEF Infra spoke to FC about the company’s business model and emerging opportunities in the Indian market

<b>In Conversation:</b> We use robotics even to place tiles
KEF Infra, the offsite construction and manufacturing arm of Singapore-based KEF Holdings, specialises in offsite construction and modular structures. The company is focused on revolutionising the way commercial and civil infrastructure is designed and built in India. The company builds every component that goes into a building at its manufacturing hub in Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu, transports them to the project site and assembles the building. This model ensures quality standards and cuts down the construction time for a building by around 50 per cent compared to conventional construction. Sumesh Sachar, CEO, KEF Infra spoke to FC about the company’s business model and emerging opportunities in the Indian market.

What differentiates KEF Infra from other players in the Indian infrastructure industry?

Everything. First of all, we have opted for the manufacturing approach – whether it is hospitals or commercial buildings. The biggest differentiator that KEF has brought in is in engineering. Everything is engineered upfront. We are able to do that because we have a 42-acre manufacturing campus, which has factories for everything that is needed in a building–pre-cast & concrete, pre-fabricated bathrooms & modular units, modular MEP (mechanical and electrical plant) , joinery, aluminium glazing and stone processing, among others. We build it up at the campus using modern technology, transport it and fit it at the building site. Our manufacturing capabilities at the facility include everything from a state-of-art joinery for making doors to aluminium glazing to upholstery to soft furnishings. We have got the best of the machines from Germany and Ireland and we have an outstanding wire mesh plant and hence are not dependent on thousands of un-skilled labourers at the site for bending bars. As a result, we complete a building 50 per cent faster than the conventional way.

For instance, we are building a 1.5 million sq ft building for the Embassy group and it is a two-basement & G+12 structure. We will complete that, from start to finish, in 13 months, while it will take two years in the conventional way of building. This will help Embassy to rent faster and earn income quickly. We are also building one hospital in Calicut and almost 85-90 per cent of that is built in our manufacturing campus, from there it will be transported to the site and assembled there. It is a 205-bed and G+5 hospital and will be done in 19 months. An hospital of this specs will take three years to finish in the normal way. We are a multinational company; a subsidiary of KEF Holdings is registered in Singapore and headquartered in Dubai and we have people from 15 nationalities working with us. We have the best in technology, best in integration and the best people in the world to go with this. We have come to India to create a social impact by getting hospitals and schools ready in quicker time because of which more lives could be saved, more people could be treated and more children could be educated.

In terms of costs too, we offer a cost effective solution. Since we have controlled manufacturing processes, we are able to reduce material waste. We control everything in the factory and ensure quality. In India, where commercial projects are undertaken through debt finance, there is a huge saving on interest due to our quicker completion schedules.

Are clients open to offsite construction and assembly of buildings? Is it catching up really in the country?

Yes and it has to, if you look at what India needs today. For instance, we are doing three projects for Infosys and one is a half a million sq ft IT Park in Electronics City, Bengaluru. The entire building was completed in seven and a half months. We offer our customers complete transparency. Since all our factories inside our manufacturing campus are connected, sitting in their office clients can check the developments in our factory and at their project site to know how their project is proceeding.

Not only Infosys and Embassy, even regional developers like Vaishnavi have come to us for their commercial building. It is catching up quickly and we are excited about that.

Which are the verticals that the company is focused on?

We focus on healthcare, commercial buildings, hospitality, education and residential buildings. However, the growth opportunities in these verticals will depend on the regions. But, we see strong demand for healthcare, where India is falling short in healthcare services, which is an irony when we produce the world’s best doctors. Education is another key segment for growth and going forward we see a lot of FDI coming into manufacturing and also tourism.

The company has been talking about digitisation and automation, including use of robotics. Can you elaborate?

First and foremost, we consider ourselves as an Industry 4.0 company. All our factories are connected and we have deployed Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 6 compatible software and hence machines internally communicate without the need for human intervention. And thanks to Internet of Things (IoT), each and every machine’s data can be tracked up to micro level to have a complete understanding and learning. The entire project management and the entire design process is done through BIM.

Automation is a key thing and we have robotics even to place tiles, thereby doing away with the need for unskilled labour. As a result, we can build capacity – which is why we bring technology, which is why we integrate. Above all this, our manufacturing campus in Krishnagiri in Tamil Nadu, is centrally located and it enables us to access raw materials and highways connect us to most markets in the south.

The availability of engineering graduates adds to the potential and these engineers have the sharpest minds and have the spirit to go higher up. While we have experts from various countries working with us, around 8-10 engineers are deployed under each one of them. Through this approach, we are upskilling young Indians to build a better tomorrow.

Can you throw some light on KEF Infra One facility at Krishnagiri?

The KEF Infra One, our manufacturing campus at Krishnagiri, is a 50-acre campus. Of this, 42 acres are already done. We have 13 factories in the campus and all are connected. We manufacture everything that is needed for buildings, be it commercial building, IT parks, hotels or hospitals. It has a capacity to roll out six million sq ft of building blocks per annum. In addition, all the factories have their own capacities to cater to individual orders too. Our vision 2020 is to be a $2 billion turnover company by that year.

In order to drive us towards that target, what we have planned is, to retain Krishnagiri as the manufacturing hub and to have mobile pre-cast plants, which will reach out to customers in the north, while the rest of the things will continue to be manufactured at the hub and transported. The mobile pre-cast plant will be deployed to all sites, which are beyond 400 km from the Krishnagiri hub. Through this approach, we intend to increase our annual capacity to 37.5 million sq ft per annum by 2020. This year, we will close with a turnover of Rs 800 crore, which itself will be six times growth from last year. Next year, our turnover will grow by another three times.


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