Faizal E Kot­tikol­lon KEF In­fra


Faizal E Kot­tikol­lon, Founder and Chair­man, KEF In­fra, be­lieves that pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and mod­u­lar tech­nol­ogy are the most ef­fi­cient, cost-ef­fec­tive, and sus­tain­able ways to de­velop mass projects, es­pe­cially in a coun­try like In­dia, where in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment is the need of the hour. In an in­ter­view with Maria R, he says that the con­struc­tion in­dus­try needs to take a fresh ap­proach at de­vel­op­ing in­fra­struc­ture projects.

What do you have to say about your de­ci­sion to sell your foundry busi­ness, which had come to be ranked amongst the top three foundries in the world?

For an en­tre­pre­neur, go­ing through the sales of his com­pany, is emo­tion­ally tur­bu­lent. Emi­rates Techno Cast­ing was no or­di­nary busi­ness; it was more of a fam­ily of over a thou­sand peo­ple. With the av­er­age age of em­ploy­ees be­ing 25-35 years, it had a cam­pus en­vi­ron­ment. Ev­ery week, the em­ploy­ees’ chil­dren came to the com­mu­nity cen­tre we had cre­ated.

It was the first foundry in the Mid­dle East. When it came to busi­ness, Dubai was a very new coun­try. Peo­ple all over the world didn’t know much about Dubai. No­body thought there could be a fac­tory like ours here, which was the chal­lenge we had to face. The foundry was cre­at­ing value for the re­gion by cre­at­ing a prod­uct out of their own raw ma­te­ri­als. I would say that we are one of the pi­o­neers in break­ing the myth that in­no­va­tion is lim­ited to the Western world.

The de­ci­sion of sell­ing it was one of the tough­est de­ci­sions I have made. It is not easy to let go off an en­ter­prise that you have founded from scratch.

What led you to en­ter the highly com­pet­i­tive con­struc­tion busi­ness?

Upon sell­ing Emi­rates Techno Cast­ing, I had the free­dom and the re­sources to pur­sue new av­enues. From liv­ing a life of leisure, my wife Sha­bana and I in­stead de­cided to bet­ter the world around us, and we cre­ated the ‘Faizal and Sha­bana Foun­da­tion’, our phil­an­thropic en­deav­our, as well as KEF Hold­ings, which to­day has busi­ness in­ter­ests in in­fra­struc­ture, health­care, ed­u­ca­tion, met­als and in­vest­ments. Our goal was to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and health­care to the less priv­i­leged through use of tech­nol­ogy and ed­u­ca­tion.

Mean­while, I also ob­served that con­struc­tion is gen­er­ally so out­dated, with al­most no tech­nol­ogy in­ter­ven­tion or ad­vance­ment, and a labour-in­ten­sive and slow process. We started to think dif­fer­ently,

and the idea of off-site man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­ogy came to mind.

Off­site man­u­fac­tur­ing and pre­cast is still very new to In­dia and peo­ple need to see proof of the build­ing con­cept. We were for­tu­nate to find part­ners like In­fosys, Em­bassy, and the BBMP, who saw merit in our model and gave us some great projects to do. To­day, post the ex­e­cu­tion of these projects, we have been able to win over the trust of many new part­ners.

We have also strug­gled with find­ing the right re­sources and tal­ent since this is such a new in­dus­try, but we are now work­ing with sev­eral part­ners and strength­en­ing both our sup­ply chain and tal­ent pool.

Your vi­sion is to fast for­ward In­dia’s in­fra de­vel­op­ment; how chal­leng­ing has the ini­tial phase been for KEF?

One of the things that at­tracted us to In­dia was that we knew we could make an im­pact, which would go a long way in fast-for­ward­ing In­dia, and this has been our vi­sion be­hind each of our en­deav­ours.

We chose to en­ter into the Indian in­fra­struc­ture mar­ket as the off­site man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try was at a nascent stage at that time, with lim­ited or al­most no in­ter­est in adopt­ing the tech­nol­ogy. We part­nered with one such fac­tory that had bought some ma­chines from Ger­many, and we made a deal with them to run the plant for three months and help train their peo­ple. In ex­change, they would let us build a new school out of their fac­tory.

Our ef­forts paid off; we built a school in just 95 days! Since then, we’ve as­sisted in the up­grad­ing of 65 govern­ment schools in Ker­ala, and we have re­cently part­nered with the Kar­nataka Govern­ment for their dream project of mak­ing avail­able clean, healthy and af­ford­able food across the city through Indira Can­teens. These can­teens, can ac­com­mo­date up to 80 peo­ple at a time and has fa­cil­i­ties to cater to a max­i­mum of 250 peo­ple in one slot. The most ex­cit­ing part of this was the race against time as we achieved this feat within a record time of 45 days, which wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble with­out our cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy and au­to­mated pro­cesses. In fact, through con­ven­tional meth­ods, such a large-scale project would take a few years to be com­pleted.

