That seems to be the motto of Ahmed Omer, the Managing Director/CEO of Advanced Technical Solutions, who came up with a system for cooling outdoor stadia in Qatar, which met the approval of FIFA. Here, he describes how designing and developing innovative products have become a way of life.
I am an Egyptian and was born in March 1975. I graduated from Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering in 1999 with a degree in mechanical engineering. I, then, went on to do my master’s degree in nuclear power engineering from Cairo University.
After graduation, I worked as Head of Section at a company in Egypt, called ProSurface. In 2000, I was appointed Commissioning Manager of the mega Biblioteca Alexandrina project in Alexandria. Biblioteca Alexandrina is a vast, ancient library dating back to nearly 400 BC. The Egyptian authorities had decided to restore this historical library. I was the commissioning manager for all the electro-mechanical work for the project. The designers of the project were the Snoheta/Hamza consortium, and the contractor was the French company, Balfour Beaty, in a joint venture with Arab Contractor.
I learnt a lot during the project, because it was an international effort – I came across a lot of systems, local and sophisticated, as well as innovative products. I met with a lot of equipment manufacturers. Overall, it was a very good experience for me.
During my time at university, I always ranked among the top five in the class. I used to like designs very much and was doing a lot of designs as a student. After university, I continued with my passion and designed a lot of equipment, just for the sake of coming up with designs and nothing more.
In 2003, after finishing the Biblioteca Alexandrina project, I worked as the commissioning manager for a group of projects in Cairo for some months. Then, I travelled to Qatar. I worked there in testing and commissioning of electro-mechanical works for two years – from 2005 to 2007. I did a lot of mega projects in Qatar, including Aspire Zone, a massive sports facility, a large medical city and a number of five star hotels.
NINETEEN DEGREES IN MID-PITCH
In 2007, I changed my whole business line to be an innovative solutions provider, because I swear by design, innovation and creation. At that time, I was asked by the Government of Qatar to submit a proposal to provide air conditioning for an outdoor stadium, the Al Sadd stadium. It was a competition among about 12 international consultants from the US, UK, Germany and other western nations. I submitted a proposal after spending three to four months deeply studying the aerodynamics of the stadium and how the wind would affect parts of the stadium. After that, I came up with an innovative idea of how to air condition the stadium while it is open to the sky. This was a real challenge for my design capabilities. I had executed a lot of designs before that, but this was very, very challenging – it involved problems that had never been solved before – and no one, anywhere in the world, had thought of such solutions. On top of that, it was with a very prestigious customer – the Government of Qatar.
It was a huge challenge to submit the proposals and prepare the designs in a manner for them to be successfully implemented and to achieve the desired results. I took up the challenge and, eventually, after a number of presentations to the Qatar state representatives and engineers, my proposal met with approval. Despite the stiff international competition, my proposal, at the end of the day, was the best one. I was given the contract to do the design work for the air conditioning system of Al Sadd Stadium.
I spent day and night on the assignment. I finished the design, which the Government authorities, then, tendered for construction. Owing to the sophisticated nature of the system, only three out of all the contractors that had bought the tender documents were able to submit a proposal to execute the job.
One contractor undertook the responsibility of doing the construction work, and I worked side by side with him, supervising his work. In the summer of 2009, the construction was completed. We switched on the system, and the results were extremely elating. I could scarcely believe that the system was working, and that, too, after just two years of construction. I say this, because everyone felt that such a system wouldn’t work, but after commissioning and starting the system, the results were truly astounding: the temperature at the mid-line of the field (pitch) dropped to 19ºC, even when it was very hot and humid outside.
Without air conditioning in open stadia, the Qatar Government could not have bid for the 2022 World Cup, since the tournament is always played around June, which is peak summer in the country. On top of that, according to FIFA regulations, players must play in open, not closed, stadia.
In September 2010, the Qatar authorities invited members of the FIFA inspection committee to see for themselves the infrastructure in the country as well as the technology for air conditioning the stadia. In view of the FIFA visit, the Government asked me to prepare an audio-visual presentation to demonstrate and explain the technology, which I duly did. The committee attended one football match and saw for themselves how the temperature within the whole open-air stadium was being maintained between 19ºC and 21ºC; they were impressed. The global media reported how Qatar intended to keep the stadia cool during the summer World Cup, and the news spread far and wide.
YET MORE INNOVATIONS
In the midst of these developments, I opened a company in Germany in 2007 as an innovative solutions provider. I started to develop innovative products and sell them in the market. In 2008, I launched my first product – a set of valves, called FCU-Link, for air conditioning. It was the first product of its kind to be launched worldwide; since then, thousands of pieces have been sold. People liked the product a lot, especially electro-mechanical contractors, because it saved them a lot of time and money. The product consists of a set of valves that connect the fan coil unit to the chilled water network. It comes as one complete set – factory assembled and factory pressure-tested.
With conventional valves, you have to buy 10-15 pieces from different suppliers – controls from one supplier, valves from another, flexible connections from a third and so on. You, then, start to connect the 10-15 pieces on site. Normally, in the span of a day, a set of labourers can install only 1 or 1.5 units. On the other hand, my valve comes as a single unit and can be installed by hand. As I said, it is factory assembled and factory pressure-tested and can be installed in five minutes.
After developing the FCU-Link, the company developed other products, like innovative chillers and also heat exchangers that have three working media, unlike the ones that existed in the market then, with only a primary and secondary medium. Indeed, my heat exchangers have a third medium, working in tandem with the other two. So the heat transfers from the primary medium to the secondary one and, in turn, to the tertiary medium, all in one device. This has caused a revolution, especially in outdoor cooling technologies. I filed for a patent for this product, as well. It has not yet been commercialised, because it is patent-pending.
