Saudi Arabia

Volvo equipment hard at work on the Oman border route.

Volvo equipment hard at work on the Oman border route.

Beating the heat

May 2011

CONSTRUCTING a 245-km stretch of highway in the peak of summer in Saudi Arabia is a challenge in itself. However, when that stretch of motorway extends across the region’s ‘no man’s land’ – the Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarter – the task is formidable to say the least.

Under a SR1-billion ($266.6 million) contract, this daunting challenge was assigned to Al Rosan Company for Contracting, a specialist in road construction with 35 years of experience behind it and with a Grade A classification from the Saudi Ministry of Transportation.

Known as the Oman Border Route, it is the first major route through the Empty Quarter connecting Saudi Arabia with Oman. It extends a total of 600 km, with Al Rosan responsible for the most arduous stretch and two other contractors working on the remaining 355 km of the route, according to Fahad Alrosan, CEO of the company.

The Riyadh-headquartered company, owned by Hazza Aba Ruos, has completed hundreds of projects throughout Saudi Arabia and is one of the few companies in the kingdom that have the expertise and experience to take on projects such as the highway across the Empty Quarter. Established in 1976, the family-run company has branches in many Saudi cities including Qassim, Tabuk, Rafha, Jouf, Turaif and at the Oman border.

“The project is our biggest to date and involves building a highway through the vast desert expanse of the Empty Quarter, where the temperature in summer exceeds 65 deg C. This apart, the area is subject to frequent sandstorms and has a number of oil wells,” says Alrosan.

The project involves earthmoving works exceeding 140 million cu m of cut-and-fill material and constructing a road parallel with the UAE border through the shifting sand dunes. Given the scale and nature of the contract, Al Rosan realised that the project demanded machinery of the highest calibre, which would be reliable despite the rigorous work conditions.

“When procuring the right machines for the job, we were looking for workhorses that would provide us with high performance in an inhospitable environment and had efficient filters that would screen even the tiniest of sand particles that destroy engines of some of the best equipment available. The machines had to travel over a distance of some 600 km to the nearest service point and had to endure these conditions with long service intervals,” he points out. “We also consulted other contractors working on similar projects to find out what equipment they were utilising.”

Following an extensive study, Al Rosan finally turned to Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) and procured 20 of its A35 articulated haulers and eight EC700B excavators – the first Volvo machines on its fleet. The machines were ordered through Al Rehab Equipment and Machinery, the Saudi agent for Volvo CE, and are backed by an after-sales support package to minimise downtime.

“We were very impressed by the recommendation made by Al Rehab’s managing director Amal Al Mizyen, who has lived up to the company’s promises,” he states.

Volvo CE machines ... cost competitive in the long term.

Al Rosan Company took delivery of the machines nine months ago and got them to work immediately on site. Alrosan reports that he was “amazed” by the performance of the Volvo machines, which have helped keep the project on schedule. Al Rosan, which was initially awarded a 190-km stretch with a three-year completion target, was awarded a further 55 km and is now expected to complete it in four years.

“Now after nine months of heavy-duty work, even through the peak of summer, working 15 hours a day and seven days a week, these machines continue to amaze,” Alrosan says. “The Volvo equipment has been put through 57,000 working hours with just 100 hours of machine downtime – which translates to an incredible 99.8 per cent availability.

We are also monitoring the equipment for reliability and conducting fluid analyses to check the contamination of engine oils – the results have all been an excellent ‘A’.”

He attributes these results to the quality of Volvo CE’s filtration systems. “While we have generally had to change filters once a week with other equipment, Volvo’s engine air filtration system ensures that the primary filter does not allow fine sand to pass to the secondary filter,” he says.

Alrosan is also impressed with the after-sales support offered by the Volvo agent, which has erected a workshop on site to undertake any replacement, maintenance, and repair work on the machines.

The workshop, which includes a sizeable spare parts store, is manned by a three-man technical team that provides round-the-clock service. In addition, Al Rehab also provided theoretical and practical training for Al Rosan’s maintenance staff – both mechanical and electrical – and supplied it with the necessary diagnostic tools.

This apart, Volvo sent qualified trainers to train Al Rosan’s drivers, who were all new to Volvo machines.
Commenting on the costs, he says: “While the price of a Volvo CE machine is slightly higher, in the long term it is more cost competitive as the machines are reliable. We have so far not required any spare parts, and the maintenance requirements are standard.”

A Volvo workshop was erected on site.

A high-level delegation from Volvo CE – including its vice-president for the Middle East Jonas Gardetun and area sales manager for the Middle East Shahir El Essawy – also visited the company.

Following the visit, Al Rosan Company has signed up a new order for Volvo equipment, which includes an additional 15 articulated haulers.

Al Rosan, which employs a workforce of 4,000, has a fleet of about 2,000 machines from various international brands as well as crushers and asphalt plants in all its operational areas. It is now close to securing another major deal estimated to be worth SR3 billion ($800 million) – and intends to make Volvo the standard equipment for all future projects.

Saudi Arabia is a key market for Volvo CE, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of construction machines. The Sweden-based firm offers a wide range of products for the construction sector including skid steers, compact, backhoe and wheel loaders, compact, wheeled and crawler excavators, articulated haulers and motor graders – the most popular in the kingdom being its excavators, wheel loaders and articulated haulers.

Commenting on the Saudi market, El Essawy, who is based in Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone, says: “We are pleased with our performance and are doing very well in Saudi Arabia.

“We are seeing very interesting and mega development in the kingdom, including housing, railways, road construction and infrastructure projects. The entire Middle East region is a very important market for Volvo.

The company is doing well in the roads and infrastructure as well as the energy sectors. Its major customers in Saudi Arabia range from multinational and large construction companies to small individual owners.

Volvo CE has been witnessing year-on-year growth in sales in the Middle East. Though the economic slowdown did impact its overall business, the effect on its Saudi operations was minimal.

“Business has improved, in general, in the region if we compare 2010 with 2009 and so far this year we have witnessed an improvement over the last year,” El Essawy adds. “Our strategy during the downturn has been to support our dealers by helping them clear their inventory. We opted not to take new orders to our factories, but rather take the machines from our dealers yards to help them clear inventory.”

Commenting on the company’s achievements over the past year, he says: “One major achievement was to emerge out of the economic downturn along with our dealers in good financial health. All our dealers, without exception, survived, brought down the inventory level and have started investing again in business.”

Volvo recently introduced pipe layers that have been well received in the market.

“We are shortly going to come up with a new-generation of wheel loaders and articulated haulers. The new machines will offer a lot of improvement in features and performance,” he says.

Volvo has a competence development centre in Jebel Ali to train its personnel and dealers in the region. In addition, it conducts a number of customer seminars and training programmes at its regional competence development centre in Dubai as well as at its dealer training centres and organises a number of customer-awareness programmes.

“We have recently introduced a telematics service in some markets along with our local network providers, including Saudi Arabia. We believe in the Saudi market and we are committed to stay here and grow our business,” he concludes.

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