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BELLELLI ENGINEERING: AN ITALIAN NEWCOMER HAS THE EXCLUSIVE LICENCE FOR THE US GIANT AIR PRODUCT'S TECHNOLOGY IN THE OIL & GAS FIELD
Bellelli Engineering (www.bellellieng.com), a small Italian company founded less than six years ago, has - despite its recent creation - become the exclusive licence holder in the world for air separation technology in the Oil & Gas industry by the US giant Air Products.
We ask Mr Antonio Monesi, president of the firm, how it was possible to reach attain such prestigious success.
There two other firms in the world that hold a licence from Air Product, but for other sectors. Atlas Copco has the rights for moisture extraction diaphragms that are used on their own compressors, and Carleton, a big US firm that is unique in the world for using nitrogen generating diaphragms for military purposes. And then there is us.
Aiming higher, Bellelli Engineering is looking to diversify within this specialised niche. What are your plans?
There is a research project ongoing, in partnership with the Engineering faculty of the University of Ferrara, to study the use of Bellelli Engineering nitrogen generators to inertialise enclosed spaces within aircrafts' tanks. Carleton does something like it, but only for military purposes. We want to apply it to the civilian sector.
Bellelli Engineering's core business, however, remains the manufacturing of plants for the oil industry. The company was started in 2001 on this basis by Tiziano Bellelli, who at the time was running an engineering firm in the mechanics sector, and Mr Monesi, who was working in a Piacenza-based firm in the Oil & Gas sector. Together with Valeria Rizzi, CEO of the company and third founding member they represent the core of the firm, which today has about 25 employees, nearly all of them engineers.
The original idea was to introduce to Italy a model that is already well established in the world, concentrating on prefabricated oil plants that could be transported in parts to oil-extracting fields and connected quickly in order to start extraction activities as soon as possible.
Essentially, you are talking about 'plug 'n play' oil plants. With the experience gained in the last few years, what is Bellelli Engineering able to offer today?
We operate in two distinct areas of the hydrocarbons sector. We produce processing plants, that separate, filter, pump and heat the liquid and gaseous substances that are extracted from the ground. With the exception of a few very specific components, we are able to offer a complete package. Further to that, we operate in the air separation business, splitting nitrogen and oxygen without the use of cryogenic equipment. In the Oil & Gas sector nitrogen is used to inertialise some plant components during maintenance operations.
Looking ahead, what are your expectations for the air separation business? Today it accounts for only 30% of your turnover, but you estimate that in the medium term its share could rise to 50%. Mr President, could you leave the Oil & Gas sector altogether in the future?
It is not a short term perspective, since the oil industry at the moment is enjoying a boom in terms of investments that has not been seen in decades. We count on having sufficiently insulated our business from cyclical upswings by the time the current boom will have run out through the development of the air separation business, which is a sector with higher profit margins compared to prefabricated oil plants and where we face no more than three or four competitors. And we have Air Product's licence, the best on the market.
The Air Product licence, undoubtedly, is one of the main selling points for Bellelli Engineering.
But it would not be enough if we did not have the flexibility - typically Italian - to adapt to our clients' needs, as opposed to our foreign competitors who are more constrained by procedures. We basically offer services, and we operate in a more or less constant pattern. We receive an order, we develop the technical projects, we select and buy component parts through a well established process among our subcontractors, which we involve right from the planning phase.
This kind of efficiency and flexibility allowed Bellelli Engineering to develop plants without any precedent. As in the case of the commission last June from Saudi Aramco, which controls almost all of the oil resources in Saudi Arabia.
It was not at all easy to win that order. To acquire a contract from a big player such as Saudi Aramco is very complicated. In the Oil & Gas industry barriers to entry are high: in order to be able to present an offer to one of the major firms you need to have been previously authorised by the firm who is placing the order. And in order to do that you need to demonstrate what you have achieved in the past and what you are able to do, not just in terms of know-how, but also guarantee certain technical specifications and a level of financial solidity. While for some the authorisation procedure may be easy, for a small player like us in was not easy. Yet thanks to the joint venture with Air Product we have been approved by British Petroleum, Saipem and Total. In the case of Saudi Aramco, we obtained the green light by submitting an painstakingly detailed technical offer.