Archive: September 18, 2023

Game of Steel: Steel Awards 2023 to celebrate the power of steel past, present and future

Nominations for this year’s Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) Awards have featured in everything from local community newspapers to the Guinness Book of Records and have taken shape everywhere from Cape Town to West Africa.

The judging of almost 40 diverse nominated projects showcasing pioneering innovation and courageous design is complete, and planning for this year’s flagship event in Johannesburg on 19th October is rapidly gathering momentum. 

“This iconic annual steel industry event, which enables the Institute to promote the capabilities of steel – an infinitely diverse, resilient material of construction – provides an important platform for honouring the hard work of individuals and companies across the entire value chain,” says SAISC CEO Amanuel Gebremeskel.

Glamour and fun meet technology

Denise Sherman, SAISC Marketing and Management Consultant, says that although the red carpet event – commonly referred to as the ‘Oscars of the steel industry’ – will add some glamour, it is the ongoing hard work and innovation invested in the nominated and award-winning projects which will be the real drawcard.

Sherman says that the SAISC is expecting to host more than 750 industry attendees, at what promises to be a very colourful ‘dress up’ event, with its mediaeval Game of Thrones theme.

She hints that many popular aspects of former events have been retained – such as plenty of time for networking in the evening’s programme – however a few changes can be expected. These include fun elements such as prizes for the 3 best-dressed individuals; and one for the best-dressed table. 

This year’s Game of Thrones theme will not only add a fun element, taken as it is from the hit HBO series – but also highlights the importance of steel throughout the ages.

“Over thousands of years, few things had had as significant an impact on the development of the world as steel, which has effectively defined the way that people built structures, cultivated food, fought wars and travelled – to name but a few socio-political elements of life through the ages hallmarked by steel,” Sherman observes.

She adds that the entire process of nomination and presentation of projects has also been completely digitised this year, featuring an online template provided to assist with submissions to the SAISC’s recently revamped website. This has significantly improved the quality of entries this year.

“Both the nominators and project teams have embraced technology to showcase their projects. The quality of the project entry information is what makes the Steel Awards work so well, and is integral to their success,” she says.

Pan-African punch

“On a more serious note, the Game of Thrones portrays turbulent geo-politics and intense competition – very similar to what the world is experiencing currently, and which is impacting the steel industry not only internationally, but also across the African continent,” Gebremeskel comments.

This year, he notes, the Steel Awards have a distinctly Pan-African flavour, with the addition of a new Pan-Africa Trailblazer category: “We have a number of entries from all over the African continent. This year, the Awards demonstrate very tangibly how South Africa’s products are being used all over the continent, and feature projects which range from mining to the construction of a church,” he says.

The Pan-African nature of the entries also reflects Gebremeskel’s call for more regional representation in entries in his keynote address at Steel Awards 2022.

“The quality of the projects featured through these awards is particularly important. We are highlighting that the South African steel construction sector can successfully execute quality, world-class projects throughout Africa,” he adds. Furthermore, as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement gains momentum and supply chains across Africa combine to drive growth, enabling companies to supply, process, fabricate and construct steel structures in many industries, Gebremeskel advises that is important that an event such as the Steel Awards has evolved into a truly continental one.

A celebration of diverse collaboration 

He also says that the number of nominations has increased this year, as have the number of entries from outside South Africa – as well as the number of projects featuring project interviews with steel supply chain professionals, such as engineers and architects.

“We always want to hear from the people who are engaging with our industry, for example specifying and designing in steel. This year, a number of architects, engineers, contractors and even project owners have participated in project interviews and entries. This also signifies the importance they ascribe to the Steel Awards, investing their time and efforts to ensure high standard entries,” he enthuses. 

Further to this, more women in the steel supply chain have also submitted projects, as have more small companies and emerging steel entrepreneurs. “Overall, the diversity of participants and projects has increased – which bodes well for overall transformation within the steel sector,” Gebremeskel notes.

“There is significantly more collaboration. Previously, the designer presented the fabricator with drawings, and they had to figure out how to put it together. Now, both engineers and contractors are involved right from the get-go. The sequence of the work has essentially changed. This is a major leap forward in an industry such as ours,” he remarks. 

According to Gebremeskel, architectural, institutional and educational applications are notable in this year’s Steel Awards entries – including two projects executed for well-known South African universities.

“I believe that in both cases, the universities and project designers wanted these buildings to showcase that they were world-class. Steel is therefore the physical manifestation of this status, and was used symbolically.

We are therefore very much looking forward to seeing projects such as these and many others celebrated at a vibrant, memorable Steel Awards 2023! One which is an effective showcase of the steel industry’s exciting people, history, culture, diversity, capabilities, innovation and Pan-African trajectory,” Gebremeskel concludes.

