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Filed on March 14, 2021
Amer Bin Ahmed, Managing Director of Knauf Middle East and India

Though this year has been tumultuous for the UAE construction sector, Amer Bin Ahmed, Managing Director of Knauf Middle East and India, has a positive outlook. Read on for excerpts from the interview

Can you elaborate on Knauf's building material business in the UAE?

Knauf as a Group was founded in 1932 by Dr Alfons and Dr Karl Knauf to introduce gypsum based building materials so that people could build faster, better and cheaper. Knauf is headquartered in Iphofen - Bavaria, Germany with 220 plants spread across 80 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, USA, Latin America and India, Indian Sub-continent with a workforce of about 33,000 and an annual revenue of approx. 11 billion Euros.

Knauf in the GCC is headquartered in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It's active in the greater Middle East, GCC and India with a manufacturing plant in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, established in 2011 Knauf UAE manufacturing hub located in Ras Al Khaimah, forms the core of our local operation, and is the central manufacturing point for the UAE and wider GCC region.

Equipped with state of the art machinery and a team of expert production engineers, the highest level of quality and efficiency is certified. This, along with our specialist quality control and logistics teams, ensures that our products aren't just manufactured correctly, but that they are safely and efficiently delivered to our customers. Our third party certification is also key, and gives our customers the assurance that our products aren't only exceeding our impeccable Knauf standard, but also are conforming to international quality and performance standards.

Extending from our plant is our head office based in Dubai Silicon Oasis, which forms the central hub of our market expertise. Our diverse team of architects who make up our specification team, are coordinating daily with key stakeholders across the construction industry to ensure the correct and most efficient placement of our technical solutions within the most challenging design criteria.

In parallel to this the Knauf Training Academy, has become a pillar of our operation here in the Middle East and has trained more than 1600 industry engineers on methods and best practices of drywall system and product application. In line with our own internal requirement to ensure that Knauf products and systems aren't just supplied, but are installed correctly also enhances the country aim to ensure high quality and efficient construction projects across the region.

Can you share details of products manufactured at the RAK facility and to which markets are they distributed? Any special reason RAK was chosen as the manufacturing facility over the other Emirates?

Since 2009, the Knauf UAE facility has been manufacturing and supplying light-weight construction products and solutions; including gypsum board, metal profile, jointing compounds among others, into key projects across the region.

Many of our solutions such as our fire-rated partitions and accessories are used across multiple segments, from hospitality to schools, thanks to their high performance and local authority approvals. Others are much more specifically designed such as our cinema system solutions, which have integrated components designed specifically to reach the demanding sound transmission specification for the UAE cinema operators.

Can you highlight the technological advancements Knauf has made in the manufacture of some of its products?

Keeping our manufacturing plant aside, our technology focus for the past 2 years has been focussed on our customers and developing tools to ensure the information they require is accessible to them at all times.

We have taken a more digital approach to our service provision, with development of platforms to enable our client base. One example, our newly developed 'spekbuild' tool. Available for direct online access, this digital tool allows our clients, at all levels of the supply chain, to download tailored technical solutions and supporting documentation at the click of a button. Saving time for the client and paper for us!

How do you view the construction sector industry in the UAE at the moment?

As we know 2020 was the most challenging year many of us have seen in our professional and personal journeys. Businesses in all sectors have faced challenges like never before, and we know the construction industry globally was severely affected. That being said, we are now starting to see the construction sector re-emerge with a new mindset that is more than ever focused on sustainable and responsible supply chains with 'in-country' manufacturing proving to be a key requirement in ensuring not only continuity of supply, but also traceable quality. 

Aside from a shift in value for Made in UAE products, we have seen a greater focus on the impact of 'people', industry wide. We have observed this directly from the response and demand for training and development of personnel at the Knauf training academy from engineers across the industry, interested in enhancing valuable skills for their personnel. With the multi-cultural nature of the UAE, it has become even more important to ensure professional development of employees, as well as ensuring a consistency of trained engineers in the region.