With a vi­sion to fast for­ward In­dia, we are at the fore­front of the In­dus­try,

4.0 with our fully-in­te­grated world-class de­sign and state-of-the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­ogy, where a net­work of smart fac­to­ries are driven by hu­man en­deavor and cy­ber phys­i­cal sys­tems to cre­ate prod­ucts that are durable, sus­tain­able, and are man­u­fac­tured with speed, ef­fi­ciency and pre­ci­sion.

Our strength lies in the fact that we can of­fer turnkey so­lu­tions to our clients for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment. By us­ing au­to­ma­tion and assem­bly line pro­duc­tion (as seen in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try), we can min­i­mize ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, im­prove the qual­ity of the build­ing, and de­liver bet­ter cost and time ROI to our clients.

The kind of tech­nol­ogy be­ing used, and the qual­ity of the end-prod­uct show­cases the var­i­ous pos­si­bil­i­ties that we have to up­date the con­struc­tion sec­tor in In­dia.

Pre­cast is a way of build­ing world­wide, but in In­dia it has started very re­cently; what po­ten­tial do you see for pre­cast con­struc­tion in the coun­try?

The world is evolv­ing at a fast pace and economies world­wide are chan­nel­ing their en­er­gies to­wards be­com­ing fu­ture-ready, and in­fras­truc­tural de­vel­op­ment is at the heart of their growth strat­egy. We be­lieve that the in­fra­struc­ture in­dus­try needs a change in ap­proach – a newer way of do­ing things - and tech­nol­ogy is the cat­a­lyst that can make the change, as with ev­ery de­layed project, the pace of de­vel­op­ment fur­ther slows down, which can be detri­men­tal to the growth of es­sen­tial sec­tors that im­pact so­ci­ety at large.

The Indian con­struc­tion in­dus­try is tak­ing quick strides in the field of high-rise con­struc­tions in hous­ing and in­dus­trial build­ings, un­der­ground tun­nelling, roads, etc. Off­site con­struc­tion and man­u­fac­tur­ing is in­creas­ingly seen as an eco­nomic and high-qual­ity op­tion. The present eco­nomic growth de­mands faster con­struc­tion with­out com­pro­mis­ing on qual­ity and with­out de­lays, or sim­i­lar re­lated con­struc­tion un­cer­tain­ties. This fur­ther jus­ti­fies the use of pre­cast tech­nol­ogy.

The en­cour­ag­ing re­sults as seen in Europe and the Mid­dle East will serve as a fur­ther boost for the adop­tion of off­site con­struc­tion in In­dia. An op­tion with many ad­van­tages, the pre­cast con­struc­tion in­dus­try faces one main con­cern, which is the trans­porta­tion of the fin­ished goods to the con­struc­tion site. How­ever, the rapid growth of road and trans­port in­fra­struc­ture will soon ad­dress this

A newer way of do­ing things - best prac­tices & tech­nol­ogy, is vi­tal for in­fra con­struc­tion, as with ev­ery de­layed project, the pace of de­vel­op­ment fur­ther slows down, and this can be detri­men­tal to the growth of es­sen­tial sec­tors that im­pacts so­ci­ety at large.

con­cern. Af­ter over­com­ing the ini­tial hur­dle of in­form­ing both buy­ers and de­vel­op­ers about the avail­able tech­nol­ogy and its pos­si­bil­i­ties, we can be sure that pre­cast con­struc­tion will play a ma­jor role in the fu­ture of the real es­tate sce­nario in In­dia.

In­dia needs over 20 mil­lion homes for the low-in­come group and the PM has set an am­bi­tious tar­get of build­ing homes for every­one by 2022; how can pre­cast tech­nol­ogy help build low cost houses cost-ef­fec­tively and within the given time­frame?

Af­ford­able hous­ing is of prime fo­cus in In­dia and is one of the top pri­or­i­ties of Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi. At KEF In­fra, we be­lieve pre­fab­ri­ca­tion and mod­u­lar tech­nol­ogy is the most ef­fi­cient, cost ef­fec­tive and sus­tain­able way to de­velop a mass de­vel­op­ment project like the af­ford­able hous­ing pro­gramme ini­ti­ated by the Indian govern­ment. While we have worked on a num­ber of pri­vatepub­lic part­ner­ships (PPPs) with state gov­ern­ments in In­dia, we are now in talks with the cen­tral govern­ment, which has ex­pressed “sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est” in lever­ag­ing our tech­nol­ogy to ful­fil the PM’s goal of de­liv­er­ing 20 mil­lion new homes by 2022.

Pre­fab­ri­ca­tion saves money and time as our tech­nol­ogy en­ables us to build homes in just two hours. We can build twobed­room, fully fur­nished homes for as low as 6 lakh ru­pees. We are con­fi­dent that this tech­nol­ogy will change In­dia’s in­fra­struc­ture land­scape. By im­ple­ment­ing our ex­per­tise, the govern­ment can reap in­cre­men­tal ben­e­fits in skill, speed and scale, and de­liver in­cred­i­bly af­ford­able houses in a short time. In­dia needs hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of pre­fab fac­to­ries across In­dia to meet the de­mand.

