It is something approaching the surreal to come across a tile and bathroom showroom in the desert. But it makes sense: Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) is rich in clay deposits suited to the production of ceramics and, in the absence of large-scale oil or gas supplies, the ceramics industry generates invaluable export revenue.

Founded in 1989 and starting production in 1991, RAK Ceramics is very much the project of Dr Khater Massad, now the right-hand man of crown prince Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi. Mr Massad was previously the geophysicist whose investigations into the geography of the United Arab Emirates helped uncover the vital deposits needed to build the industry. RAK Ceramics, of which Mr Massad is CEO, can justifiably claim to be Ras Al Khaimah’s flagship company, with a $1bn turnover, and it produces goods for markets all over the world.

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In 1991, RAK Ceramics had a capacity of 5000 square metres per day. Within four years it had added another 29,000 sq m capacity, had received international ISO 9001 accreditation and had been producing sanitary ware for two years. By 2000, the company had made its first foray overseas with a plant in Bangladesh. In 2010, the company is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of ceramic tiles and sanitary ware, with plants in six countries including Bangladesh, India, Iran and Sudan. It distributes products in more than 150 countries and is listed on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange.

Last year, RAK Ceramics’ worldwide facilities produced 115 million sq m of ceramic tiles and employed more than 15,000 people. The company’s RAK plant alone produces 250,000 sq m of tiles per day and 8500 pieces of sanitary ware, while global production exceeds 360,000 sq m of tiles daily.

Expansion plan

RAK Ceramics is looking keenly at how it can expand into markets such as Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, aided by its production facilities on both continents. The company employs ‘scouts’ to explore consumer trends across the world, while a 25-strong team of designers in RAK turns out new product ideas.

[RAK Ceramics] employs ‘scouts’ to explore consumer trends across the world, while a 25-strong team of designers in RAK turns out new product ideas

Innovation is important to the company, not just in terms of producing customer-pleasing designs and printing technologies but also in terms of researching the technical properties of tiles and ceramics.

Recent high-tech offerings include the RAK Antimicrobial tile, fired at an extremely high temperature to create a surface that inhibits the growth of microbes. It has been developed for use in hospitals, schools and kitchens

The Luminos range glows in the dark for several hours after exposure to the sun or to artificial light and has obvious appeal both for leisure venues such as restaurants and nightclubs and as a safety feature, where, for example, visibility is required following a power cut.

RAK Ceramics is always keen to find partners looking to explore new opportunities. It has, for example, recently formed a joint venture with US company Laticrete International to produce new kinds of tile adhesives, and another with German company Kludi to produce bathroom and kitchen fittings, diversifications that demonstrate the company’s outward and upward trajectory.

This article was sponsored by RAKIA. Reporting and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine