Special Report on the access platform industry in the Middle East

Paul Rankin, Managing Director at Rapid Access, speaks on the growth of the AWP market in the GCC.

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The Middle East has already proved itself as an active AWP market; now it is taking the next step into maturity.

It has been in the last few years that the Middle East has really shot into prominence as a wide-ranging user of access equipment. Although some of the markets that make up the region have matured more than others, in terms of access.

Paul Rankin, managing director of rental major Rapid Access, says the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has seen the biggest expansion in the region over the last three to four years, thanks to contractors entering the country and developments in health and safety.

 “From 2008 onwards the government began making significant and sustained investments in large scale infrastructure projects covering metro projects, airports and the expansion of the country’s oil & gas and petrochemical industries,” says Mr Rankin.

As a result, Rapid, which has a regional fleet of 4000 units across all it nine depots, is expanding its depot network to support key projects and clients. “Given the geographical scale of some of the GCC countries, the distance between cities and key projects is substantial. It is only by investing in new depots that we can ensure that both equipment and service solutions are available.”

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Big players

Rapid Access is dominant in Saudi Arabia, with Hertz Equipment Rental also a major player, along with United Gulf Rental and Access Rental Gulf, part of the AFI group of companies.
Talking about rental across the region, Mr Rankin explains there has been a considerable cultural change as the region has moved towards renting assets over ownership, with the pace of change accelerating in recent years.

“In line with this we are seeing an increasing number of end users, who may in the past have purchased AWPs looking to hire equipment on a long term basis from recognised specialists like Rapid to ensure the equipment is well serviced, they maximise uptime and focus their own financial capital on their core business.”

In a similar vein, the company is taking a larger number of service contracts from owners of equipment and in partnership with a number of the OEM’s to ensure that those who have invested in AWPs keep them maintained.

“As penetration continues we are seeing an increase in shorter term hires in line with market maturation and use in a wider array of applications outside of large scale construction. This leads to a regional reduction in hire periods, against an increased number of total machines on hire."

The UAE is particularly relevant to this process. Mr Rankin believes it is the biggest market in the region, with around 5500 units making up its rental fleets. “All of the regional markets have experienced significant growth in recent years driven by the construction industry and increasing AWP penetration but the UAE has stayed in a leading position.”

As well as Rapid in the UAE, Manlift, Johnson Arabia and Access Rental are also big players there.
The UAE was the first market where the use of AWP’s began to develop and was the first place in the region where Rapid Access established 20 years ago. “In the last 10 years all of the GCC markets have made improvements in the health and safety environment but the UAE has led the way in many aspects.”

There are a great number of large scale infrastructure projects underway including Abu Dhabi airport where there is an estimated 700 aerial work platforms, or more, in operation, says Mr Rankin. “With Dubai set to host the Expo 2020 we expect the levels of activity to continue as the Expo area is a Greenfield site and incorporates an extension to the city’s metro and a range of additional building projects.”
 

Booms above

Mr Rankin adds, “Right now the fastest growing country for MEWP’s is probably Qatar where the Qatar Metro project and the investment for the Qatar World Cup 2022 is beginning to pick up pace. Closely followed by Kuwait where the relatively small AWP industry is poised for expansion on the back of significant oil and gas investment and the recent award of the new airport terminal.”

In years to come Mr Rankin expects to see a developing AWP industry in Egypt, Iraq and in time Iran, “where the level of investment in oil and gas and infrastructure, key sectors for AWP’s, is expected to be significant as the country continues to open up.”

Average prices

Unlike in other maturing markets the cost of new machines is no longer at a premium in the Middle East. “Today, with international and global companies coming into the region you don’t have a lot of space for manoeuvre, they know their pricing in Europe and they compare it to what’s happening in the Middle East.”

As far as equipment is concerned, products are not designed specifically for the Middle East region.
JLG, for example, offers standard machines with certain options fitted, primarily to address the extreme climate during summer months.

Nevertheless, the choice of equipment used in the Middle East is significantly different to that found in markets such as Europe.

Mr Rankin explains, the “mix in the GCC is very different to the UK and Europe. A much smaller proportion of our fleet are electric scissors and booms. The largest section of our product range is mid-sized diesel booms in the 22 to 27m range.”

As previously mentioned, the main driver behind a specific choice in working heights over others is the type of projects being undertaken, and the earlier penetration of AWP for work above 15m. Mr Rankin adds, “When you are working at 15m in an outside environment there is little doubt that an AWP is the safest and most efficient way of working. On lower height areas of work and often for internal applications more companies may tend towards traditional methods including scaffold solutions.”

Safety conscious

Safety is increasingly a significant factor in the region according to Mr Rankin. A large amount of equipment from Rapid is provided with the safety and productivity enhancing accessories available from the Lavendon Group’s BlueSky systems. All of Lavendon Group’s depots are subject to its TechX2020 inspection, meaning that whether in Riyadh, London or Paris all depots deliver the same level of technical and customer service.

Nevertheless, across the GCC, regulations and standards are developing but at this time most are being set by client groups for specific industries and projects rather than at a government and national level, explains Mr Rankin.

Mr Rankin adds, “This July saw the release of the first national level guidance on the use of MEWPs and required training when OSHAD (Abu Dhabi Occupational Safety and Health Centre) published a new Code of Practice providing guidance on the need for thorough training of AWP operators in accordance to international training standards such as the IPAF.”

He adds, “We work closely with IPAF across the region, accounting for over 60% of the regional IPAF cards issued, and as such are involved along with other regional suppliers in working to establish regulations that will enhance the safety of the regional industry.”

So, the future is bright in the Middle East with the number of applications developing all the time. 

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