The global demand for HVAC accessories has been increasing rampantly. And in the region, speculation abounds that in the build-up to mega events like Expo 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the demand can go up even further. Rajiv Pillai has the story…
Global demand for HVAC equipment is forecast to increase 5.7% annually to USD 120 billion by 2018, according to a new study from The Freedonia Group Inc., a Cleveland, US-based market research firm. The GCC region, owing to extreme climatic conditions, the on-going drive towards diversified businesses, growing capital investment in infrastructure development as well as a rising population with high standards of living, constitutes one of the fastest growing markets for HVAC in the world.
In line with the growth in demand for HVAC equipment, the signs point to a ramp-up in demand for HVAC accessories in the region, more so following Dubai’s successful bid to win the Expo 2020 and, earlier, Qatar successfully bagging the rights to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Many HVAC industry insiders concur that the demand for accessories is expected to go up in the next couple of years. Vikash Sekhani, the Director of Sales and Marketing at SAFE A&T Technology Private Limited, India, a company that primarily exports filter driers and other accessories to the Middle East, says: “We already feel the demand for our products has increased and our sales have seen good growth over the last year. As we move closer to Expo 2020 and 2022 FIFA World Cup, we are sure to see a huge surge in demand.” Prakash Chablani, the Managing Director of UAE-based Unigulf, pointing out to the fact that the completion of a reasonably big project, like a five-star hotel or a mixed-use complex, is normally about 24-30 months, says that the demand will set in towards the beginning of 2016 to meet the Expo deadline.
The critical nature of accessories
Manish Hira, the Managing Director of Hira Industries, says that HVAC accessories play a critical role in the cooling industry from reliability, energy efficiency and safety perspectives. The efficiency of cooling systems, he adds, depends on the quality of the accessories being used. Sekhani elaborates this, saying: “In addition to reliability, energy efficiency and safety, the whole lifespan of a system will depend on the accessories used. In short, these accessories can be termed as guards or catalysts that lift up the total system performance.” Explaining his view from a filter drier context, Sekhani says a faulty drier will result in damage of a compressor. “A bad-quality filter drier will result in the presence of moisture and solid contaminants in the system, which will eventually result in blocking the expansion valve, causing damage to the brazed assembly, further leading to refrigerant degradation and, ultimately, the failure of the compressor,” he says.
Accessories are equally critical from a safety standpoint. As Abin P Kurien, the Sales Manager at the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Division at Naser Al Sayer& Company (NASCO), puts it, safety valves, pressure switches and alarms are vital for achieving safety. It is for this reason, he adds, that they need to be incorporated during the HVAC installation stage of a project.
From fenders to flanges
The list of HVAC accessories is seemingly a never-ending one. The range includes rubber products (impact-protection systems, fenders), adhesive tapes, pipe supports (hangers, flanges, clamps, bolts, adjusters), fixing accessories (angles), insulation support (inserts, saddles, shields), anti-vibration products (isolators (spring-based, elastomeric), bases, mounts, pads), ducting accessories (flexible duct connectors, insulated flexible duct connectors, insulation fasteners, damper accessories), service accessories and tools and, of course, filter driers. The top-selling accessories for Hira Industries are ducting accessories, extruded and moulded rubber products, adhesive tapes and rubber insulation products. Sekhani says the list is even more exhaustive. “There are far more accessories sold in the HVAC market in the Middle East,” he says. “Big-value items include copper pipes, insulation, refrigerants, brazing alloys, coils and thermostats. The list is endless with so many manufacturers from all parts of the world.”
As in the case of HVAC equipment, manufacturers of accessories must also adhere to safety regulations, local authority approvals, ISO Quality Management Systems and UL, to name a few. Hira Industries, for instance, claims that all its manufacturing and trading divisions are ISO 9001:2008 certified by Intertek Certification Limited, United Kingdom. Most of the manufactured products, the company claims, are UL-listed and FM-approved, where applicable. ATCO ducts, which are widely distributed by Unigulf, are UL (181 Class 1, UL 181 Class O, BS 476 Part 5, 6, 7 and 20) and Greenguard Gold (UL 2818) certified. NASCO says it also follows testing and certification protocols. “We sell products that are manufactured in the European Union or in the United States, mainly,” Kurien says. Thus, most of the products would be automatically complying with the local safety regulations, industry approvals, etc.”
In order to maintain high standards, companies tend to follow strictly regimented processes. Hira Industries talks of the principle of backward integration for all the manufacturing processes within the group, to ensure minimum dependence on external vendors. This principle also ensures that internal quality control guidelines are followed at each stage of manufacturing, from raw materials to the finished product. To implement this, Hira Industries says it has obtained machineries, such as rubber compound mixing plants, extruders, continuous vulcanising ovens and slitting machines. All of Hira’s products have dedicated production lines with an emphasis on automation to minimise human error. NASCO has systems and processes identical to that of Hira. “Regular dialogues happen between us and the suppliers regarding the market demands, technological advancements, and regulations by the governmental and industrial bodies,” Kurien says. “Also, we do have factory visits to evaluate various suppliers’ supply chain management and production capabilities. These kinds of discussions and feedback help our suppliers to constantly improve their production processes; moreover we can ensure that our customers get the best-in-class products.”
With volatile oil prices and the possible associated uncertainty, there are several challenges confronting the HVAC accessories industry. “Projects are being delayed, and payments from contractors are getting in late,” Hira says. Another challenge is the inflow of cheap materials. Chablani and Sekhani are of the view that for a short time cheaper materials that do not follow any type of manufacturing standards or do not have any recognised certification have been entering the market. Furthermore, this being a price-sensitive market, the HVAC industry finds it a challenge to deliver on quality without compromising on profit margins. To counter this, Hira says, “By expanding local production facilities, supported by GCC governments (with the exemption of duties), and adhering to international manufacturing standards, we are able to offer best quality products at reasonable prices.”
Are there accessories that are exclusively sold only in the Middle East region, considering the rather unique ambient conditions of high temperatures and high humidity, not to forget sandstorms?
VikashSekhani, Director, Sales and Marketing, SAFE A&T Technology Private Limited: As far as I am aware, there are no exclusive accessories sold for the Middle East region. However, looking at the very high ambient temperature and humidity, the accessories have to be of the best quality. For example, the powder coating (paint) on our filter driers and other line products can withstand 1,000 hours of salt spray test. This is important for Middle East climatic conditions.
Abin P Kurien, Sales Manager, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Division, Naser Al Sayer& Company: Rather than specially designed accessories, we see that the normal industry practice is to use over-rated accessories or components, considering the prevailing adverse conditions. But we do sell products, especially when it comes to the controllers and electronics with larger operating range in terms of temperature, IP protection, etc.