An environment for innovationJanuary 11, 2021
Nabil Al Alawi, CEO of AlMansoori Specialized Engineering, talks to The Energy Year about the importance of creating an environment for innovative solutions such as the company’s smart well testing unit and extended-reach logging cable. AlMansoori Specialized Engineering is an oilfield tubular services company with a manufacturing and fabrication unit, as well as an integrated project services division.
How has the company been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
From a business perspective, the pandemic has not affected us much. We are lucky we are in oil and gas services and not into major projects with big capital investments. When the government decided because of the pandemic and lack of demand to stop major capital investments, a lot of people in those areas felt it. But you need oilfield services to produce oil – that does not stop.
The way of conducting business, however, has changed. It has been challenging because of border shutdowns, travel restrictions and logistical delays. Our workforce used to work one month on and one month off, and we can’t do that anymore because the people who were to replace them are stuck in their countries due to lockdowns.
Our long-term policy of creating a workforce that is happy and feels this is a family environment prevented us from having to suffer what our competitors went through with many people leaving.
What do you consider to be your key achievements in 2020?
Covid accelerated our plan to minimise the people needed to run oil equipment, create more artificial intelligence tools and start working on remote control systems.
We introduced our first smart testing unit to test the quality of the oil before it’s put in the flowline. This determines how much water and gas it contains and whether it has impurities. We used to do that manually.
In addition, we also introduced the world’s first smart testing unit. Now our clients are very interested to see if this is how we should do testing in the future in case there are new disruptions such as another virus or a war. Instead of having eight or nine people running that unit, you can have just one or two, so you can have a sustainable testing process without relying on people. This innovation has put us in the position of being a leader, as well as spurring us to look at other equipment where we can apply the same smart systems.
What can be done to ensure local companies incorporate innovative solutions?
The unfortunate thing is that in Abu Dhabi, we don’t have the facilities or incentives from our government to create the innovative environment needed for local companies like ours who are anxious to use all our experience and the ideas we have developed to make the business more efficient and affordable. This takes a lot of money and R&D, and the system here doesn’t encourage that in the way we see in, say, Norway, where the government and universities support ideas and provide financial incentives to small companies to come up with new ideas. We don’t have that kind of environment in our oil industry here.
Are you considering any new joint ventures at the moment?
Our existing joint ventures have been active for more than 30 years, supplying key products for specific needs in the industry. We have one for chemicals, another for pump repairs and another for rig equipment repairs. Those ventures have been very successful and we are looking at other projects, but that has been on hold during the pandemic. We want to see how things settle before we get into further investments.
What kinds of products or equipment are you looking to manufacture locally?
We are looking into IT-related products. We think that is the future and manufacturing them requires less capital investment. We are looking at small companies with innovative ideas. We are small enough to make decisions quickly, as we don’t have a huge board of directors.
As tenders for key mega-projects are to be floated shortly, how do you expect AlMansoori and other local contractors to benefit from those?
While it’s positive that those mega-projects are going forward, it’s unfortunate that their scope has been bundled into two or three larger integrated contracts, where 10 or 15 smaller companies could have been involved otherwise. The reason behind this is that ADNOC wants to minimise manpower issues.
However, when you do that, you are not benefitting local companies, which are usually small and only deal in one or two types of services. So, when you bundle, most of those small companies are disqualified, which results in most of the business going to international firms. So, we all end up being subcontractors of the big companies. The projects are moving, but how they will impact the local market makes me doubt the correctness of the method.
Tell us about your trial of logging for extended-reach wells.
We are introducing, through an associated Norwegian company, extended logging cable – the first of its kind in the world. We have a four-well contract with ADNOC on a trial basis. If we are successful, we hope we will introduce this technology as a standard component for all of their offshore drilling projects.
Each of the four wells is greatly extended, and in that case the problem is how to get the cable all the way down there horizontally. Vertically, it goes down with gravity, but horizontally, you have to push it. Pipes are too rigid. Coil tubing is very heavy. But with this new technology made of a fibre material, the cable is lighter and stronger. We are now [in November 2020] checking everything to get ready to go offshore to run it on the first well.
What international expansion has the company undertaken over the past few years?
In the last few years, we concentrated on East Africa and it has been successful. We had nice projects in Uganda and Kenya. But the circumstances for expansion have caused plans to be put on hold because of the price of oil, logistics challenges and the cost of producing in that region.
What do you see as growth drivers in the coming three to five years?
We are offering a niche service – it’s very specialised and focused. The expansion of all the different areas here keeps us busy and growing by double digits every year. In 2021, we expect double-digit growth. We see that Libya will grow quickly. We have started looking there and we have gotten a contract. If things stabilise there, Libya could be a huge growth area for us.
We also see that growth in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE will keep us busy. Qatar has gas, but gas is different from oil. You can drill four wells and produce a lot of gas. With oil, you have to drill a lot more wells.
Tell us about AlMansoori’s contribution to enhancing local expertise and the story of the Gulf Technical & Safety Training Centre (GTSC).
The GTSC is the leading and largest safety and technical training institute in the MENA region, recognised as a world-class training provider with a broad spectrum of technical (including drilling, wireline, coiled tubing, well testing, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, etc.), HSE, firefighting, offshore survival and road safety training courses.
The centre was created for the sole purpose of developing skills, knowledge and competency among the workforce, especially in the oil and gas industry. It is now the fourth-largest training centre in the world, with key facilities such as an oil well and a swimming pool to simulate helicopter crashes. We can simulate any size of fire for firefighters to train on well blowouts and other unfortunate events.
When I started the company, I knew the only way to beat the competitors was to have better trained people. The closest training centre then was in Singapore. As of today, the centre has been 25 years in the making and it has only continued to grow.
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