Saudi Aramco's R&D Center Garners International Acclaim

The Research and Development Center (R&DC) is a leading research facility, but what is the proof? To reach a level of excellence that is well-defined and recognized worldwide demands precise measurement by an independent and respected international standards organization. And reaching a high level of excellence doesn't happen overnight. It's a long journey.

It's a journey overseen by Dr. Abdulrahman Vogel, R&DC's quality coordinator. Vogel, a mountaineer, compares striving for excellence to climbing Mount Everest. "You climb a difficult mountain in stages, taking time to make yourself safe and rested before continuing up the cliff." These stages are vital because testing occurs every year and it's possible that your organization could lose ground. As Vogel says, the true key to excellence is sustainability. Meeting quality milestones is valueless if you reach a high point only to slide back down the mountain.

When it came to selecting a standard to follow in the pursuit of excellence, R&DC faced several choices. In the end, the European Foundation for Quality Management, or EFQM, was selected. "EFQM is a well-respected international standard that fits well with our quality philosophy at R&DC," Vogel said. "We can progress in stages and earn points as long as we are well-focused on meeting the EFQM requirements. In fact, the highest level of EFQM, the tip of the peak, which equates to a maximum of 1,000 points, can take companies 15 years or more to reach."

Quality is just one aspect of R&DC's drive to excellence. "Excellence in everything we do," is the true objective, Vogel said. That encompasses more than doing good work.

The approach is QSE plus E. That stands for Quality, Safety, Environment plus Excellence. To measure success, ISO and OHSAS systems are applied to specific R&D relevant areas. ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization, which sets standards in several fields. OHSAS is an internationally recognized standard for occupational health and safety management.

R&DC earned ISO 17025 accreditation in 2006 and recently obtained, as a first in the Middle East, an accredited ISO 29001 certification for its core R&D activities. ISO 29001 is the latest oil and gas industries sector-specific quality management system, a result of intensive co-operation between the American Petroleum Institute (API) and ISO.

Next month, the center will be certified for its ISO 14001 environment-management systems. These are important milestones. Take, for instance, the ISO 17025 accreditation, which is for competence of testing and calibration laboratories. By earning that accreditation, R&DC's analytical data is respected around the world and even can be presented as part of legal procedures or specification product sheets for international trade. That's what a research institute requires -- respect.

OHSAS 18001 certification, in addition to corporate safety standards, is also vital, according to Vogel. This international health and safety standard was developed to:

  • Reduce risk to employees, customers and suppliers.
  • Reduce or eliminate the damage associated with accidents at work.
  • Enhance staff morale and motivation.
  • Demonstrate legal and international compliance.
  • Assure competitive advantage.
  • Build trust and confidence.
  • Achieve external recognition for safety excellence.
  • Guarantee sustainability.

R&DC's approach to excellence is leading the way not only for Saudi Aramco, but the entire Middle East. This hasn't come easily. Training staff to focus on excellence is a journey in itself, but the result is worth the effort as professionals around the world are taking notice of Saudi Aramco and its research and management capabilities.