Archive: August 23, 2023

First with cutting-edge industrial products -First Cut flies its flag at successful KITE 2023 show

Every two years, over 100 suppliers in the industrial sector gather under one roof to showcase their products, equipment and services to the local market in KwaZulu-Natal. This year’s KZN Industrial Technology Exhibition (KITE) took place from 18-20 July, where providers were exposed to the region’s largest gathering of industrial companies all seeking out their solutions. 

First Cut exhibited at KITE 2023 and was in demand as South Africa’s leading manufacturer and distributor of cutting, welding and grinding consumables, capital equipment and precision measuring tools.

Standing out from the crowd

Its position as a supplier of equipment for the metal, timber, textile, meat, DIY, paper and plastic industries gave First Cut added versatility and appeal, and it was perhaps no surprise that they were a standout supplier at the event.

“There was a queue coming into our stand,” says National Sales Director, Stuart Beck, who adds that their presence at KITE 2023 – together with their new Pinetown-based premises – has really put First Cut “back on the map” in terms of their Durban market.

“On the opening day of KITE 2023, some of the organisers wanted to meet with us, and struggled to even get to us! They said that we had the busiest stand at the show,” Beck observes.

As an unfortunate legacy of Covid, stands were smaller than in previous years, and the audience of buyers with high purchasing power were perhaps slightly more hesitant, he notes.

With that said, he was stunned and equally excited by the response First Cut received at KITE 2023, with return on investment already showing within a week of the show.   

“For example, we have already supplied several brand-new customer, which we had not met prior to the show and introduced our range to many more” he comments.

“The real work starts now though – we have a list of approximately 70 leads. The success of the show rests on how we follow up on these over the next few months. We aim to close deals and create new business from the pending enquiries we received.” 

Product performance

With the exhibition aimed at providing industrial solutions to local businesses, First Cut knew they needed to showcase their best products and equipment. In this regard, they looked to their key consumables suppliers, namely Starrett and Eclipse, while also having two Everising machines on display from their extensive capital equipment range.

What began as a display ended up as a performance, according to Beck, and it certainly drew in the crowds.

“We were cutting steel, with diameters of 150mm and 180mm, and cutting it so paper-thin that the material was bending,” said Beck. “People could not believe that a machine like that could cut steel that thin.”

“We had huge support from Starrett, who flew in one of their international trainers. We were cutting, drilling and sawing steel and drilling holes in wood…we made a huge noise, but this certainly worked to our advantage, as it attracted visitors to our stand.” 

According to Beck, most of the product enquiries came from local business owners, production managers and key decision makers from Durban and its surrounding areas. Some of the new business leads also came from other parts of the province, such as Newcastle, Richards Bay and even further afield.

“We also have two interested parties from Johannesburg, one of which I have already met with about a supply of blades and abrasives,” Beck added.

The status of industrial technology

KITE also provided opportunities for First Cut to interact with their fellow suppliers, swapping notes on key industry trends, innovations and legislative changes shaping the future of the industrial sector.

These trends include product digitalisation as industrial technology evolves.

“Industrial product innovation is of course very IT-based,” comments Beck: “For example, palettes on robots using sensors.

There were some large international companies at the exhibition, who are known for implementing open interface automation systems using PC-based control technology. It certainly is impressive how they are now integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into their product ranges,” he concludes.

Steel Magnolias: SAISC supports the empowerment of women in the steel sector

Helping women to realise their potential is central to the vision of the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC), which wants to see women participating at every level of the steel and engineering sectors.

Studies have shown that a diverse workforce and leadership fosters innovation and growth. South African universities are training record numbers of women in engineering and other technical fields. In line with this, the SAISC is stepping up, supporting women engineers and other women in the steel sector with technical training and mentorship,” explains The Institute’s CEO Amanuel Gebremeskel.

In keeping with the theme of women’s empowerment and national women’s month, the SAISC hosted a Women in Steel event in Johannesburg on the 3rd August: prominent women in the steel industry addressed delegates, sharing their insights and experience.

