Archive: February 28, 2024

The steely power of standards: interpreted and supported by the HDGASA

Standards relate the technology being applied and present an entire operational framework against which it is delivered and evaluated, according to Robin Clarke, Executive Director of the Hot Dip Galvanizers Association of South Africa (HDGASA).

“A common misconception is that standards allow people to operate in accordance with the lowest common denominator. This is not the case. They are written to reflect the outcomes of the technology – in the case of the galvanizing sector, the best-practice outcomes of galvanizing and hot dip galvanizing technology. The HDGASA believes that any engagements between galvanizers and their clients should always include a clear understanding of expectations and deliverables. The only way to do this is through very clear national standards,” he explains. 

He concedes that many in the industry do not fully understand the role played by hot dip galvanizing in corrosion control: “They look at hot dip galvanizing like paint, which is often considered a predominantly aesthetic finish. In galvanizing, this is secondary. The primary consideration is the ability of the metallurgy to cause a reaction – forming a barrier as well as sacrificial coating. These provide corrosion control – this needs to be fully understood and appreciated, to accurately specify the standard required and  to correctly evaluate it.”

Clients also need to understand that their initial material selection and design choices are a strong determinant of the eventual outcome. This includes the metallurgy, the cross-sectional thickness and the surface condition of the fabricated article . Galvanizing cannot transform a poor original product into a good one.

Origin of standards

Clarke notes that hot dip galvanizing includes both process dipping and continuous galvanizing. Locally, the SANS 121 standards – which are closely aligned with those set by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) reflect the outcome of a known process.

The HDGASA and the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) work closely together. Many years ago, HDGASA pioneered a system with the SABS for galvanizers to use clear identifying paint marks. This facilitates a traceability so that end-users can identify the galvanizer – and hold them accountable against the SANS 121 standard for any non-conformances or shortcomings. 

“Even today, the SABS mark has retained its Pan-African credibility, allowing local companies to confidently export throughout sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, the plethora of standards related to different types of hot dip galvanizing are written by experts on international technical committees. The ISO periodically reviews and adjusts these,” Clarke advises.

As part of the SABS technical committee, the HDGASA has observer status with the ISO technical committees: “We are allowed to comment on proposed changes to standards. Our opinions have weight in ISO deliberations. Once a new ISO standard becomes current in Europe, we meet under the auspices of the SABS technical committee TC107 to review the international standard and advise if it applies in South African conditions. As we speak, changes made to ISO 1461 in August 2022 are being applied to SANS 121. Therefore, South African standards are a ratified version of the ISO standards,” he explains.

This close alignment also empowers local manufacturers to export across Africa and globally. Furthermore, as other countries also translate ISO specifications into their own variations, the HDGASA guides members who are asked to meet those particular standards when exporting.

Science of galvanizing standards

Clarke is confident that local companies meet the same standards as their global counterparts, as technology applied to standard delivers a fixed outcome and produces a product with a clearly defined life expectancy. For example, because zinc is consumed differently in variable environmental conditions, standards such as ISO 9223 provide the empirical data needed to predict the rate of consumption (rusting) within specific conditions.

The minimum thickness of a hot dip galvanized item that complies with SANS 121 is known for each class of steel – and we can predict the service life and longevity of the coating. This enables life-cycle costing. The standards therefore enable the extrapolation of scientific data, providing an understanding of what one is buying and its durability. In this way, consistency is achieved and informed investment decisions can be made.”

Clarke acknowledges that the failure to correctly specify galvanizing standards is an ongoing challenge: “The HDGASA is working hard to stop the wilful supply of inferior quality materials, and to educate those who do not know the difference – or do not recognise the need to clearly specify that materials are treated to a certain standard,” he emphasises.

Clarke explains that imported product comes in at volume – some meets the standard and some is deliberately imported to service customers who are poorly educated in terms of the technology and requisite standards, or are cutting costs. Although not exclusively, this includes those in the informal sector as – without clear specifications from architects or engineers – the door is open for merchants, fabricators and construction companies to buy and sell cheaper materials.

Standards training

“The example of metallic roofs comes to mind: if an architect or engineer does not appreciate the importance of specifying above a certain grade – in this case never below Z275 – the end-user gets an unworkably thin material. This  illustrates the critical role played by the HDGASA in education and monitoring – of adherence and accountability – when it comes to standards. We collaborate with other industry bodies working with the SABS on steel standards.

