What is the Sultanate's potential to become a hub for the aluminum processing industry?
Actually, we made the decision to build this plant following the construction of the Sohar aluminum smelter, the thinking being that this was the best location in the world to develop this business—both from an energy and labor standpoint. Additionally, this country has capital to invest. By contrast, the US is not seeing much expansion in the aluminum business. The available infrastructure here is superb, as is the development of the country. Moreover, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said's desire to develop the Omani manufacturing industry base, to create jobs, and to transform Oman into a global player is extremely encouraging. Additionally, the suitability for the aluminum and rolled products industry in the Gulf is considerable. Oman Aluminium Rolling Company (OARC) is the first aluminum rolled products company to have been built in Oman. We are 100% Omani funded, and employing 100% Omani operators.
How will you expand and diversify your operations?
As a first step, we will take a portion of our raw materials directly from our plant to a new facility that we are building—it will be part of our company—where it will be painted, which is a further value-added step. We will then ship to end users in the building products sector. We also have plans to expand our finishing capabilities to further process value-added materials. We can produce products down to 75 microns, which can be used as feed stock for downstream foil mills and other applications. We cannot produce the aluminum foil products seen in local markets, but we can provide feed stock to those who can.
What contribution is OARC giving to the local workforce?
Actually, that is the reason I came here. This is the fifth new manufacturing facility I have started in my 37-year career in the industry, so it was not starting a new plant that excited me. This is the first major company fully funded by Omani investment, and where we are starting with 100% Omani operators. We hired a group of young men, mostly directly out of school, and put them through a year-and-a-half of training—at a cost of $2.5 million—in everything, from the basics of how to work, to the basics of safety, and a degree of technical education. They have risen to every challenge, and today we have a 74% Omanization rate overall. Because we exclusively employ Omani operators, I have hired expatriate department leaders—I needed that in-depth experience to start this plant, and set up our training in order to keep our young operators safe, and able to learn.
What are the main obstacles you face in your operations?
There are a few obstacles, obviously, one being that, as managers from large US companies, we are accustomed to having access to parts, supplies, and machine shops. There is nothing you could think of that you would need in a factory—if you had to have a part made from a block of metal—in the US you could find someone within a few hours to do the job for you. Here have to reprogram yourself to think you cannot just assume that there is a machine shop down the street.
What is your target in the short term?
The target for 2015 is to introduce our fourth shift. This year we will go to three shifts; we will run 24 hours a day, five days a week. In 2015, we will be chasing a production target of 100,000 tons, as we bring on the fourth shift near the end of the year. We will also start the paint line, which will be commissioned by September 2015. So, it will be in production by the last quarter. By 4Q2015, we will introduce our fourth shift, and our plant will become a 24/7 operation, and we will be up to a capacity of 140,000 tons.