Local produce: Autograde discusses UAE assembly
PMV pays a visit to Autograde Industries to find out how the company is continuing to benefit from its UAE-based production strategy
If there’s one thing that UAE residents love, it’s their cars. As the country’s economic recovery gathers pace, and its population continues to expand, it doesn’t take an eagle-eyed individual to notice that traffic volumes in the Emirates are on the rise. Whilst nobody enjoys congestion, busy roads represent a positive indicator for growth.
Encouragingly, this growth is not limited to privately-owned vehicles. The commercial sector is undergoing similar levels of expansion. Whether you’re talking about haulage, corporate transport, or general passenger vehicle fleets, the automotive sector represents big business in the UAE.
Despite the positive ramifications of this trend, the knock-on effects are not universally beneficial. Aside from the obvious frustration associated with twice-daily traffic jams, road safety represents a very real concern for UAE authorities and campaign groups alike.
According to statistics released by the Ministry of Interior (MoI), there were 3,170 accidents on the UAE’s roads during the first half of 2014. Sudden lane changes were found to be the main cause of collisions, followed by driver misjudgments, tailgating, lack of attention, and excessive speed.
Autograde Industries is a company that has built its business around the improvement of road safety. In conjunction with its affiliate company, HKA, the Dubai-headquartered automotive specialist supplies a diverse range of products across the Middle East and Africa region, many of which are designed to reduce the risk of traffic accidents occurring.
What makes the company somewhat of a rarity is the fact that its production facilities are based right here in the UAE. Following the success of its factory in Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ), which began operations four years ago, Autograde has taken the decision to transfer production activities to a new facility in Dubai Industrial City (DIC).
“When we opened our first factory, operations were extremely simple,” explained Nabil Al Yafie, Autograde’s chief operating officer.
“Of course, as our technological capabilities have developed and market demand has evolved, the complexity of our production activities has advanced,” he added.
Taken apart from HKA, the primary focus of Autograde is the production of speed-control systems, or ‘limiters’. Essentially, these devices accurately govern a vehicle’s maximum speed according to predetermined parameters.
“Four years ago, we were producing two types of speed limiter,” Al Yafie told PMV.
“Today, I am proud to say that we have four varieties. We have moved beyond mechanical devices; we now have the ability to work with vehicles’ computer systems, which as you know, are becoming increasingly common.
“We also have a speed limiter that operates according to the surface over which a vehicle is travelling. This device is tailored to fleet owners operating across sectors such as construction, petroleum, and telecoms, where drivers have to travel off road.
“Essentially, the product scans for vibrations, and when they reach a certain level, it limits the vehicle’s speed,” he explained.
Autograde invited PMV along to its DIC facility to witness first-hand how its products are assembled. Despite there being only 11 technicians working on the assembly line, the factory’s maximum output is an impressive 220 units per day – and this is inclusive of rigorous quality-control procedures.
“Eight of our technicians work on assembly,” explained service engineer, Rejin Ravi.
“Four are dedicated to mechanical assembly and four to electrical applications. The other three technicians are responsible for conducting quality-control checks on every unit that we produce,” he said.
At a basic level, Autograde’s speed limiters are fairly straightforward. They comprise three primary components: an electronic control unit (ECU), a fuel-control unit (FCU), and a speed sensor.
The speed sensor is connected to the gearbox of vehicle. It rotates and transmits a pulse to the ECU, which in turn, determines the speed at which a vehicle is travelling. This information is then delivered to the FCU, which limits the vehicle’s power accordingly.
Of course, the efficacy of a product like this is largely dependent on its reliability. As such, Autograde has implemented a four-stage quality-control process to ensure that each and every device that leaves its DIC production facility is fit for purpose.
“First of all, our quality-assurance team tests each of the primary components,” explained Ravi.
“These are then sent across to their colleagues working on production. Once a device has been assembled, it is tested again to ensure that everything has been connected correctly. This is the fourth and final stage,” he said.
The fact that Autograde opts to produce its speed limiters locally is somewhat of a rarity in the Middle East, a region that is not yet renowned for manufacturing. However, Al Yafie contends that this decision has been – and will continue to be – commercially beneficial for the company.
“The advantage of situating your production activities in the UAE is that it allows you to cater to a much broader territory,” he explained.
“From here, we can meet demand across the whole of the Middle East, and even in parts of Africa. Because of this, we are now developing products for markets beyond the Emirates,” Al Yafie revealed.
Speed limiters might represent the cornerstone of Autograde’s business, but thanks to the rapid growth of HKA, these devices are no longer its sole endeavour.
“Vehicle safety remains our major focus, and not just in terms of the Autograde-branded speed-control units,” Al Yafie told PMV.
“Under the HKA brand, for example, we now supply parking sensors, cameras, devices that compensate for blind spots, and other safety-related products.
“In addition, we have started to provide tools that enable commercial operators to save time and money.
“We have launched HKA systems for the rapid replacement of coolant, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid. The traditional methods for performing these tasks are much more time consuming,” he explained.
Indeed, HKA represents an exciting new chapter in the Autograde story. The affiliate company, which actually boasts roots stretching back to 1924, was reimagined by Al Yafie and his team just seven months ago. Since then, a range of auto accessories and servicing tools have been launched under the brand’s moniker.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in this short amount of time; thank goodness we are based in the UAE” commented the Autograde COO.
“It has made it very easy for us to grow. This is a healthy environment in which to launch brands and products,” he added.
HKA’s fluid-changing units are certainly amongst the most intriguing products to have reached the market so far. As Al Yafie explained, he and his colleagues are already involved in talks – and trials – with some of the region’s largest fleet operators.
“I don’t want to name names at this stage, but several governmental departments have shown interest in these products,” he revealed.
“At present, they are still in the process of trialling our systems. Of course, the final decision will be in accordance with their engineers’ discretion. Even so, the feedback we have received to date has been very positive.
“I am hopeful that we will have order confirmations in the not-too-distant future,” he said.
Despite the prospects that lie on the horizon for HKA, Al Yafie was adamant that he and his team would not lose focus on their core competencies. Speed limiters still have an important role to play in Autograde’s business, and the company is continuing to innovate within this field.
“Today, the demand for conventional speed limiters is very healthy, but this will not be the case forever,” said Al Yafie.
“With this in mind, we have a product in development that we call V2X Junior. Our R&D department has been working closely with vehicle manufacturers. The technology is approximately 70% complete.
“Essentially, the V2X Junior device alters its limits depending on the driving context. For example, if we were driving in a 100km/h zone and passed into an 80km/h zone, the maximum speed of our V2X-equipped vehicle would reduce from 99km/h to 79km/h.
“It’s a context-sensitive speed limiter; a completely new concept for the Middle East,” he explained.
Although Al Yafie is not in a position to provide a definitive launch timeframe for the V2X Junior, he is confident that the product will appeal to the region’s fleet operators.
For now, he and his colleagues are in talks with prospective partners to facilitate the final stages of development and the subsequent route to market.
“Once we decide upon the right partner, we will be able to push on towards completion,” he told PMV.
In the meantime, it appears that Autograde Industries has plenty of projects to keep the wheels of business well oiled. Taken in combination, its technologically advanced product portfolio and local production capabilities mean that the outfit is well placed to take advantage of the region’s passion for automobiles.