To further celebrate national women’s month, the SAISC spoke to several key women in the steel value chain, with the objective of sharing their hard-won wisdom with other women who are – or wish to be – ‘women in steel’.

Steel resilience

Judy Charls, Managing Director of Durban-based Future Steel, says women possess a powerful blend of resilience, determination, and adaptability, but need to believe in themselves:

“Those struggling in the steel sector – which has typically been very male-dominated – should remember that success is not gender-based but is a product of strength of character and determination,” she points out.

Charls, who spoke very inspirationally at the Women in Steel event, knows better than most the amount of grit and determination required to defy the odds and achieve success in the demanding steel industry.

She began her career in 1985 as a receptionist in a steel roll-forming company, working her way up to administrator and sales clerk. She left after 10 years to work from home as a steel agent, founding Future Steel. In 2010, Charls purchased machinery and started a manufacturing division, producing roofing accessories and natural ventilation. Today, her company is extremely successful, with a staff of 20, and clients all over KwaZulu-Natal. Furthermore, Charls has accomplished all of this, despite being in a wheelchair for a large part of her adult life.

“I have been wheelchair bound for many years but have never let that stop me! I am truly passionate about steel and maintained excellent client service and relationships working remotely from home – long before the pandemic, which made it more the norm to do so,” she observes.

Charls says that several longstanding clients have even built wheel-chair ramps in their facilities especially for her, so that she can still make site visits when she wants to see them in person.

Steel people

Linda Ness, Director of NJV Consulting Engineers and Project Managers recognises the need to recruit young women into the steel and engineering sectors – but sees it as of more pressing urgency to attract “bright, young, enthusiastic people rather – than specifically women”. Ness feels that talk of barriers to women becoming engineers or working in the steel sector misses the point, and does not do young female entrants – or the sector as a whole – any favours.

“Having said this, there is no reason why women cannot be good engineers or do well in any sector of their choosing – including steel,” says Ness. “As a woman, if you encounter a barrier, then you are looking in the wrong direction.”

She therefore counsels young women entering the steel sector to forge their own path, resolutely pushing through any challenges. And, if there is gender discrimination or no gender equality at the company they are working for, “then they are working for the wrong company,” she says.

Ness warns that in its eagerness to increase the number of women in steel and engineering sectors, the industry risks artificially “propping” women up.

“It is a fine line between supporting women engineers and women in steel, and a woman not being good enough. These sectors are not for everybody, and there will always be a dropout rate. There are lots of men who cannot make it either – and nobody is talking about or supporting them,” she says.

Engineering is a tough profession and steel is a tough sector. Either you are robust, or you are not, says Ness. She advises young women who feel daunted to find another boss.

“Go and find somebody who inspires you. However, do not come up against the barrier and think it’s a gender issue – it’s not.”

Steel skills

Nicolette Skjoldhammer, Managing Director of Betterect and Chairperson of the SAISC takes a similar line to Ness on prospects for women: the future is bright, provided they have the skills and a ‘can-do’ approach:

“There is a huge demand in every industry – locally and globally – for skilled people, regardless of gender. The world is our oyster!” she comments.

All industries are tough, Skjoldhammer points out. Her advice to young people entering their chosen field is to learn to get things done.

“Take ownership of all that is within your control, get it sorted and the job completed. If you can master this skill, you will soar to great heights. Believe it or not, this sort of follow-through and application this is sorely lacking in many industries globally.”

Skjoldhammer says she was somewhat “flung into the deep end”, and appointed Managing Director at steel fabrication, installation, and corrosion protection company Betterect, in Krugersdorp, when her father took extended leave more than 12 years ago.

She acknowledges that she is fortunate to be running a steel fabrication business now, as women still face challenges, but that “a lot of those fights have been won and now is our time to shine!”

Skjoldhammer says that the SAISC has been encouraging young women to join the steel construction sector: “Over the next few years we will introduce young women engineers to SAISC member fabricators and erectors to work on site,” she adds.

“We are also encouraging a number of experienced women to join the SAISC Board, to deepen their management experience and exposure to the industry.”

