The opportunities are there, the technologies are ready and the MENA region is primed to realise its next wave of growth.

That was the overriding message from day two of the MENA Industrial Gases Conference 2019 in Dubai, UAE.

Around 240 delegates from around the world gathered for the event over the last 2.5 days, held at the Hilton Dubai Al Habtoor City hotel complex, including strong local participation.

The conference has been addressing the theme Business Models Fit for Purpose in the Middle East and North Africa, exploring the challenges and opportunities facing the region as it moves forward into the next decade, through a series of pointed panel discussions and regional case studies.

Conference day one set the scene as it described both the change in the region over the last decade and the challenges it currently faces against a backdrop of increasing costs and squeezed margins. It also underscored the enduring potential the region is home to, with a passionate keynote talk from Air Products Chairman, President and CEO Seifi Ghasemi in particular describing how the Middle East should be “proud of their past and aspire to reinvent their past glory.”

Today’s speaking agenda picked up that baton and began with an insight into the Success Factors for a Tier 2 Gas Company from opening keynote Renato Imeri, Head of the SOL Group’s (Italy) Industrial Gas Division outside of Europe.

Imeri described the SOL Group’s roots in Italy and how, through the decades, the company expanded beyond Italy and into wider Europe. He also explained how the company diversified into the medical and homecare business; the company serves 400,000 patients today and the homecare business has become so significant to the SOL Group, that Imeri described that diversification all those years ago as ‘a necessity’.

SOL Group is active in 29 countries, across four continents, and boasting 4,000 employees today, Imeri explained, noting that there have been several elements of strategic diversification along the way – and not just in applications served. Further still, he underlined the need for such companies ‘to be brave’.

Renato Imeri: You have to be brave

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Productivity and internal growth drivers

With these success factors established and the scene already set on the change and challenges in the region, the agenda moved onto the technologies and operational approaches that can unlock the potential in the region.

Session 3, Chaired by retiring MEGA general secretary Frank Finger, began with a talk from Ian Davies, Managing Director of IGPH, on the subject of Optimising Cylinder Filling in the Middle East. Davies discussed the latest trends in cylinder filling systems and technologies, and stressed the significance of new automated systems and the productivity these can bring to users in the Middle East, adding, “You get correct results first time, every time, with automation.”

“And productivity is key, as we all know in this room.”

Davies placed particular emphasis on the company’s ‘Winter’ fill system, which he described as “very appropriate for this region,” alluding to the region’s inherently warm ambient conditions.

The ‘Winter’ fill system includes control systems that ‘control’ the repeatability and offers high accuracy and limiting of the heat of compression. By delivering colder gas to the filling module, it delivers continuous filling by eliminating cool-down disruptions and increased equipment life as a result too.

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The technology pendulum then swung to asset management and more specifically, Telemonitoring and Bulk Logistics, courtesy of Anova CEO Chet Reshamwala.

Reshamwala began by explaining Anova’s strong history in remote monitoring solutions and telemetry technologies, as well as its recent acquisitions and how the company has been carving out a global leadership position. “We operate in a very specific niche in the industrial gases industry, providing our customers with rich data to manage their operations,” he enthused.

“You need to get this information reliably, potentially during different climates and conditions (rain, snow, shine and dust) depending on your region or application, and we deliver that data.”

Discussing an in-house study on the delivery of cryogenic products, he added, “We know that companies today are spending 40% more than they need to on the execution of their business. That’s an astonishing number.”

“This comes from our thorough analysis of over 1,500 customers that we serve today. It comes from trucks and the wear and tear on those trucks, the driver costs during busy seasons, the scheduler’s time, and so many other factors that we might not even think about in your operations.”

Reshamwala went on to describe the increasing rise of digitisation, how this trend is inescapable and industry as a whole is investing heavily in IOT technologies. He explained how these technologies and the rich data they provide can not only make companies’ operations more efficient and cost-effective, but also make a huge impression with their customer base.

“You just prevented a major issue and potentially saved a customer relationship,” he said of such a scenario in the customer supply chain. “That’s what we’re trying to do every day.”

73% of companies are making IOT investments today, he cited, and 47% say that IOT will be the important technology investment. It’s happening, it’s here and we will all need to embrace it, he said. “That means getting IOT up and running in your business today, not down the road, not next year, today. IOT is going to revolutionise how businesses operate and transact with their customers.”

“Technology innovators have a leg-up in their operations.”

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Anova estimates that there’s around 23% average growth in telemonitoring technologies year-on-year in the global industrial gases business. “We can pinpoint where that growth is, and where it’s required,” Reshamwala added. He described the large installed bases already in North America and Europe for example, and highlighted the opportunity for greater adoption of today’s state-of-the-art telemonitoring technologies in regions such as the Middle East, particularly so now that these solutions are becoming more cost comparable with the economies of scale and adoption.

