Nestled in a corner of Jebel Ali free zone's oil field supplies centre lies a company that has succeeded in marrying local knowledge with international engineering excellence. And 20 years after it was formed, Masaood John Brown can lay claim to being the region's biggest and oldest independent gas turbines services contractor.
Established in 1979 as a joint venture between the UAE's Mohammed bin Masaood & Sons and the UK's John Brown Engineering, the company has managed to ride out the wave of consolidation in the global turbine market. In 2000, it narrowly escaped becoming part of the General Electric Company (GE) empire, when Norway's Kvaerner Group - the then owner of John Brown - sold out its interests to the US giant. At the time, Mohammed bin Masaood shunned the advances of GE instead striking a deal with the Chromalloy Gas Turbine Corporation of the US through its UK-based subsidiary Chromalloy Energy Services.
Today, the company - which includes MJB International, Masaood Osbourne and Masaood KSB - can boast the largest turbine workshop in the Middle East, with a capability to service, refurbish and strip down heavy-duty Alstom/ABB and Siemens units, GE's Frame-3, Frame-5 and Frame-6 'workhorses', and the next generation of Frame-7 and Frame-9 (F) hybrid-turbines. It is planning to double the size of its existing 2,400 square-metre Jebel Ali facility so that it can offer a full range of services on the capital parts for Frame-7 and Frame-9 units. The company also supplies all spare parts, excluding turbine buckets, from the Middle East, giving a rapid turnaround on repairs.
The market for refurbishing and servicing gas turbines in the region is big. There are some 3,000 heavy industrial power units in operation in the Middle East and a further 3,500 aero-derivatives used for light industrial applications in the oil and gas sector. Keeping capacity on line at a minimum cost is a priority but servicing does not come cheap. Replacing turbine blades alone can cost anything between $150,000 and $1.5 million a rotor.
Turbine suppliers like GE work on tight margins and are naturally protective of their lucrative servicing business, which guarantees them revenue for the 100,000-hour working lifespan of each turbine they sell.
'Gas turbine suppliers operate by locking their customers into long-term service agreements,' says Gordon Parks, general manager at Masaood John Brown. 'They play on having exclusive access to customers. The turbine market is saturated with suppliers and the market for low-tech units has become very competitive. That's where we can compete, in areas such as reverse engineering of component parts. Customers in the region understand there is no point having just one supplier for all their servicing and refurbishment work.'
The Middle East remains Masaood John Brown's core market. In the UAE, where John Brown supplied the first GE-Frame turbine under licence in 1968, the company counts Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority, Dubai Electricity & Water Authority and Sharjah Electricity & Water Authority among its client list.
In Saudi Arabia - the region's biggest market for turbine services and traditionally GE territory - the group operating under its MJB International brand has established a strong relationship with the Saudi Electricity Company that follows on from its work for the old regional power generators. It recently signed an $18 million, three-year contract to repair GE and ABB turbines in the central region.
MJB, which concentrates on markets outside the lower Gulf - UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar - is also targeting more work in Iran. The company is planning to set up a servicing workshop in Kish Island free zone to handle level 1 combustion repairs. The Iranian gas turbine market could potentially rival that of Saudi Arabia, with 650 heavy units estimated to be in operation for industrial and power applications.
Iraq is also viewed as a growth market. MJB is awaiting UN approval for contracts valued at $34 million to refurbish GE Frame-5 turbines at the Taji and Halleh power plants for the General Establishment for Electricity Production. John Brown completed the gas conversion for Halleh back in 1988.
Working in developing markets is an area where the company believes it can boost its turnover, which last year exceeded $50 million. It has entered into a joint venture with the UK's Innogy under the name Power Development International (PDI) to offer customers small-scale turnkey power plants using reconditioned turbines at 50 per cent of the cost of new equipment. Work is about to begin on a Frame-5 turbine purchased from the Federal Electric & Water Authority for this purpose and PDI already has contracts in place for units in the Middle East and Africa.
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