10 things that are made in the UAE, from perfume to plane parts

Many of the best-known manufacturers trace their origins back to the 1970s and have customer bases across the GCC and beyond

From perfume to books, from baths to aluminium and everything in between – the UAE’s manufacturing output is diverse.

It is equally varied in scale, with smaller plants that cater to local demand through to vast facilities owned by world-leading companies.

Many of the best-known manufacturers trace their origins back to the 1970s and have customer bases across the GCC and beyond.

Here we look at a selection of the UAE’s most important manufacturing sectors and the firms that represent them.

1. Perfumes – Swiss Arabian

Perfumes from the region are characterised by the likes of jasmine, amber and oud.

The UAE has been a manufacturing centre for decades, and many companies make their own scents and undertake contract production.

Among the longest-established is Swiss Arabian, which was founded in 1974 and describes itself as the country’s first perfume manufacturer.

Set up by Yemeni perfumer Hussein Adam Ali and based in Sharjah, the company is named in recognition of its longstanding partnership with a Swiss company, Givaudan.

Its manufacturing operation in the UAE is on a significant scale, consisting of five facilities that together produce tens of millions of bottles of perfume annually.

The company exports to more than 80 countries. It also has a sizeable retail operation that grew to 50 UAE stores by 2004 before going on to exceed 100 outlets across the GCC.

2. Bathroom fittings – RAK Ceramics

Perhaps the best known UAE manufacturer globally is RAK Ceramics, whose name can be found in bathrooms the world over.

Founded in Ras Al Khaimah in 1989 by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, now Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, the company became one of the world’s five largest ceramics manufacturers, offering everything from modern baths and sinks to more traditional designs.

There are 10 factories in the UAE manufacturing tiles, two that produce sanitaryware, one for tableware and another that crafts taps.

RAK Ceramics also has three tiles factories in India and others in Bangladesh, China and Iran.

These together make more than 100 million square metres of tiles annually, along with millions of pieces of sanitaryware.

Employing 12,000 people around the world, RAK Ceramics reports an annual turnover of more than $1bn (Dh3.67bn) from sales in more than 150 countries.

3. Firearms - Caracal

UAE firepower by Caracal at Idex 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National 
UAE firepower by Caracal at Idex 2021 in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National 

Caracal - named after the wild cat - arrived on the scene in 2006 with headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

It created the first pistol to be designed and manufactured in the UAE.

Its range of semi-automatic weapons has been sold worldwide and is standard issue for the Armed Forces.

The company is now the biggest small arms manufacturer in the Middle East, and at the International Defence Exhibition in Abu Dhabi last month Caracal said it was planning to open plants around the world as demand for its products increases.

Caracal is one of 25 entities that make up Edge – a conglomerate formed in 2019 that specialises in developing advanced technology for weapons systems, cyber protection and electronic warfare.

4. Book printing – Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing

While bookshops in the UAE are well stocked with titles from abroad, especially the US and the UK, the country has a thriving book publishing industry of its own.

From volumes of poetry by the country’s leaders through to memoirs about the growth of the nation and fiction set in the Emirates, there is a wealth of UAE-focused titles in Arabic and English. Moreover, many of these are manufactured in the UAE.

Al Ghurair Printing and Publishing, which can trace its history back 43 years, describes itself as the largest book producer in the UAE.

With headquarters in Dubai and with a branch office in Abu Dhabi, the company does not only print books for the UAE audience. It has offices in Kenya and Afghanistan, and representatives in several African countries, to help with export markets, which include the GCC, Asia and Africa.

The company also produces, among other things, diaries, business cards and brochures.

5. Plane parts - Strata

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Dubai airport in 2011. Parts for the jet are made in Al Ain. Jeff Topping / The National
The Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Dubai airport in 2011. Parts for the jet are made in Al Ain. Jeff Topping / The National

If you have flown on an Airbus A380 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner, there is a good chance some of the parts were made here in the UAE.

The 31,000 square-metre Strata Manufacturing plant can be found amid rolling sand dunes Al Ain.

From one production line in 2010 there are now 11, with hundreds of workers delivering parts for the world’s most advanced passenger jets.