The HDGASA also invests a significant amount of time and effort into training – through its level 2 inspectors training course – to ensure that evaluation remains paramount and is in strict accordance with the standards prescriptions for test methods and specifications.

“Everything we do is aimed at educating the entire steel value chain about the importance of galvanizing standards as objective and tangible assessment criteria. Ultimately, all parties need to take accountability, working together to ensure the retention of faith in galvanizing,” Clarke concludes.

AES: branching out with energy plant and biomass optimisation in the timber sector

Large timber and paper companies have led the way when it comes to generating their own power using steam turbines. Today, the timber sector can not only generate its own power using internally-generated by-products – but can also create a whole new income stream from  this biomass. This is according to Dennis Williams, Commercial Director at leading operations and maintenance (O & M) service provider to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES).

The right roots 

The timber industry contributes up to 5 percent of national gross domestic product (GDP), and has an extremely complex value chain. AES has worked closely with sawmills and  related downstream businesses for many years. 

“One can rest assured that somewhere in the value chain, thermal energy is required to condition or soften wood chips – or even dry them,” Williams points out. Therefore, the timber sector needs to ensure that its energy plant is efficient, reliable and resilient in the face of growing input costs and broader economic pressures.

While working alongside a number of tissue manufacturers, a kraft paper producer and a large board manufacturer, AES has helped improve boiler efficiency, steam quality and boiler reliability; and by cleaning up and reducing emissions through its operations and maintenance service implementation, including energy plant upgrades and project management.

Throughout all, safety and asset care are priorities. As many plants within the timber sector are old, Williams emphasises that pressure vessel (boiler) safety is crucial. AES’s ISO 45001 certification – including the management and legal compliance of boilers  – is therefore particularly important. Similarly, the company’s ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 certifications in energy plant operations and maintenance set AES apart from competitors, who either have no ISO or only manufacturing compliance. This is very key within the timber sector, as AES is often responsible for the operation and maintenance of clients’ energy plants on sites in remote locations. 

A large part of AES’s competency and value offering to its clients also lies in on-site boiler and energy plant staff training and management, made all the more challenging by low literacy levels on some sites. 

“We have been privileged to really make a difference by facilitating literacy training where required, thereby unlocking further career path growth – and quality of life – for those participating,” Williams enthuses. 

Branching out

Over the past decade, Williams reports that AES has witnessed much realignment within the timber value chain: “We are now engaging with companies  looking to invest in new plant and equipment, providing them with more efficient energy and water utilisation throughputs and economies of scale – currently key operational and economic considerations.” 

He also points out that AES considers what clients plan to do with the biomass generated – and how to manage the quantities thereof. “We try to find a solution using as little of this vital resource as possible, enabling our client to on-sell the rest. Getting the right balance is imperative,” he explains.

Closely related to this is AES helping to source greener fuel sources – such as timber biomass – for clients in other sectors wanting to offset the use of fossil fuels by using biomass to fire their boilers.

However, there are challenges. High fuel costs mean transport of biomass from rural sawmills is expensive. Distances travelled could also inadvertently increase  users’ carbon footprint in the name of sustainability, Williams warns.

“Furthermore, as timber biomass has a low calorific value, the actual content per mass is low and bulky: loaded onto a 30 ton vehicle,  it might only yield 11 tons of fuel. If loaded with coal, there will be 25 to 26 tons of material with a far higher calorific value – potentially double – depending on how much moisture is in the wood biomass,” he explains.

Another challenge is the cost of biomass – a key deciding factor for new plant investment: “It all comes down to economics. The originator wants to sell it for the best possible price. So, while the burning of biomass rather than the burning of coal is preferable, our client may not be able to pay the price that the timber mill wants.”

Future growth

For AES, the timber sector is  currently very fluid: “Many timber residue producers with spare biomass are trying to figure out what this new marketplace means for them. If they are not using the material themselves, they want to  maximise what they can do with it. If AES wants to purchase it to convert into a fuel source for thermal energy, we need a 10-year agreement to secure the funding for a new biomass steam plant,” he notes.