There was also time for Reshamwala to deliver an exciting announcement from Anova, with the launch of its new Connected Tank Management System. Showing the below video, he explained how the system enables companies to measure better, plan better, and execute better – improving health and safety, dramatically cutting costs, and increasing revenues along the way.

In concluding, he emphasised, “The industrial gas supply chain is rapidly digitising, and companies that don’t embrace new technologies risk being left behind…You need to leverage the power of data, and we will partner with you in doing just that.”

Driving safety in the Middle East

Rounding off the session was a talk from the new General Secretary of the Middle East Gases Association (MEGA), Roger Sayah.

Formed in 2010 as the safety, standardisation and technically-oriented association for the Middle East region, including the GCC, MEGA strives to promote and improve the safety and standardisation of operations in the region, and Sayah outlined the following ley safety issues of the MEGA geographies:

  • A large, complex footprint with diverse cultures and operational models
  • The need for unification
  • A region servicing multiple and varied end-user markets
  • Many old assets, with an inconsistent appetite for change
  • Long distribution chains
  • Increasingly challenging economic conditions, with restricted resources

Sayah also outlined the need for regulatory control by authorities, the risk of non-compliance with laws and regulations, and the consequences of ‘missing the mark’ on these regulations. He also noted that the decision was taken in 2018 to embrace more experts in the field to accelerate the development of the association, and expressed his belief that the region is ready now for the mission of MEGA and all of its activities in promoting and improving technical standards and practices.

Following a short coffee break, the agenda resumed with Session 4 and the presentation of Jan Strybol, the new Deputy General Secretary of EIGA (European Industrial Gas Association). Strybol discussed Medical Gas Operational Excellenceand began by warning, “When we talk about medical gases, we talk about regulations, it’s inescapable.”

Strybol described the different classifications of medical gases, as well as manufacturing processes and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) guidelines, adding “If you do want to avoid disasters, then comply with the letter and the spirit of the regulations in medical gases.”

Strybol also touched upon traceability via documentation and records, it’s fundamental importance, and warned that when it comes to medical gas compliance, “What is not written down, has not happened.”

Opportunities

The gasworld stage was then given to Fabian Van Damme, Director of Dohmeyer, to discuss Food and Pharmaceutical Market Drivers.

Founded in 2003 and with more than 3,000 references in 62 countries across the world, Dohmeyer is well placed with its observations of these markets from a cryogenic freezing equipment perspective, and Van Damme noted that there are many specialist applications emerging which present opportunities for growth – but also calls to action for the industry to respond to. Pharmaceuticals market growth (22.4% annually and growing very rapidly) was cited in particular.

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Describing the internal growth drivers for the industry, he said, “It’s our duty as a gases industry to innovate – to develop new technologies and applications, to bring new solutions to market. There’s a lot of space for more innovation, more efficiency. There’s a lot of space for new applications.”

“We also have to make our customers familiar with cryogenics, give them more training and understanding of our products. This is our duty.”

Peter Toftegaard Hansen of Pentair Union Engineering continued the theme of internal growth drivers in his subsequent presentation, covering CO2 Market Dynamics for the Middle East. He gave a view of the increasing adoption of clean energies and circular economies related to carbon dioxide (CO2), the new sources that need more complex technologies, and the new and attractive CO2 sources and opportunities in the Middle East in particular.

Summarising, he encouraged, “There’s a lot of new sources and opportunities in the market, a lot of waste product sourcing opportunities, and we see a dynamic market arising – which we are supporting with our technologies.”

Finally, the stage was set for the event’s closing keynote – a first for gasworld conferences.

Phil Kornbluth, President of Kornbluth Helium Consulting and globally renowned for his expertise in the global helium business, did the honours with his esteemed insight into Helium and the Worldwide Supply Chain.

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After a rapturous round of applause, it was left to gasworld Publisher and CEO John Raquet to officially close the conference.

“The way I summarise what we’ve heard today and yesterday, and what you are experiencing in the Middle East, is that the region is clearly a very dynamic region, loaded with opportunities. There are not many regions of the world that have such opportunities – and the scale of them – set out before them.”

“We have explored so many levels of these opportunities and we hope you’re leaving this forum full of optimism for all of the opportunities ahead and take that other underlying message – that we need to move out of our traditional modes and mindsets and realise the new ways of thinking for our industry around strategy, data and applications.”

“We hope you leave richer in that knowledge and the contacts to make it happen.”

Stories online

Catch-up on all of the news, views, keynotes and breakout stories from the event via the gasworld website or the related stories below.

A full review will be published in the January 2020 edition of gasworld magazine.

The gasworld events stage now moves on to Munich in April 2020, for the Hydrogen Summit 2020 and introducing H2 View to the events scene. For more information on all gasworld events in the year ahead, from Munich to Malaysia, visit www.gasworldconferences.com