The “ROC” brand was founded on the initials of the originally named Refrigeration and Oxygen Company, which was the first company established by the Group 47 years ago. The small ‘k’ has recently been added to the ROCk logo to reflect that it is a Kuwait-based Group owned by the Al Khalid Family (see side box).
It is almost fifty years ago when the ROC Company of Kuwait began making ice to sate the growing demand for “cold” or refrigeration in the desert State. This led to supplying the growing need for oxygen for some of the basic engineering requirements within the country and for medical purposes. From these humble beginnings, the company has expanded into a regional business group (with some global activities), pioneering advancements within the industrial gas sector and leading to an annual turnover of more than $200m (2006).
“We have focused on developing our core strengths and providing innovative solutions to customers needs through reliability and engineering excellence in the Gulf Region” says Abdalla Dalab – Director of International Projects and Business development, a major subsidiary of the ROCk Group.
Following a long period of healthy growth in the Gulf Region, the company has begun to branch out to other neighbouring countries – such as Libya.
Mr Dalab mentioned that “we have re-branded recently to reflect our focus and regional aspirations. We have been a long believer of focusing on the scientific and natural resources of the region and the logo adopts the four colours of yellow, green, blue and red, which symbolise the four basic elements of life: Air, Earth, Water and Fire respectively”.
“With year-on-year growth for more than 47 years, the ROCk Group’s success has been achieved by its ability to anticipate market trends, and provide solutions tailored to the dynamics and requirements of the region” Dalab continues. “Most people understand that the region is a oil & gas driven one and so construction projects have dictated somewhat the demand for gases. Once the construction is complete – facilities need testing, commissioning etc and that is where we fulfil the supplies to the oil services companies”.
1960s: This was a decade of unprecedented growth and progress in the Gulf region. With increased trade, the need for advanced storage and refrigeration facilities – especially in the shipping and fishing industries – also increased exponentially, leading to the development of huge warehouses for food storage throughout Kuwait. Consequently, the demand for ice also surged, prompting ROC to establish one of Kuwait’s first ice-making companies in 1960.
Three years later, amidst rapid development in the Kuwaiti petrochemicals industry, another business opportunity emerged in the form of a growing demand for welding and cutting equipment; and in particular for the associated welding gases – especially oxygen. As a result, in 1963, ROC purchased, erected and operated Kuwait’s first air separation unit specifically designed for the production of gases.
1970s: While the focus on the first decade was on Kuwait, the Al Khalid family recognised the growing need for gases in the Emirates (UAE). The family made a decision to invest in an operation in the Emirates and in 1978 established the Emirates Industrial Gases Company (EIGC), in Dubai. Since that time, EIGC has developed the gas business throughout the Emirates and provided the ROCk Group with the launchpad for its international aspirations.
1980s: The growing demand for air gases in both Kuwait and in the UAE, together with neighbouring GCC States required more production capacity. The company was a purchaser of air separation plants and other gas production facilities but recognised that for the long-term, it would make sense to have direct access to some of this technology. So, furthering its strategy to develop the gases business in the Region, The ROCk Group bought shares in ASU manufacturer – Air Cryo Inc, based in the US (see separate profile on Air Cryo). This was done in 1984.
1990s: The demand for crude oil rose significantly above normal levels during this decade, following a regional political crisis and the alignment of global economic powers. As a result, ROCk anticipated a higher demand for its products, so a decision was made to double the existing production capacities and install larger ASUs,(100 tpd +) which at that time was seen as a gamble. The risk paid off as ROCk was able to expand its production line and generate major revenues during this period.
2000s: The fluctuation in the oil price certainly has a volatile effect on project activity throughout the Middle East. However, as the oil price rose in the past few years – so have the business opportunities. EIGC was awarded two major contracts to EIGC by international business firms investing in the UAE. The contracts related to Build-Own-Operate (BOO) plants in regards to supplying a float glass factory and a steel mill.
Lines of business
The ROCk Group has evolved somewhat over the past 47 years but the main lines of business and the core strength of the Group is related to industrial gases.
Industrial gas: The company as we have already seen is focused on industrial gases and this drive is supported by its equity stake in Air Cryo Inc., in the US (see separate profile). The United States-based company has supplied more than 70 plants for different purposes and applications in 30 different countries.