Skjoldhammer was also among the guest speakers at the recent Women in Steel event, with a rousing presentation focused on the true meaning of empowerment – including, amongst others, empowering self-talk.

Steel learning

Karabo Ntoane, in her third year of a BSc in Civil Engineering, credits a high school teacher for setting her on a steel career path.

In Grade 8, Ntoane was inspired by the teacher who piqued in her curiosity about bridges:

“Since then, I always imagined myself studying one of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. However, it was only after my first year at university that my interest in engineering solidified – as I became more aware of the role of engineers in society and in everyday life – particularly that of civil engineers,” she explains, noting her interest in the water infrastructure, structural and environmental aspects thereof.

That she was destined for a career in a male-dominated field only really hit home in third year while working on group design projects.

“At that point, it was hard to step out and be bold as a woman, and to trust that the knowledge that I have acquired over the years was just as valuable as that of my male counterparts. However, I am so glad I have done so, and know I am on the right path to a successful and rewarding career in the civil engineering sector, in which I will be working with steel as a material of construction, and seeing just how much can be accomplished using steel.

Along the way, I am so grateful for the input and wisdom of our lecturers, and I also look forward to further mentorship from experienced role players in the steel value chain,” Ntoane concludes.

DEKRA Industrial celebrates women’s contribution to health and safety in South Africa

Over the years, the image of a health and safety or SHEQ (Safety Health Environment and Quality) officer has become somewhat typecast: a middle-aged man in safety helmet and high-visibility jacket admonishing employees for breaking the rules will spring to many people’s minds.

However, according to Carina Kleinhans Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) Manager at DEKRA Industrial SA – a 98-year-old global leader in non-destructive testing (NDT) and inspection – this image is rapidly changing, as more and more women enter this vital profession, which is the cornerstone of safe and responsible operations in myriad different sectors of industry.

The feminine face of safety

“The frequently negative, punitive image and reputation of safety professionals is evolving into a more positive, caring and proactive one. Notably, this is as women bring their own special value and skills to the role,” she maintains.

Kleinhans also believes passionately that because safety is a daily, lifelong commitment, celebrating the contribution of female safety professionals – or indeed of women in any role or sector – should not be confined to just a single day and month of the year, as it is in South Africa every August.

“Furthermore, the decision to appoint women to management or leadership positions – in safety or indeed any other discipline – should never be gender-based, but rather hinge on the applicant’s attitude and ability,” she adds.

Her own career began at nursing college in 1996. Given the demanding nature of the job such as night duty, when she had children Kleinhans resigned and moved into administration – progressing steadily from typist to clerk, site agent and, personal assistant to the managing director, eventually into the Safety sector.

Making the safety leap

Kleinhans recalls feeling initially unsure when management at the time gave her the opportunity to move into the safety sector. Even though she knew little about her prospective new career, she made the leap in 2007.  In 2014 she started working first for the former Raysonics in 2014 and remaining with the company when it was acquired and became DEKRA Industrial, as a safety officer and then safety manager on sites such as Sasol Secunda, Eskom’s Kusile power station and many more.

Happily, her very genuine love of people and learning has really come to the fore in her safety career journey:

“I love people! As such, it is very important to me to know that they are healthy – and that they are safe: at work, on the road and at home, in line with DEKRA’s safety ethos. I think we are put on this planet to serve a purpose for other people. Therefore, in the field of safety, if I can get only one person to think differently and to be positive and responsible about safety, then I will have succeeded. “

Safety does have its challenges though, says Kleinhans. These include dealing with ever-evolving legislative changes, as well as the bureaucratic delays which often precede implementation thereof.

All about people

Despite these potentially frustrating aspects of the safety sector, she says that the positives are far more important and – once again, are all about people.

“If people did not participate, and buy into the importance and practice of safety, my job would not be possible. I might be the DEKRA Industrial HSE Manager, but if I do not have the buy- in of our people, and their commitment to work safely – or the support of our management, whose doors are always open – I would achieve nothing,” she points out.