Flap track fairings for the Airbus A380, vertical tail fins for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and flaps for the Airbus A350 are some of the parts made here.

Strata has been successful in encouraging more into the aerospace field. Emiratis make up 51 per cent of the 700 workforce, and of those, 86 per cent are female.

6. Pharmaceuticals – Julphar

Founded in Ras Al Khaimah in 1980, Julphar, or Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries, has become a major supplier with $400m (Dh1.47bn) in annual sales and customers in dozens of countries.

Said to be the UAE’s largest pharmaceutical producer, the company has 13 facilities in the UAE and more than 90 per cent of their output – which includes three billion tablets a year – is exported. There are several plants outside the Emirates.

In 2012, the company became the first in the Middle East to make the raw ingredients for insulin when a $136m (Dh499.52m) facility opened in RAK.

Described as one of the largest plants of its kind in the world, the centre has an annual output of 1,500kg of raw material, enough for tens of millions of vials and insulin pens.

7. Tissues – Crown Paper Mill

The UAE has a number of paper mills producing paper, tissues, cardboard and other products from virgin pulp and from recycled material.

Among the largest manufacturers is Crown Paper Mill, which is based in Industrial City on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. It also has a facility in Ajman Free Zone.

Founded a quarter of a century ago, the company uses virgin pulp from across the world to produce many types of tissue.

Output ranges from 13.5 grams per square metre (GSM) facial tissues to 45GSM hand towels that come in colours including blue, peach, yellow and red. Napkins, nappies and toilet paper are also produced.

Along with two other major Abu Dhabi paper mills, Abu Dhabi National Paper Mill and Queenex Hygiene Paper Manufacturing, the company allows the country – where annual per person tissue use is about 12kg – to be self-sufficient in tissues, although some production is exported.

8. Glass – Future Architectural Glass

Ras Al Khaimah-based Future Architectural Glass counts Dubai's opera house among its projects. Courtesy Alamy
Ras Al Khaimah-based Future Architectural Glass counts Dubai's opera house among its projects. Courtesy Alamy

With a construction industry that has barely paused for breath in decades, the UAE unsurprisingly has many companies that produce glass for buildings.

Among them is Ras Al Khaimah-based Future Architectural Glass, which was set up by Singaporean and Indian interests in 1976. The company has several production plants in the UAE and India.

As well as producing external glass, the company supplies internal glazing and, in keeping with the times, has diversified into green products.

Its project list includes high-profile developments in the UAE such as the Dubai Opera house and CityWalk Dubai, which was opened in 2013 and contains a mix of retail and entertainment.

The company, which is located in the RAK’s Al Ghail industrial area, also worked on the Etihad Museum in Dubai and the $1.2bn (Dh4.41bn) Al Ain Hospital.

Future Architectural Glass has also been involved in developments across the Gulf, including a dialysis centre in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz University.

9. Aluminium – Emirates Global Aluminium

The UAE has become a major exporter of aluminium thanks to Emirates Global Aluminium, which, in keeping with its name, is described as one of the world’s top five producers.

Founded in 1975, the company supplies aluminium used in everything from window frames to electric cars.

Although it accounts for what the company describes as “almost all the UAE’s primary aluminium needs”, its exports are on such a scale that only about 10 per cent of production is used within the UAE.

The company’s first smelter, at Jebel Ali, began operations in 1979 and its total output has exceeded 20 million tonnes. The site, which has its own desalination plant, is now more than five square kilometres and has storage facilities for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of materials.

The company’s other major UAE smelters are at Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, where operations began in 2009. This facility, which has a dedicated power plant, includes a casthouse, where liquid aluminium is transformed into products for customers.

10. Camel milk - Camelicous

Bedouin families have long known the nutritious properties of camel milk. But it took churning it into ice cream and coating it in chocolate to sell it to the rest of the world.

Camelicous started as research laboratory in Dubai but now exports camel milk products to dozens of countries. It is made by the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk and Products company. Researchers have also studied how camel milk could help in fighting bacteria, tumours and diabetes.

Updated: April 2, 2021 11:46 PM

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