We have set out to bridge the gap in ac­cess to qual­ity in­fra­struc­ture by shak­ing up the way the world builds. We are build­ing homes in two hours and schools in 30 days.

Please tell us about your on­go­ing pre­fab projects in In­dia.

Our in­fra­struc­ture in­ter­ests in In­dia span health­care, com­mer­cial build­ings, ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tors. In ad­di­tion, we have had sev­eral PPPs with state gov­ern­ments, who want to lever­age our ex­per­tise. We have com­pleted projects for the Em­bassy Group, In­fosys, GEMS Ed­u­ca­tion, MEITRA Hospi­tal and the Indira Can­teens for BBMP.

We are cur­rently part­nered with Ko­vai Med­i­cal Cen­ter and Hospi­tal (KMCH) to

With a vi­sion to fast for­ward In­dia, we are at the fore­front of In­dus­try 4.0 with our fully-in­te­grated world-class de­sign and sta­teof the-art man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­nol­ogy, where a net­work of smart fac­to­ries is driven by hu­man en­deavor and cy­ber phys­i­cal sys­tems to cre­ate prod­ucts that are durable, sus­tain­able, and pi­o­neers speed ef­fi­ciency and pre­ci­sion.

build the new col­lege hospi­tal build­ing in Kala­p­atti, Coim­bat­ore. Spread across 650,500 sq.ft. the multi-spe­cial­ity fa­cil­ity is be­ing de­vel­oped with an in­vest­ment of over ₹200 crore in a record-break­ing 15 months. This fa­cil­ity is KEF In­fra’s lat­est hospi­tal project that will be pre­fab­ri­cated at its in­te­grated fac­tory in Kr­ish­na­giri, and then shipped to Coim­bat­ore and as­sem­bled at site.

Set­ting up a plant near the project site to pro­duce build­ing el­e­ments and trans­port­ing them to the site in­creases con­struc­tion cost, so, how does KEF jus­tify this?

No ma­te­rial wastage and de­lays (as when us­ing man­ual ex­ten­sive meth­ods in tra­di­tional con­struc­tion), off­set the trans­porta­tion costs in­curred in off­site man­u­fac­tur­ing.

What are the chal­lenges?

One of the main chal­lenges in off­site con­struc­tion is the lack of aware­ness of the tech­nol­ogy avail­able in the minds of the buy­ers and de­vel­op­ers. An­other is the poor in­fra­struc­ture and lo­gis­tics fa­cil­i­ties. Also, there is a lack of skilled man­power.

So, at KEF In­fra we have global minds work­ing with us to help up­skill our staff. We are also work­ing with in­sti­tutes like MIT to in­tro­duce these new cour­ses at the col­lege level to help stu­dents de­velop these skills early on. How­ever, these areas will surely im­prove with time as off­site con­struc­tion be­gins to gain ac­cep­tance in the in­dus­try.

KEF Hold­ings be­lieves in “giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity”. What are its phi­lan­thropy ac­tiv­i­ties in In­dia?

Faizal & Sha­bana Foun­da­tion, which was es­tab­lished in 2007 in In­dia as a char­i­ta­ble arm of KEF Hold­ings, works closely with other stake­hold­ers in the govern­ment and busi­ness en­ti­ties to pro­mote ini­tia­tives that ben­e­fit the com­mu­nity.

Driven by the vi­sion of ‘Giv­ing to Cre­ate Im­pact’, the Foun­da­tion has worked in 6 crit­i­cal areas of de­vel­op­ment: Ed­u­ca­tion and Youth De­vel­op­ment, Health­care and Well­ness Sup­port, Re­gen­er­a­tive Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment, Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid and As­sis­tance; Com­mu­nity Out­reach and Sup­port; and Art and Cul­ture De­vel­op­ment. Un­der this, the Foun­da­tion has cov­ered pro­grammes such as PRISM (Pro­mot­ing Re­gional Schools to In­ter­na­tional Stan­dards through Mul­ti­ple In­ter­ven­tions) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Govern­ment of Ker­ala; Kr­ish­na­giri School In­ter­ven­tion; Re­search Sup­port Pro­gram for Ma­ni­pal Univer­sity.

The Foun­da­tion also sup­ports key re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions for their re­search projects on Aids & Can­cer. It has also adopted a whole pan­chayat cov­er­ing over 1500 fam­i­lies in Kr­ish­na­giri, and has in­tro­duced a vil­lage in­ter­ven­tion model to cre­ate sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

Over the past 10 years, the Foun­da­tion has been in­volved in over 25 pro­grams and projects, which have im­pacted thou­sands of lives in In­dia and the Mid­dle East through 20 mil­lion USD.

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