AES ensures that dairy energy mix and products are the cream of the crop

As energy plays a large and very critical role in dairy processing, this sector places a significant emphasis on energy efficiency and cost management, to ensure that essential dairy goods are delivered to consumers as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

Leading South African operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES), has a critical role to play in supporting and assisting the dairy industry to be as efficient and sustainable as possible, says AES Commercial Director, Dennis Williams.

Williams points out that service level agreements (SLAs) between major dairy producers and AES clearly stipulate key deliverables which are central to enabling this vital industry to fully realise the high expectations which it places on processing equipment and facilities – regarding throughput, efficiencies and effectiveness.

Steam support for seasonality

As part of its dedication to closely partnering with a wide portfolio of key vertical industries, AES has a keen understanding of the many challenges faced by dairy manufacturers. One such challenge – which has to be consistently and closely monitored – is seasonality.

“AES’s role is to ensure that there is no failure in the steam supply during peak periods when the energy plant is running at maximum capacity. As suppliers of steam, we need to ensure that plant is well maintained and that any standby plant is ready to continue the steam supply at a moment’s notice, as the manufacturer cannot afford to be unable to process peak seasonal milk flows which it receives daily,” Williams says.

Seasonality also impacts on planned maintenance. Milk has a very short shelf life, and wastage of milk which has already been purchased from farmers – and cannot be processed – increases

production costs. 

Safe, clean steam

A third challenge which AES faces on behalf of dairy producers is the need for quality steam that is safe and hygienic.

“This requires carefully considered water treatment that relies on the use of food grade chemicals. Temperature too is critical, especially when it comes to pasteurisation. Dairy processing requires constant steam pressure, to ensure that equipment such as spray driers can operate efficiently on an ongoing basis,” Williams advises.

In addition to meeting stringent specifications set out in each service level agreement (SLA), AES also provides its Remote Monitoring System (RMS) which enables dairy clients to monitor temperatures and pressure flows.

Steam updates via RMS

“In this way, clients can see what is happening on our side of the fence with regards to the steam control parameters,” he notes.

“Our SLA specifically addresses steam pressure requirements, as this is a good indication in terms of the dryness fraction – and, specifically, the temperature of the steam. This then becomes the main control input into the clients’ process. Furthermore, if clients are getting the right control inputs, they will potentially put components such as pressure-reducing stations in place. This ensures that steam pressure is in the control range of the pasteurisers and the other equipment they are using,” he explains.

Williams furthermore notes that the client’s steam requirements and tolerances do depend on the sophistication of the energy plant in use, and also on the specific products being manufactured at different dairies.

While some larger operations are state-of-the-art and have many product lines, there are also some dairies which are just focused on keeping less sophisticated equipment operational – with a smaller product range – in the hope of an economic upturn.

Diverse dairies

“A dairy that is only producing milk will have different requirements to a facility that is producing cheeses and yoghurts. In addition, the state of technology and continuous improvement practices will depend on the plant itself. One may find a traditional dairy using very basic technology in contrast to a dairy that is on the cutting edge in terms of their processes and energy operations. So, when one considers integrating energy streams across this broad spectrum, there are a number of different requirements which makes this process really interesting,” he observes.

Closely aligned with this is sustainability. Williams says some top dairies are taking this extremely seriously, in response to pressure from high-profile retail clients such as Woolworths and Spar.

Sustainable, ‘greener’ dairies

“Up until fairly recently, most have operated coal boilers or relied on less environmentally-friendly fuels such as heavy furnace oil, which has a high sulphur content. AES constantly monitors technology trends, together with the quality and availability of alternative fuel sources – such as biomass and biogas – in order to support dairy clients which are looking to use different fuels to minimise their carbon footprints.”

To this end, a major dairy in the Eastern Cape recently installed a second boiler fuelled by biomass. AES has assisted operationally to identify areas which may require adjustment to ensure efficiency and reliability. AES operates the steam plant at this dairy including a boiler that uses biogas harvested from its wastewater.

AES has also provided site based expertise, employing an additional millwright to facilitate the generation of ultra-clean steam needed in some of this dairy’s highly specialised production processes.

Asset care – and communications

Whether working on specific projects or operating on site 24/7, Williams says it is extremely important for AES to forge strong relationships with its dairy clients through good communication in order to mitigate daily or weekly problems or even assist with any product trials.

Also central to this relationship is taking care of a client’s plant and equipment. 

“We need to make sure that our clients’ assets are well maintained, because they are expensive and also mission-critical. Further to this – and very importantly – pressure vessels are potentially very dangerous, so we need to make sure that we operate them according to the most stringent safety regulations at all times.

