Qatari 3D Printing Startup Arsenal Aims To Inspire Other Tech and Manufacturing Companies In The Country
Qatar's construction sector is one of most vibrant and happening ones in the entire GCC. The Business Year Qatar 2016 estimates that including the US$7 billion deep-water port, and the $1 billion Doha transportation corridor, the country will witness huge investments in the sector to the tune of $200 billion. Industry insiders have pegged per capita construction investment at a whopping $1.25 million per citizen. All of this is on the back of the FIFA World Cup to be held in 2022, as well as the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), which was launched in October 2008, to leapfrog the nation to the next stage of its development.
While that certainly set the broader roadmap, using the right technology for the right purposes was and still is a challenge, in the opinion of Faisal Al- Hitmi, CEO and co-founder of Arsenal, a startup incubated at the Qatar Business Incubation Centre and dealing in 3D printing technology for a wide range of industries such as architecture, construction and real estate, engineering, education, design and consumer products. According to Al-Hitmi, at the project conception stage, if the client can see a proper 3D rendering of what the project is actually going to look like, it reduces not only the cost but also time overruns on projects, contrary to what happens in Qatar even today, where, at the time of discussion of the scope of work with a service provider, the client leaves it mostly to the service provider's imagination. His basic belief is that the goals of QNV 2030 cannot become reality without using the creativity of engineers who, by training, are creators and designers of solutions with the application of the right technology.
Speaking about how the mega construction activities in the nation inspired Al- Hitmi to set up Arsenal, he says, "Indeed, the construction boom within Qatar is the reason why we decided to focus on the AEC (Architecture Engineering Construction) industry. It was also the fact that along with the increase in activity of the construction industry, there is an increased demand for solutions that support architecture and construction processes and this is where the role of 3D printing comes in." 3D printing is of a great benefit to improve the visual communication in a project between architects, engineers, consultants, project managers and eventually the client, which is crucial if projects shall be delivered on time and within budget. The concept of Arsenal is to guide the customers from any stage of their project through to the final outcome of 3D printed physical objects, Al-Hitmi says. "This means that a client can come to us either with a final project ready for print or just an idea, which we then develop together with the client's team supported by our creative designers and engineers." Arsenal's clients come mostly from the architecture and construction industry, and this is currently the company's main focus, though they are already witnessing a great potential in the development of 3D printed fashion and product design in Qatar. Also, thanks to the incredible advantages of the diverse technologies Arsenal uses, and the companies that they are in business partnerships with, there are solutions on offer for the airline and military industries as well.
Armed with an electrical engineering degree and a master's degree in business administration, both from Qatar University, Al-Hitmi began his career at Al Jazeera as a communication engineer and traveled throughout the region setting up communication tools for program telecast. Then he moved to a 11-year stint at the Ministry of Interior in a similar role and ended up setting up the entire network for the ministry, something which was beyond his brief, says Al- Hitmi. The realization had by then dawned on Al-Hitmi that Qatar was not a manufacturing country, and that engineers there weren't doing any real engineering- they were only managing. "We are only franchisees for goods that are produced outside, and always depend on outside support for fixing any technical issue that can arise, since if we try to solve it ourselves, the system warranty is broken," says Al-Hitmi. He thus decided to "become a role model for Qataris to show people within the country and outside that we can make it happen here, and do it ourselves."
Tracing the origins of Arsenal, Al- Hitmi explains that his good friend and business partner -Zbigniew Tappert, the co-founder and general manager of the company- shared his visions for 3D printing with him, while still being employed as a project manager at the Hamad International Airport. "When the prospects for the company were clear, and our passion for this technology was strong enough, Tappert decided to quit his job and since then we've both been focusing entirely on Arsenal. An architect, a great manager with multinational experience as well as a very creative and passionate engineer, Tappert is of a great value to our customers, since each project requires an individual, customized solution," Al-Hitmi says. Together, Al-Hitmi and Tappert join their forces of creative thinking and targeted management, and bundled with it their market knowledge, Arsenal can approach its clients offering solutions that help businesses that both were involved with in their previous stints, not only in Qatar but around the globe. "Since Tappert is from Poland, we have a great network of cooperation partners in this region, which adds a great value to our business as well as our clients."
Arsenal's products, according to Al-Hitmi, always "wow the client. To see something on paper and on a computer screen, and to experience the same as a physical highly detailed 3D printed model is truly amazing. What is also worth mentioning is that many people still think it is impossible to build models due to the complexity of geometry, and we prove to them that anything is possible." Arsenal works with any and all shape or size, offering a very wide range of material choice- from extremely strong plastics through to transparent, rubber-like materials, to metals. "So yes, our models have a great value to the businesses we work with."
Al-Hitmi's company works with various software programs for its projects. Apart from the 3D modeling software such as 3D Studio Max, Revit, AutoCAD or 3D scanning software, Arsenal also applies the best solutions for managing its designers and cooperation partners. "These are offered by cloud-based solutions of Google, Microsoft Office as well as team management software such as Slack or Trello, which we love to use," Al-Hitmi says. As for challenges working in the Qatari market, Al-Hitmi draws attention to the fact that 3D printing is a fairly new technology. "Thus, its great advantages for the clients in terms of possibilities and pricing that we offer are not always immediately understood. It is a challenge to bring awareness to the market in terms of what benefits the clients can expect for their businesses."
Although Al-Hitmi is happy for the support that startups like Arsenal get from QDB, he adds: "We would welcome an increased support of the private and the government sector in terms of opportunities for entrepreneurs in the form of business agreements or sponsorship as well as backup admin and operation support." As for the way ahead, Al-Hitmi reveals that the word "Arsenal" has its origins in Arabic meaning "house of industry," and that essentially explains the roadmap for his company- he wants to expand operations by involving more designers, inviting a larger number of partners, and thus cover an even wider range of technologies and services for industries in both Qatar and the GCC.
Faisal Al Hitmi, co-founder and CEO, Arsenal
What business lessons have you learnt in your journey with Arsenal?
"One very important aspect we do know to respect is the human factor. Since all 3D solutions are customized to each of our client, we are dealing with individuals, and everybody is a human being and deserves to be treated with respect and full attention to their needs and requirements. Also, teamwork is the key. Without our great team, we wouldn't be where we are."
How big a challenge is finding finance for your investments?
"We appreciate the financing programs available in Qatar, such as QDB's Al Dhameen Program, for example. Qatari businesses can definitely benefit from it, however to be frank with you, it is again not always clear from the very beginning what are the requirements for a successful application. Lack of such information from the start could cause delays we would rather avoid."
How far are you on your way to commercialization?
"We are already there. Our business is growing with each client we receive, and recently our solutions are finding a great audience within businesses in diverse industries. It is more of a question of management processes to meet (and exceed) our clients' expectations."