The UAE Government has played a pivotal role in shaping the future of the construction industry in the region. With its high standards they have made sure utmost importance in given to safety in construction. Through its authorities like the Municipality and Civil Defence they have made sure all checks and balances are maintained and applied. Organisations like Dubai Quality Group and Emirates Green Building Council further expands the vision of the rulers in the region. Construction industry today in UAE is in true sense a product of the vision of its great leaders.

Given sustainability is at the core of UAE's Agenda for 2030, what are Knauf's efforts to fulfil this vision?

Sustainability, quality and social responsibility are among the strategies at the heart of our framework at Knauf UAE. Our sustainability, welfare and CSR policies have been developed to ensure a company-wide understanding of our objectives to reduce our impact on the environment, while protecting our people, supporting the local community as well as ensuring our business is enhancing the local economy. Aside from our own commitment and declarations our quality, management and environmental efforts have been recognised through our ISO certifications including, ISO 9001 Quality Management, ISO 14001 Environment Management, ISO 18001 Risk Management and ISO 50001 Energy Management.

The impact of our business activities are always focused at the top of the waste hierarchy, this related to our business impact - supported from our specification experts providing the most efficient solutions to meet client requirements as well as our consumer impact involving the awareness and action of each and every member of staff. Our aim always being to reduce material consumption at all levels.

Can you advise a few of Knauf's projects both in the UAE and the GCC?

We are supplying projects across every sector and working with key stake holders in the region. From 5* hotels, to state of the art hospitals and data centre headquarters. We are lucky enough to be working with industry leaders in projects ranging from the prestigious One Za'abeel through to the recently opened KSA cinema segment, as well as a significant number of Expo projects including, pavilions as well as hospitality and commercial buildings.

What is your business outlook for 2021, and beyond?

After facing the biggest challenge this year globally, we have learned how quickly needs can change from consumer through to investment perspective. Our business outlook is exciting - in the face of challenges, we are excited to see a shift in segment focus as well as customer expectations requiring adaptability within a dynamic changing market. 

What are your thoughts on the ease of doing business in the UAE?

Considering specifically the construction industry and more specifically in the UAE, we experience almost daily challenges emerging from stake holders, continuously pushing boundaries for aesthetics, sustainability and urban integration to challenge the already iconic skyline. This means we as manufacturers need to adapt and develop at the same rate to allow the requirements to be realised. This can present challenges but also forces business growth and development.

With UAE highlighting and giving impetus to SMEs, what advise can you offer small businesses and incubation entrepreneurs?

Focus on sustainable supply chain regardless of your position within it. Listen to the market requirements and stay dynamic (in mindset and practicality) to adapt to market impacts as they emerge.

A NAME SYNONYMOUS WITH CONSTRUCTION

With over 20 years of experience in the construction field, Amer Bin Ahmed has received many awards and recognitions from the UAE government and prestigious organisations for his continuous contribution to the industry.

From being recognised as 'CEO of the Year' by a famous media group in 2016 to being a team player and winner with his plant workers for the Guinness World Records in the same year, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology educated visionary has a unique approach to business and life in general. He has been recognised by organisations and government bodies.

Sustainability has been an important aspect of Ahmed's vision, not only for Knauf but also for the country. He tries to incorporate these aspects into every stage of the supply chain and production process. He is especially proud of the first of its kind plaster mixing plant in a remote village in South India, which uses as its raw material the waste of the adjoining salt pane and therefore is a completely sustainable product.

Ahmed has been the driving force in Knauf UAE achieving the 'Made in UAE' award in 2019 in the region as a manufacturer as only the second company in the UAE to receive this mark. He was asked to serve as a Board Member for the Dubai Quality Group and has since been elected as a Board Member for the Emirates Green Building Council too.

Ahmed was the first to introduce the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards to the region, relentlessly supporting it in various endeavours. Ahmed made Knauf UAE a 100 per cent ASTM approved company, the first of its kind in the region and globally within the Knauf group. He has been selected as a Board Member for ASTM International and was part of the setup of the local ASTM chapter, the first of its kind outside the USA. As ASTM International Board Member, he has also been invited as a guest speaker at international conferences.





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