However, the company is very much involved in plant construction and project management and has formed a separate subsidiary – ROCk Engineering (ROCE) to provide engineering consultancy offering reliable and cost effective solutions to owners and investors in order to execute the construction of gas production plants (whether for their own use or for the merchant market in other countries within the Region). The company employs a core group of engineers specialized in detailed engineering, project consultancy and project management.
Gas operations: Since establishing a gases business in 1960, the ROCk Group is now operating gas plants of different capacities and production processes, through affiliates and subsidiaries, in more than ten countries. ROCk business entities have established strong market positions in some countries – such as Kuwait, UAE and Jordan.
“This has been achieved by offering a reliable service and maintaining high management standards, together with a first class infrastructure and providing technologically advanced engineering services” says Dalab. “The company has also managed to successfully optimise delivery standards of compressed gas supplies, bulk supplies and pipeline supplies for all geographic areas”.
Medical equipment & services: Recognising the growing importance of medical gas supplies and services throughout the region, the ROCk Group formed ROCk Medical Group. The company has diversified its products and activities away from just gases to become a manufacturer and leading research centre for drugs bio-equivalency throughout various countries. The Medical Group incorporates a number of companies, including the Neotech Group and its subsidiaries, as well as the Rhum Scientific Research Centre.
Neotech Group of Companies was established following ROCk’s decision to move into supplementary engineering applications, and in particular, medical equipment. Initially, this division began with a foray into gas operated equipment such as anaesthesia machines, ventilators, and resuscitators; and later developed into the Neotech Group of companies following the ventures early success.
Currently, Neotech represents exclusively international companies for the supply of medical equipment to hospitals, polyclinics, and other facilities incorporated within the healthcare sector. ROCk Surgical, UAE is a subsidiary of Neotech Group and is the first servicing and manufacturing facility in the Middle East for surgical tools. ROCk Surgical is located in Dubai and provides surgical tools to the international market.
The ROCk group decided upon the need to manufacture medical furniture, such as gyna and dental chairs, medical beds, trolleys and other hospital products and formed a subsidiary based in Italy – named ROCk Europe, an affiliate of Neotech. ROCk Asia, is another Neotech subsidiary that is located in Bangalore and represents the product line of Neotech Group in India.
Rhum Scientific Research Centre (Pharmaquestjo), Jordan is a unique centre specifically developed to provide accreditation of newly developed generic medicines. Pharmaquestjo is run by scientists recognized by international federations to conduct bio-equivalency tests on drugs and to ensure the efficiency and safety of drugs being produced.
Fire fighting: ROCk International (ROCI) is the fire protection wing of the ROCk Group. ROCI is the first Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) accredited by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in the United States, and has also been recognized as an Alternative Manufacturing Location (AML) licensed by Safety Hi-Tech in Italy for the Middle East region. This specifically relates to the design, assembly, fill, supply, service and maintenance of UL-listed NAF fire suppression systems and streaming applications.
Oil & gas products & services: Oil & Gas Al Khalid is an integral part of the ROCk Group’s engineering services and activities. The company offers advanced engineering solutions to the oil & gas industry in relation to both downstream and upstream processes.
“All these companies have connections or links to the core business of the group – industrial gases” says Dalab. The group has other activities such as travel and IT businesses which are far removed from the gases business but make up the total revenue stream of the business.
The industrial gases business in the Middle East
“As you know this is a relatively competitive market and you will find most people not willing to discuss much about their gases operations. We are, as you know active throughout the region and while Kuwait and UAE are the core markets for our gases business we have recently branched out and established companies in Qatar and as far away as Libya” says Dalab.
“The major international companies are now seriously looking at the market in the region as a whole and some companies have formed joint ventures for supply schemes in order to “break into this market” to mutual benefit. We have established some of our own on-site supply schemes in recent years – we have been undertaking this in Kuwait for a number of years with an established pipeline network to the petrochemical and refining facilities there.
“What concerns me most is the lack of technical and safety standards that exist in the region. Various countries apply different codes and companies are affiliated to different organisations and some countries do not even have consistent codes in place. That is why I and some of the larger gas companies in the Emirates set up or registered the Middle East Gases Association (MEGA) to try and address this. We received good advice from Frank Finger of EIGA two years ago but to date, we have a draft constitution in place but we have been unable to implement the ideas and goals of the Association.”
“The gases conference organised in Dubai by your kind selves, raised the profile of the need for the Association to work. We would like to thank gasworld for this and we have a clear action plan – which is to appoint a neutral general secretary for MEGA and to make things happen – not just for the UAE but for the region as a whole”.