ALWAYS A WAY TO DO IT BETTER
In 2007, at the time of forming the company, we decided on the name, Advanced Technical Solutions, because it was self-explanatory, considering that we specialised in innovative products and solutions. And from the name emerged
our slogan, “If it is not innovative, it is
I believe that for everything, no matter how simple, there is a way to do it better. That is where the scope for innovation lies.
Out of the belief emerged the company, and I have executed a number of projects as an innovative consultant. I contributed to a number of solutions by coming up with good technical proposals – among them, I also prepared an innovative proposal to solve the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The point is, I believe that the rate of innovation in information technology, programming and the pharmaceutical sector is exponentially high unlike in the mechanical sector. Being a mechanical engineer, this got me thinking: Why do we not have more innovative mechanical products like in other sectors? I have focused on the mechanical innovations so far – and air-conditioning represents a huge part of the mechanical industry.
My current focus is on commercialising innovative air conditioning products, but I also have come up with innovative designs for different sectors – for instance I have designed an innovative car and also an innovative solution for a submarine. Though I find the other sectors attractive, I do realise that there is no scope for me to compete with the giants in those sectors, hence my resolute focus on air-conditioning to establish my innovative business before turning my attention elsewhere.
CHALLENGES IN OUTDOOR AIR CONDITIONING
In most cases, when people hear about air conditioning outdoor (open) stadia, they immediately think it is a crazy idea. They also conclude that a lot of money is being wasted and that a lot of power is being consumed to cool the air. They are sure that this cannot be ‘green’ at all. But the reality is very different. Despite the hot climate in the GCC, people still play sports here. It follows that sports facilities have to be provided to those wanting to play. It has been the trend to have closed domes for people to play and train inside them or for athletes to train in cooler climes abroad.
When you compare the air conditioning in an open stadium to that inside a closed stadium or dome, you can scarcely believe that the installed capacity for an outdoor stadium is less than that for a dome. Even the power consumption and running costs of the outdoor air-conditioning I have designed are much lower. Why is that so? It is because the closed dome is a confined space, has a roof and external walls. These are exposed to the sun all year round, and this ends up making the roof and walls heat up. So you have to provide air conditioning to remove the heat gain. If not, the temperature inside the closed spaces will go up, and the atmosphere inside will be completely uncomfortable. So one has to provide air conditioning 24 hour a day, 365 days in a year whether or not there is equipment and human activity inside, else the building will get worn out.
The case is different with open stadia, where you can switch on the air conditioning half an hour before the match and turn it off after the game is completed, about three hours later. If you look at the number of games per stadium, it is not that high a figure. Given the number of matches played in each open-air stadium throughout the year, the number of ‘working hours’ (for the air-conditioning) per annum is quite low.
In a closed stadium, the system has to be kept operational all year round, day and night, just to get rid of the heat coming from the sun. In the case of the open stadium, the air-conditioning is not switched on during the winter, because it not that hot then. Even in summer, it is switched on just before the match and turned off soon afterwards. Thanks to this, the power consumption is much lower, and the utilities bill is far less than for a closed stadium. It is much better to air-condition an open stadium than to air-condition a closed stadium. And even from a psychological point of view, people prefer to exercise and play in an open space rather than in a closed one.
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE GCC MARKET
It (outdoor air conditioning) is a new trend. We have created demand. Five years ago, no one could have imagined that such a thing was possible, but now, we have concrete results – a stadium working perfectly where anyone can play at any time of year. The temperature is around 20ºC, and the relative humidity is less than 50%. It is a pleasant atmosphere to play and train in, and one doesn’t need to hold camps in Europe any longer.
So this technology will create a demand for people in the field of sports to have similar stadiums. There is a golden opportunity. To the best of knowledge, no one has managed to successfully design open, air-conditioned stadia, besides us.
CONVENTIONAL PRODUCTS HAVE NO CHANCE
In US, Europe and even the Far East, the environment for R&D is far more vibrant than in the Gulf, where it is far more challenging. People in this region have begun thinking about innovations and R&D, but the environment and the infrastructure is developing and is yet to reach the levels of other regions. But we have the capacity to work and innovate and come up with new ideas.
I have visited a few countries in the region and have found that they have a good and strong R&D department and come up with good solutions. If you don’t have good R&D and innovation, you won’t be around for too long! Nowadays, conventional products have no chance in the market. If your product is not innovative, the consumer will not buy it. It is as simple as that. This is what is happening in the IT industry; the same is the case with mobile phones. Consumers are an educated lot and keep abreast of innovations and keep an eye out for innovative products. Innovation is the new USP and the only way to sustain yourself in the market.
There have been a few people in my life who have dramatically changed my life and way of thinking and helped shape my career.
Professor Atif Khali at Cairo University gave me a lot of direction and changed my way of looking at problems. My father is a mechanical engineer, and I have learned a lot from him. He would always place me in challenging situations to test my decision-making process and ability to come up with solutions. This is how I learned and developed my problem-solving ability. It was very useful to me at that stage of my life. I also have a number of people around me – my wife, mother and friends especially – who believe in me a lot. They have given me honest and sincere advice every now and then.
WORKING IS MY HOBBY
My hobby is to work! I work not only during the day but even in the evenings when others may be relaxing. I read a lot, but only scientific books and journals relating to my field of work. You will not find any other book in my library. I got married in 2000 to Eman. I have four children – Mariam, nine; Osama, seven; Omar, five and Mohamed, four.
ONLY TIME HAS VALUE
I believe that the only thing in life that has value is time. One isn’t alive forever, and one must utilise one’s time efficiently. Time is precious and must not be wasted. One must make very good use of one’s time. Simply put, time frittered away will not come back.