Benoit Labre reveales how the sealing equipment provider Flexitallic is consolidating its position as a leading supplier of gaskets to the oil and gas industry by offering innovative and effective products, and eyeing regional and global expansion
The global upstream industry encounters the natural menaces of corrosion and high temperature environments, as a result of which, operators frequently face the expensive proposition of having to replace the flanges in a pipeline or a drilling equipment, or the damaged asset as a whole.
Gaskets are quite often the panacea, as the ring-like structures help in clamping disjoined assets together and form part of sealing solutions, which eventually help operators save considerable sums of money, otherwise meant for maintenance and repair.
“To connect two pipes together while preventing any leakage, you will need gaskets. The gaskets will be compressed between the flanges, the pipe system, or also in the pressure vessel for the heat exchanger. The advantage of gaskets in comparison to the welding process is that you can open the system without having to touch the integrity of the asset,” Benoît Labre, the managing director of the Middle East business of Flexitallic, told us during a recent visit to the sealing products and services manufacturing company’s facility in the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK).
Flexitallic might be a relatively lesser known name in the oil and gas industry, although, quite astonishingly, the company has been making industrial gaskets for over a century! “It is a very old company because we can trace back the company to 1912 when it was formed in New Jersey, US to invent the spiral-wound gasket designed to seal high-pressure systems. These gaskets are now the building block for all refineries, petrochemical plants, and power generation stations,” Labre says.
Flexitallic today boasts of being present in nine locations around the world — Britain, the US, France, Canada, Germany, China, Singapore, Kazakhstan, and the UAE, and employs about 1,200 people globally.
The regional company, Flexitallic LLC, which was formed in April 2013 as a result of the acquisition of Novus, this year invested a whopping $4mn in a new manufacturing unit in RAK, which employs about 25 staff members.
On being asked about why Ras Al Khaimah, of all industrial locations in the UAE, was chosen as the ground for planting Flexitallic’s flag in the Middle East, Labre explains, “We formally opened in the beginning of 2009, although the decision was taken in 2008. The main reason was the cost, which was competitive compared to other locations, while still providing excellent infrastructure and services.”
Flexitallic has been able to establish its regional client base post setting up the base in RAK. “In the Middle East,” Labre states, “our main market is in the UAE – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and the Northern Emirates. Our next big markets are Oman and Qatar. The next goal is to expand in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait.
“Iran also presents a great opportunity for us. There is some progress, and we are trying to make inroads into the country. We conduct some of our business in Iraq as well despite the current (security) situation.”
For the upstream industry, Flexitallic primarily supplies ring joint gaskets — which are solid and metallic, as well as spiral wound gaskets, which Labre claims, Flexitallic is the inventor of. Flexitallic’s focus vis-à-vis the upstream sector is to address the issue of corrosion.
Flexitallic has been working with global oil and gas majors such as Total, Shell, Maersk Oil Qatar, Valero in the US, and oilfield services provider OEM. Regionally, the ISO 9001 and 14001, and OHSAS 18001-certified company — the first manufacturer in the Middle East to get the safety accreditation — works with NOCs such as ADCO, GASCO and ZADCO of the ADNOC Group, Saudi Aramco, Qatar Petroleum, and Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) to name a few.
Labre concedes that, much like every other company associated with the oil and gas industry, the year 2016 hasn’t been kind to Flexitallic. The company, which earns an average annual turnover of $180-200 million globally, has secured lower than average revenues this year due to subdued demand for its products, although Labre says, the company definitely fared better in the third quarter of 2016 compared to the first two quarters.
Labre, the charmingly humble executive, wants to tackle competition in the market by adhering to the company’s core ethics and quality, and feels Flexitallic has the edge over its peers as being a holistic sealing solutions provider over others who are just gasket suppliers.