A career highlight for Kleinhans so far is DEKRA Industrial’s nine NOSCAR awards – and the fact that she personally contributed to seven of those.

“We have achieved 5 700 000 million serious injury-free man hours – and counting – to date,” she says.

All about teamwork

Again, she attributes this to teamwork. “I have got an excellent relationship with all the branch managers, and all of the staff, regardless of their level or position in the company,” she adds.

Success in safety is also all about professionalism and personality, Kleinhans advises.

“Irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman, if you treat people with respect, have an open-door approach and are committed, you will do well. Respect is earned. It does not come automatically with one’s level of seniority or one’s job description.”

Kleinhans says that what motivates her to excel in her job is her concern for her colleagues’ safety and development.

However, at the heart of it all, it is her family – her husband and children – who inspire her, and motivate her at home and in the workplace, where she believes in leading by example.

“I feel the same way about my home family as I do about my work family. I almost feel like a mother to our employees, and I tell them that I will fight for them in much the same way as I will fight for my children,” she enthuses.

Feminine touch and woman power

“Sometimes – although it must be said not exclusively – women are able to create a healthier workplace when it comes to relationships and handling some issues more sensitively than their male counterparts do. Although having said this, I have also observed very empathetic handling of issues by men too,” she concedes.

When it comes to safety specifically, Kleinhans observes that companies in the safety sector are beginning to realise the important contribution women bring to this field – although she is unaware of any independent industry gender representation metrics currently.

She also believes that women themselves must play a role in speeding their progress and empowerment within the safety sector.

“I always say that women in this industry need to stand up and be willing to get their hands dirty – not expecting any special treatment – and being fully prepared to overturn gender, cultural and educational stereotypes, misconceptions and barriers,” she comments.

Many other attributes and strategies are also required to ensure that one is successful and empowered in the safety sector, according to Kleinhans:

“First of all, you need to find a mentor. You need to respect yourself, but as I observed previously, you need to remember that respect must be earned: show respect to get respect. You also need to be hungry for information because this industry changes rapidly, so you need to be a life-long learner.

Furthermore, you also need to understand how to handle conflict – without being a pushover. Manage your time and make sure that you have the proper communication skills,” she advises.

As practitioners and participants in the safety sector, women also need to ensure that they have a healthy work-life balance and keep up to date with the relevant important factors and trends. For example, focusing on mental health in the workplace, dealing with potential conflicts between safety and technology, and incorporating remote working into the safety sector.

All these factors are important but nothing more so than the fact that safety is as essential to the well-being of people and industry as breathing, and as women in safety, we are there to ensure it is as seamless and instinctive,” Kleinhans concludes.

‘Teamwork makes the dream work’: the women of B.E.D. make a valued contribution to their company and the industrial sector

“We value each person, irrespective of their gender. Having said that, and while gender diversity is always important, this Women’s month we pay tribute to all the women who contribute not only to our success, but to that of the entire industrial sector.

The women of B.E.D. are an integral part of our foundation – just like fasteners in construction – and are vitally important. Women are making great strides in driving industrial growth, and each one of us in this sector are proof of how rewarding it can be – with limitless opportunities!  As a country, we need to build on this: equipping, mentoring and developing women in traditionally male-dominated sectors,” says Bolt and Engineering’s Group Marketing Administrator, Reinette Human. 

At Bolt and Engineering Distributors Group (B.E.D.) – which has supplied the mining, agricultural, construction and engineering sectors with quality fasteners and equipment since 1983 – women have always played a pivotal role. As a people-oriented company, B.E.D. values the opportunity to celebrate women’s roles in the workplace in August. However, Human is quick to point out that the company’s appreciation for the contribution that women make to the business is ongoing throughout the year.

“There is no differentiation between our male and female team members, and most departments have equal numbers of men and women. However, I believe that the highly valued contribution which women make to the business has much to do with the high standards that they set for themselves.

We know the importance of this both internally and externally. This is a very fast-paced, tough industry and we invest a lot of care and effort on a daily basis. As such, we are all focused on what we term ‘human-to-human’ interaction, especially when we work with suppliers or customers,” she adds.