Skilled asset management is definitely an important part of what we do, so that when it is peak season for our dairy clients, their energy plants and processing lines are in optimal condition – with minimal likelihood of an outage or downtime. We also need to operate efficiently so that we are not impacting negatively on the carbon footprint of the site or even using excessive amounts of fuel.

Reliable, cost-effective energy optimisation and asset management are just some of the ways in which we ensure that our dairy clients can consistently – and sustainably – produce products which are the ‘cream of the crop’,” Williams concludes.

Bolt and Engineering MD says innovation, reinvention and diversification ensures success even in tough times

As the Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group commemorates its 40th year of trading in November 2023, Managing Director Jan Viljoen continues making his mark within this highly respected business. Since joining the company in 1988, Viljoen has played an integral part in the company’s history to date, leveraging his vast industry experience, versatility and commitment to B.E.D.’s ethos of ‘It’s our business to know your business’ and ‘the perfect fit fast’.

The B.E.D. Group supplies a comprehensive range of locally produced and imported fasteners, as well as quality tools, welding and cutting equipment and consumables, bearings, personal and protective equipment (PPE), industrial paints and thinners, oils and lubricants, and lifting products to South African industry and across southern and central Africa.

Innovation, reinvention and diversification

“I learnt early on in my career never to rely on only one key customer or indeed market segment – so we have diversified, expanding our offering over the past 40 years from mining into the agricultural sector (and many others) to ensure that we are able to cater to more than one core industry in the region’s wider economy.”

Viljoen says that in line with this, B.E.D. has introduced several innovations to service the broader mining industry and related industries, of which they are very proud, as service has always been a key driver of their success.

In addition, working closely with co-founder and B.E.D. Group CEO Mike Giltrow, Viljoen has also helped to drive innovation regarding product offerings too – such as bearings, personal protective equipment (PPE), paints and thinners, with an unwavering dedication to service as a key differentiator from competitors, with great success.

Today, the company has grown into a network that includes nine branches countrywide, as well as an Exports Division and two cutting and welding centres in Gauteng and the  Western Cape.

Four decades with B.E.D.

Viljoen explains: “After concluding successful negotiations, my family business was acquired by B.E.D. – becoming the company’s first acquisition in 1988, and later renamed as the Klerksdorp branch of Bolt and Engineering Distributors.

Group Co-Founder and CEO Mike Giltrow comments: “This milestone 1988 acquisition fortunately allowed us to retain Jan’s services as the Operations Manager, and he brought with him a wealth of acquired knowledge of the region and its potential opportunities. Thanks to his contacts and experience, the Group was able to establish operations and a solid footprint in this key mining region.

Having our new branch headed up by the right person, who understood the culture of the area and its industries, was an important part of our business strategy, allowing the B.E.D. Group to provide bespoke solutions – a strategy which we successfully duplicated in other branches countrywide thereafter. In Jan, we fortuitously acquired both an excellent operations manager for the Klerksdorp branch, and the future MD of the entire company.”

A well-deserved promotion: leading from the top

With his wealth of mining experience assisting in the growing success of the Klerksdorp branch, Viljoen was a natural choice when the company’s founders then turned their attention in Rustenburg, in the so-called ‘Platinum Province’.

In time, and having been instrumental in the launch and success of two key B.E.D. branches – Viljoen then became Managing Director of the entire company in 2012, cementing an even closer relationship with CEO Mike Giltrow. They work together very well and, notes Viljoen, complement each other in their managerial and operational styles.

He adds that twice a year, he and Giltrow undertake a road show to visit all 9 branches,  meeting managers and employees and discussing how the branches are doing and where they can assist.

“I am a strong believer that if you look after your employees’ welfare, as well as their further career growth and development, then they will look after the business. Motivation and training is something I am passionate about.”

Viljoen has twice been honoured by the Chamber of Commerce for the Klerksdorp region with the Businessman of the Year Award: firstly in 2001, and again in 2011. With regards to lessons learned along the way, he clarifies: “I have realised that no one is truly indispensable, and that a solid business is usually able to go on, even in the absence of a key person. I also subscribe to the mantra that ‘the customer is king!’

On a personal note he adds: “Any discussion about my career would be incomplete without a mention of my wife, Sandra. Having been with me on this journey from the very beginning, when we worked together in the family business and then at B.E.D. Klerksdorp, she has given me unfailing support!”.

Adapting, assisting and innovating

In conclusion, Viljoen notes that in order to remain viable and successful in business, the secret is to be adept at adapting and even reinventing as required to assist one’s customers,  to ensure their businesses remain sustainable.

“To this point – and even as the country’s economy and infrastructure continues to face challenges – B.E.D. will continue to make a positive difference to our customers and to industry as a whole, in whichever way we can. Above all else, we are focused on customer service, innovation and solutions,” he concludes.