Saudi Abrasives, the first steel grits and shots manufacturing venture in the Middle East and North Africa region, is focusing on creating awareness in the region of the economic and environmental benefits of using these locally produced systems for blast cleaning and surface preparation.
The Dammam-based operation, which was set up in 2008, is the brainchild of Indian technocrat Jolly Lonappan, who has taken advantage of Saudi Arabia’s stable market and favourable investment climate to set up the first-of-its-kind technology-based industrial unit.
“Saudi Abrasives is the first manufacturer of these products not only in the kingdom but also in the entire Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region,” says Lonappan, the company’s managing director, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the blast cleaning and abrasives business.
The company’s production facility, built on a 25,000-sq-m plot in Dammam’s Second Industrial City has an installed capacity of 6,000 tonnes of steel shots and grits and 36,000 tonnes of coal slag a year. The high-quality steel shots and grits are produced to meet the specifications of the American standards SAEJ444 and ASTM. Saudi Abrasives’ products are approved by the Royal Commission and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) and are currently being evaluated by Saudi Aramco. The company is also planning to achieve ISO certification, according to Lonappan.
Saudi Abrasives’ facility is equipped with two medium frequency induction melting furnaces, besides atomising systems, hardening, tempering, crushing and screening equipment required to achieve the international SAE J445 standard (physical analysis) and SAE J1993 standard (chemical analysis) for steel abrasives.
Lonappan explains that steel grits and shots offers the cheapest technology for blast cleaning and surface treatment – even cheaper than the hazardous sandblasting technique, which creates large quantities of dust, exposing the operator to the risk of silicosis, a debilitating lung disease.
This is because the steel grits and shots can be reused several times, thus providing economic and environmental benefits.
“A major advantage of steel grits is that they can be used over a 100 times, which means one uses only 200 gm per sq m in the long run. On the other hand, 40 to 50 kg of copper slag is required to clean a 1 sq m area. Copper slag is, moreover, very dusty and can be used only once. With steel grit, there is no pollution or silica dust released into the air. Besides, it provides a very clean finish,” says Lonappan.
Steel shots and grits are non-polluting blast media, he says, and are extensively used in various blasting operations for the removal of rust, descaling of structural steel, surface treatment prior to coating of ship hulls and various other applications. The products are widely used in the shipbuilding, steel and iron and foundry industries, steel casting, forging aluminium, engineering structures, aeronautical industry, rail car industry, for anticorrosion procedures in oil and gas pipelines, among other uses.
He says there are many industrial applications of steel shots and grit. “Steel corrodes in a neutral environment and hence it needs a protective coating. Steel shotblasting is done prior to coating it.”
Another application of these products is in the production of rust-free steel rebar, which are prepared by shotblasting prior to epoxy coating and are used in the construction of reinforced concrete buildings.
Some of the other major uses are in foundries to clean the castings; they are also mixed in concrete for the reinforcement of nuclear power plants to reduce radiation levels. Steel grits are used for cutting marble and granites; for cutting hard rock into sheets; and is added to concrete to increase its strength, durability and weight for special applications.
Commenting on the selection of Saudi Arabia as the company’s base, Lonappan says the kingdom offers the advantages of an ample supply of power. The raw material which is steel scrap, is also available in huge quantities and at competitive prices.
He notes that Saudi Abrasives contributes to the kingdom’s drive towards import substitution and provides a local source of steel grits and shots, which hitherto was required to be imported. At present, local demand is fulfilled by imports mainly from China, Europe, South Africa, Romania, Turkey, and Thailand.
Using a local product – in line with the royal decree that stipulates that contractors must purchase locally-made products – will improve the national economy and reduce the carbon footprint, he points out.
Lonappan laments that China, which has excess capacity of steel grits and shots following a downturn in its shipbuilding industry, is dumping cheap products in the market and is supplying to the Saudi market in bulk.
“This means shipments have to come in from faraway places. Steel shots and grits have a tendency to get rusty during the long time of shipment, which results in a lot of wastage,” he points out.
He adds that its local base will benefit end-users in many ways by saving time, reducing freight cost and minimising wastage. The accumulated savings through all these factors including transportation and storage advantages could result in price reduction of more than 25 per cent, he states.
Saudi Arabia also offers a huge potential for growth with an estimated monthly requirement of 6,000 tonnes – which is equivalent to Saudi Abrasives total annual installed capacity. Among its clients are the Al Qahtani Pipe Coating company, Zamil Steel, Saudi Marble and Granite (which according to Lonappan requires some 800 tonnes per month of steel grit to cut granite), BASF, and Riyadh Foundry.
Saudi Abrasives will also be marketing all kinds of abrasives including garnet, copper slag, coal slag, olivine, silica sand, corn cobs, etc.