Another mantra that she believes is particularly relevant to Women’s month is ‘it takes each one of us to make a difference for all of us’: “We all understand that we need to continually do the right things, right – for ourselves and for each other – so that we can all grow and improve,” Human enthuses.

Human points out that the women at B.E.D. also exemplify and embody the Group’s dedication to innovation, safety and quality: “As a ‘human-to-human’-orientated business, we focus on what our customers need. We are always on the look-out for the latest market trends, technology and innovation. That way, we get to be part of positive change within our customers’ businesses. Whether it is equipment that needs to be adapted for a specific project, or which needs to be specially manufactured and designed, we aim to continually – and consistently – get it right,” she says.

She points out that this ethos not only applies to the workplace, but also to what is done in the greater community, with many B.E.D. women participating in social investment initiatives. For Nelson Mandela Day, one branch embarked on a Warm-up Drive and ‘gave back’ to its staff by running a soup kitchen, another had its drivers collect and distribute blankets, jerseys and pre-loved clothing that had been donated by B.E.D. employees and still another did some much-needed gardening at a nearby old age home, ending the day with a braai for residents. They also visited a children’s home with donations of toys and blankets. 

Another example of how B.E.D. has become part of a ‘diversity evolution’ in the workplace is in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a division that is staffed by a specialist all-female team. Human says that this is a rapidly growing market that is growing year-on-year, both in terms of new product introductions and the volumes sold.

This is driven by various factors locally, including proposed new legislation which is trying to streamline strategies and improve the representation of women in the sector. This is aimed at encouraging leaders to make decisions that are in the best interests of women whilst also promoting gender diversity and inclusion at all levels in the workplace.

“Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the supply of PPE that is specifically designed for women. Men and women are of course anatomically different and, because of this, different PPE is required to ensure the right level of protection is maintained.  When PPE does not fit properly, this impacts the wearer’s performance, comfort and safety. PPE that is too big can hinder the wearer’s ability to move freely. The growth in the number of women in previously male-dominated positions within industry and mining, in particular, means that these sectors are having to adapt – and B.E.D. has gone all out to be at the forefront of this trend,” she advises.   

Human believes that having a female PPE team is a “perfect fit” – as they fully understand their colleagues’ safety concerns, performance and comfort needs.  “We offer the popular sizes in D59 acid- and flame-retardant overalls specially designed and cut for women, women’s size gloves, arc safety shoes made in smaller sizes for woman – and even harnesses designed especially for women,” she comments.

B.E.D also enthusiastically upholds the belief that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, and strong relationships are actively cultivated within the company at all of its 9 nationwide branches.

“We often get complimentary reviews and feedback from customers, thanking female team members for going that extra mile or noticing efficiency and teamwork between different departments. This really shows that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’, as we all work together to build a strong, sustainable company and industry,” she concludes.

Female energy: AES celebrates gender diversity, challenging engineering sector stereotypes

During August, operations and maintenance service providers to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES) celebrates the pioneering, energetic women who are challenging stereotypes within the engineering and industrial space, says Managing Director, Chris Paterson. 

“Historically, the boiler house operations and maintenance sector has been dominated by men. There were not many women, particularly on site. However more recently, this has started to change,” he observes.

As engineering and industrial skills are in short supply, AES had developed women internally, by employing female boiler assistants and then training and promoting them into operational and maintenance positions.

AES currently has 58 women out of a total of 307 staff in their workforce, where it should be noted that the major portion of its personnel are site based in hands-on energy operations and maintenance roles.

An added bonus is that more women have embarked on technical training in recent years and AES has identified a number of very strong female candidates, he says.

Paterson says AES has always employed the best person for the job, and that all women within AES are there strictly on merit.

However, he admits that a number of challenges remain, especially when placing female employees on clients’ manufacturing sites, such as a lack of women’s changing rooms and other facilities. Where women do need to use public transport and are potentially at risk, AES provides self-defence training.

