A maintenance company in step with Saudi Arabia’s futureSeptember 20, 2023
Abdullah Saleh Al-Sayed, CEO and president of Arabian Fal Company, talks to The Energy Year about Saudi Arabia’s transforming socioeconomic landscape, the company’s expertise in operations and maintenance, and how downstream service providers can use new technologies to add value. Arabian Fal is a 100% Saudi, family-owned service and equipment provider for commercial and industrial clients.
How would you characterise Saudi Arabia’s socioeconomic transformation?
Saudi Arabia has changed its own rules. Saudi Arabia is dynamic and vibrant, and 80% of its population are Saudi nationals, which is unlike the UAE or other Gulf economies that have a higher expat population. We must live on different terms from those of the rest of the world.
We are lucky that the man ruling us is one who understands the global scene, who has a vision for growth and prosperity, who has zero tolerance for corruption, who is a champion for equality and women’s rights, and who wants the best companies to thrive throughout the kingdom.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is moving in such a dynamic way that CEOs of corporations often struggle to keep up with the fast-paced changes and the challenges of so many new projects.
This transformation is happening as we speak, permanently changing our socioeconomic landscape for a better, stronger and sustainable future.
According to the 2022 edition of the World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund projected a 7.6% growth rate for the Saudi economy in 2023, which is the highest growth rate among global economies, encompassing advanced, emerging and developing economies.
What is Arabian Fal’s core expertise?
Our main area of expertise is operations and maintenance for any kind of oil and gas facility. Put in simple terms, we guarantee that the capex invested in these facilities maintains its value by offering multiple maintenance services in a one-stop-shop fashion.
Arabian Fal was founded in 1979 to provide maintenance for all types of tanks. Since then, with the support and trust of our clients, after 44 years Arabian Fal has been involved in every single energy-related tank in Saudi Arabia – not only for Saudi Aramco, but for all companies working in the energy industry. For example, when Saudi Aramco’s Jeddah oil terminal was attacked in 2022, Arabian Fal was the first company to act and dismantle the tanks.
What business priorities have you followed in order to diversify the company’s services?
Our focus and reputation is based on providing steady and rigorous plant operations with minimal interruptions and delays. In our business, downtime means money.
Arabian Fal has seven business divisions. Aside from tank maintenance, we provide T&I [turnaround and inspection] works, scaffolding, pipeline maintenance, facility maintenance, manpower provision and facility shutdowns.
This all adds up to our broad range of capabilities in general plant maintenance for refineries, gas plants and petrochemical plants. We work with most of Saudi Aramco and SABIC’s facilities and joint ventures, such as Petro Rabigh, SAMREF, Luberef and YASREF.
Arabian Fal has an experienced and dedicated plant shutdown and emergency services division capable of instantly mobilising a high number of skilled workers, along with tools and equipment to execute the task. We have six branch offices, workshops and manpower distributed across the whole country.
As downstream facilities continuously become more technologically complex, how can service providers embrace new technologies to add value and cut costs?
I live by the principle that we cannot change human beings, but we can change the tools they use. By being up to date with the international research and development in technology, we remain competitive and lead our markets towards optimising costs, reducing downtime, minimising environmental impacts and ensuring the safety of our people. Constant investment in technology is essential for companies to thrive.
As part of our efforts to develop technologies in-kingdom, I’m a member of the boards of Saudi Petroleum Services Polytechnic, the National Industrial Training Institute and the Saudi Arabian Drilling Academy. Saudi Aramco and its partners constantly put new requirements in place for innovation, and we look for these solutions both locally and internationally. To us, this is a welcome challenge.
By interacting and partnering with companies from all over the world, we are able to adopt technologies that impact the way we do business as a whole. We have strategic partners and suppliers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe, China, India and the Philippines.
Companies need to embrace these technologies and find a way to manufacture or assemble them in-kingdom as well, as we are doing at Arabian Fal.
What is Arabian Fal’s approach to localising the development of new technologies?
We proudly have an agreement with the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals’ research and development department to collaborate on developing robotic solutions to perform remote tank inspections that enable us to provide the same services in less time while maintaining the quality of our service and minimising the human risk as well.
Arabian Fal already has two robots on the ground doing tank inspection, with one entering Aramco facilities. Our analysis shows that the use of robots improved the quality of this service by 85% while boosting safety and mitigation variables by 90%. Most importantly, operation time is reduced by 40%. Although the capital investment in such technologies may be high, the long-term benefits and return on investment are clear.
What is the origin of local content development in Saudi Arabia?
The origin is found in the heart of every proud citizen of our beloved kingdom, in the spirit of endless generations that have thrived and will continue to thrive in our beloved land.
Vision 2030 aims to enhance local content in various sectors, through localising the production of goods and services to raise their competitiveness and create sustainable job opportunities. This will only be possible if our people believe in it. It is essential that the private sector supports this long-term vision or it will find itself left behind, as the rules of the game have changed.
IKTVA means in-kingdom total value add. People need to understand this concept. I was a part of the committees set up by Saudi Aramco when they started this programme in 2007. While we were evaluating the possibilities of having Saudi welders, forklift operators and fabricators, there was not a single institution to train them in-country. However, some decision makers saw the potential, and this programme was launched.
Good management is the art of harnessing unseen potential. It’s a science. Back then, the decision to hire and train Saudis held an unseen potential and it became a positive factor in our country and our industry.
How has the company’s headcount grown over the years, and what are your priorities for maintaining it?
Saudi Arabia has developed a professional business environment based on merit and capabilities. At Arabian Fal, the number of employees has increased dramatically, from five in 1979 to 7,300 in 2023. We keep our people close, and we take care of their safety, accommodation, medical needs and wellbeing. Plenty of them have worked for us for 15 years or more. But we also constantly evaluate, qualify and certify them. This is essential, as we cannot compromise on safety or quality.
In Arabian Fal we have the highest regard and respect for our workers, wherever they might come from. Saudis, Filipinos, Indians and Americans are all equal here. People think that Saudi companies are against expats, but on the contrary, we are not. We are in favour of having expats here who add value to our country. Moreover, all religions and cultures are respected in this company. We make decisions purely based on performance, effectiveness and commitment.
How is the company contributing to the introduction of women into the industrial value chain?
Following the changes related to women in our society, Minister of Energy HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman asked the private sector to include women workers in its lines, which was an excellent decision. At Arabian Fal, we have 50 female technicians in training right now. Our head of IT is a woman. We don’t view this as a corporate social responsibility but as something that will positively impact our business.