• Strong foundations

    Innovation and multidisciplinary ability are at the centre of M&D Construction Group’s success, says CEO Rukesh Raghubir

    Strong foundations

    The ability to carry out 25 different projects simultaneously is an indication of the depth of expertise, experience and specialised knowledge found within M&D Construction Group.

    Multidisciplinary is an apt way of expressing the skillset that can be called upon by the group, which concisely describes itself as being a ‘civil, mechanical and pipeline infrastructure contractor for the bulk water, mining, heavy industrial, marine, energy and petrochemical sectors’.

    From a concentrate plant at Vedanta’s zinc mine in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, to reverse building fuel tanks (a unique ability in South Africa) for supermajor energy company Total in the Gauteng province, laying water pipelines for water boards, carrying out sophisticated mine dewatering operations, not to mention marine-related construction projects, M&D’s myriad of specialised divisions and separate companies, both wholly owned as well as in partnerships, have the technical ability at hand to tackle virtually any infrastructure programme.

    With a 2023 ZAR1.5 billion annual turnover, M&D – which was established in 1983 as Murray & Dickson – last year celebrated its 40th anniversary. This year the company is aiming to expand into the SADC region, according to group CEO Rukesh Raghubir. ‘We are looking at mining, renewables and petrochemicals, including oil and gas, as our focus,’ he says.

    Raghubir, a civil engineer by training, joined M&D in 2006 and was appointed CEO in 2014. Under his watch the group has engaged in further strengthening and expanding its multidisciplinary attributes, as well as placing a big emphasis on digitalisation and innovation. ‘M&D is one of the few South African construction companies to have a full-time VDC [virtual design and construction] manager and supporting team,’ he says. ‘Besides the VDC division, we have invested in other tech such as drones. We fly our own drones, with our own pilots, for instance. Then there’s our semi-automated welding tech … our load-volume scanner system … we’re investigating AI. These are some of big investments that we are making in the future.’

    Raghubir says this demonstrates the company’s commitment to continue harnessing the most up-to-date 4IR technology to be among the most innovative construction and engineering firms in Southern Africa. ‘This is in line with our vision of Growing a Great Company with Great Partnerships and Great People. Our 2027 goal is to be a ZAR4 billion company at the forefront of technology benefiting all stakeholders.’

    The company uses 3D, 4D and 5D building information management (BIM) modelling techniques, not only during a project’s tendering phase, but also throughout its construction. He says this allows for high levels of productivity, efficiency, accuracy and safety throughout the contract to be maintained.

    According to M&D, the BIM technologies allow the company ‘to present our proposed construction sequence to our clients. Potential design and/or constructability issues can be identified early on in the project life cycle. Misunderstandings and ambiguities can, therefore, be clarified before construction commences to avoid potential cost overruns and delays’.

    Raghubir says M&D strives to be among the first to fully harness the best available technologies in the market. ‘We take pride in being an industry disruptor, which is something we set out to do right from the outset to deliver unrivalled value to our clients.’

    The diversification strategies of the group saw it acquire 100% of fuel-tank engineering, procurement and building services company Efficient Trotech in December 2021.

    ‘Trotech is a strategic fit, complementing the services offered by the various M&D divisions,’ he says. ‘When we acquired Trotech, it was a company that was losing money. We’ve turned it around in nine months. It is currently carrying out 90% of all tankage work in the country. It’s the only company that has a 30-year track record in building tank farms in Southern Africa. And it is a local company with local people running it.’ He says the association between M&D and Trotech will enhance both of their capabilities and offer ‘a single point of contact for world-class multidisciplinary construction services’ for the energy and petrochemical industries.

    Among its projects, Trotech has constructed 10 new tanks with a combined capacity of 162 000 cbm at the Vopak terminal in Durban. It has been Astron Energy’s ‘preferred tankage refurbishment contractor’ for more than a decade and was recently awarded a contract for the engineering, procurement and prefabrication services and construction of five fuel storage tanks for Sasol. ‘M&D was awarded the civils on the same project thereby removing and eliminating any interface risk posed to the client. This is another example of how we create value for our clients.

    ‘M&D is now even better positioned than before to continue growing its presence in the petrochemical and energy infrastructure market. This includes new areas of focus, such as the construction of storage for liquid natural gas and hydrogen as countries diversify their energy mix to “greener” technologies. At the same time, the interest shown in liquid petroleum gas as a means of reducing energy poverty and improving the health and safety of South Africans bodes well for the group. We are very excited by the potential that M&D’s increased capacity has to offer,’ says Raghubir.

    He says the importation of refined product will need port-docking infrastructure and pipeline networks, both of which can be provided by M&D together with its subsidiary M&DPLC Marine Africa, jointly owned with PLC Contracting LLC, a Dubai-headquartered company with more than 25 years of experience in marine construction.

    One of M&D’s other specialities is mining-infrastructure projects and – amongst other mining majors – it also has a strong connection with Vedanta Zinc International, which operates the biggest integrated zinc operation in Africa. The two established a relationship during the construction of the first phase of Vedanta’s Black Mountain Mining zinc project at Gamsberg, which was completed in 2018.

    M&D is currently building the infrastructure for the new 4 million tpa concentrate plant. It includes a crusher, stockpile tunnels, filter presses, flotation walls and SAG mills. M&D’s work also features office blocks, canteens and ablution facilities, as well as roads.

    When the contract is completed, M&D will have placed 50 000 m3 of concrete and 4 000 tons of reinforcing steel.

    ‘This current second phase of the Gamsberg project represents a ZAR7 billion investment in the South African economy and in an outlying underdeveloped area of the country,’ says Raghubir. ‘The project is anticipated to create up to 2 500 jobs during the construction phase alone. This includes the many people who we are recruiting and training for the civil engineering infrastructure component of the construction works.

    ‘Notably, a further 800 to 1 000 permanent jobs will be created when the project reaches its peak operations phase. Considering these significant socio-economic benefits, we are proud to be playing our part in bringing this project to fruition.’

    Another core focus for M&D will be water, sewer and stormwater pipelines. Raghubir says providing this type of infrastructure, as well as its maintenance, will remain a significant emphasis for municipalities and water authorities in the future, considering the water and sanitation challenges the country faces.

    ‘We are one of the leading pipeline contractors in Southern Africa and the only company with a standalone pipeline division,’ he says. M&D’s pipe fittings factory enables it to fast track the manufacture of steel pipeline specials and fittings for its contracts. ‘Our fabrication facility is certified by the South African Institute of Welding to ISO 3834 quality standards.’

    Transformation remains an important priority for M&D. It is a 100% black-owned and 51% black women-owned Level 1 B-BBEE company. Socio-economic challenges are engaged via its Khula Nathi philosophy. In line with this, the company helps develop SMEs in the South African construction industry. Many of these have become critical members of M&D’s supply chain.

    Raghubir says they are also proud of the strong working relationships that they have forged with communities located within M&D’s national footprint. There are employment opportunities created, for instance, as well as training provided on its sites.

    On a pipeline project, for example, equipment was hired from SMMEs despite M&D’s plant division already owning the items needed. About 120 locals worked alongside M&D’s team at the peak of the project. M&D also paved a 1.8 km gravel road in the community.

    He says this is just one example of M&D’s socio-economic commitment and its CSI initiatives. ‘It is in line with our own core value of Khula Nathi, which means “grow with us”.’

    By Patrick Farrell 
    Image: Marc Shoul