Notwithstanding the inherent challenges, Paterson and his team place much value in diversity, and AES is employing more women in line with this ethos. Paterson says he is also looking forward to seeing more female staff obtain Government Certificates of Competency (GCCs) in the mechanical, technical or electrical sectors in the near future.

Repainting the picture of women in engineering

Portia Monama joined AES in February 2021, starting as a Procurement Administrator before being promoted to her current position as Procurement Manager.

She believes that it is particularly important for women to be included in engineering:

“I think any industrial or engineering company that is excluding women is limiting itself when it comes to the amount of knowledge, experience and  talent which women can bring to any organisation. For me, it is crucial to be deliberate about gender diversity, and about developing women in these historically male-dominated spaces.” 

This will be achieved at grass roots level. “We must literally ‘repaint’ the pictures of different industries through things as small as circulating more images of women wearing their personal protective equipment on site. Once these visual representations of women in industry become more mainstream, I think it will inspire more women to enter the engineering field, challenging the stereotypical perception that this is a difficult field for women to be in.”

In terms of AES, however, Monama values the extent to which the company has supported, empowered and upskilled the women in its ranks.

“Ultimately, AES holds women to the same performance standards as men. Women are in meaningful positions doing worthwhile work, and their employment is not just about legislative compliance or  ‘box ticking’. For me, that speaks to the integrity of AES, and its understanding that as women, we want to be held to the same standards – and do not want special treatment,” she says.

Her advice to other young women wishing to follow in her footsteps is simple: “Go to school! We can only rely on talent, policies and women development initiatives to a certain extent. Get the experience. If you are going into an industry like this, don’t be scared to go into the trenches and get your hands dirty.”

Building a safe, nurturing environment

Sonika Kock joined AES in November 2013 as Regional Administrator in the Eastern Cape, a role that she says involves being everything from mother to psychologist to team player!

A career highlight was being part of AES’s ISO for 9001, 14001 and 45001 implementation and certification in 2015. “With no prior ISO exposure and experience, it was extremely challenging, but a highly rewarding process. After the certification, I was appointed the Integrated Management System (IMS) representative in the region,” she says.

Kock’s next career goal is enrolling for a NEBOSH international qualification in environmental health and safety.

Another important role for Kock is building and facilitating inter-staff relationships: “This is where my passion is – heart and soul – and we have an open-door policy where everyone feels comfortable discussing their issues and concerns. We offer a safe environment where everybody gets treated equally and with respect, understanding and support. Good employer relationships in the workplace result in satisfied employees and a positive environment increases operational efficiencies,” she maintains.

This nurturing environment is just one of the factors that makes AES an employer of choice for its employees, she adds.

“The AES way or ethos rests on three focal points: People, Plant and Performance, of which the first  is people. Everyone is given the same resources and opportunities regardless of gender and circumstances. ”

Women as role models in engineering

Caitlin La Reservee graduated  with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering in April 2020, and joined AES in November 2020 as a production technician. Two years later, she was promoted to her current role as Production Supervisor, Eastern Cape. 

She believes women have a vital and dynamic role to play in engineering: “Engineering allows one to be creative, inventive and to solve real life problems. Engineering can make a meaningful impact on the world. So, by including women in this space, it allows them to infuse the industrial space with fresh experience, ideas and perspectives.”

La Reservee also says it is important to change the way that women in the engineering and industrial sectors are perceived.   

“We must address misconceptions about what engineering actually is – and how broad the sector is. If women had a better understanding of what engineering entails – particularly from secondary school level – I think they would join the profession. We need more women as role models in engineering,” she observes.

Though offering bursaries and apprenticeships for women in engineering, La Reservee says companies like AES can help to bridge the gender gap. 

“During my time at AES, I have completed numerous short courses specifically relevant to my duties and responsibilities, equipping me to grow within my career.”

She also credits Associate Director and Eastern Cape regional manager Raymond Lund, with not only recognising her potential, but ensuring she is constantly challenged.

Her advice to those wishing to follow a similar career path is encapsulated in a quote from the character Dory from Finding Nemo: “‘Just keep swimming,’ and you will be noticed, rewarded, and come out on top!” she concludes.