He continues:  “The coal, gas and liquid fuels market is very established. We know the parameters and how the economics work. However, in the biomass space, it is a bit of a ‘Wild West’ scenario, because companies are deciding what works best in this volatile, dynamic marketplace.

“In summary, whether AES is optimising operations and maintenance – or innovating around the use of biomass as a greener fuel source – we are confident that the timber sector provides a real ‘plantation’ of opportunity to assist plant owners in ‘seeing the wood for the trees’ – and processing this as optimally and successfully as possible,” Williams concludes.

B.E.D. Cape Town: 25 million fasteners a year ensure ‘the perfect fit, fast’ for the Western Cape

Even with a component as small as a nut or a bolt, the Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group’s Cape Town branch plays an important role in major projects throughout the Western Cape. Each year, the branch supplies over 25 million fasteners to a wide variety of key industry sectors, including construction, agriculture and maritime, to name a few.

This is according to Operations Manager Juan van Zyl, who says that fasteners – upon which the company was originally founded and which form the foundational bedrock of every building and construction project – still account for a substantial percentage of their sales, along with welding equipment and services.

Strength in diversity

Diversity is a key differentiator, according to van Zyl, with B.E.D.’s fasteners being sold as far and wide as Robben Island, the Department of Correctional Services and even key power generation facilities such as Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear plant and the extensive Worcester solar plant.

“Of B.E.D’s 9 branches countrywide, in Cape Town we have one of the most diverse customer bases. This includes private sector manufacturers, mines and even shopping malls; as well as public sector entities such as Transnet, rail operators and even the navy and defence force,” he explains.

However, the construction sector is the largest Western Cape fastener market, followed by manufacturing – as food processing plants, warehouses and packing facilities which are all highly automated, and all requiring fasteners.   

The ‘nuts and bolts’ of selling fasteners

Van Zyl explains that the manufacture of equipment worth millions of rands – or the completion of large construction projects – could come to a halt if a single R4.00 fastener is missing. For this reason,  B.E.D. Cape Town prioritises meticulous planning to ensure sufficient stock is available. 

“Therefore, we always go back to basics, as per our ethos and tagline ‘it’s our business to know your business’. We not only have to understand our customers’ needs and pain points – but also to know what projects are coming up so that we can help them to plan ahead,” he says.

Another important consideration for B.E.D. Cape Town is ensuring the traceability of products, to counteract challenges associated with counterfeiting and poor quality: “People need to know that they are getting a genuine product. Knowing that we have their interests at heart really sets our customers’ minds at rest,” he maintains.

Building strong relationships

For Van Zyl and his team in Cape Town, there is far more to supplying fasteners than price and availability. “In our experience, providing a sought-after solution is crucial. Once you help to solve a tough challenge for a customer, it is highly likely that you will have their ongoing loyalty and business,” he notes.

An example is the Western Cape’s extensive agricultural sector. Fasteners are essential for maintenance of equipment, but customers often need assistance. “They may want to swap a fastener with a tensile strength of 4.8 for one that has a strength of 10.9. This will not work –  because there is no flexibility and it will break like glass. The stronger the fastener, the more brittle it becomes,” he warns.

Another area where good advice is important is that of corrosion protection coatings. Tough coastal weather increases the probability of corrosion. When customers cannot afford expensive stainless steel, they need to find an effective alternative.   

Van Zyl advises: “In the construction sector, columns are usually galvanised – meaning fasteners need to be treated as well – and preferably, hot dip galvanised. This can treble the lifespan of a bolt.” 

A recent visit to a delivery vehicle canopy manufacturer to troubleshoot a rust problem illustrates this: “They wanted to know why the fasteners on certain delivery vehicles had rusted whilst others had not.

We pointed out that these were the ones doing deliveries along the Garden Route. As they operated close to the coast, the fasteners must be hot dip galvanised to protect them from rusting,” he advises. 

B.E.D. not only stocks a vast range of fast-moving fasteners, but also supplies obsolete and hard-to-find fasteners. By working closely with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) suppliers, the company can assist with sourcing bespoke fasteners which are specific to customers’ individual designs and requirements.

Van Zyl points that that again, this requires planning: “It is all about understanding quantities and our customers’ needs. This often happens in the marine (fishing and shipping) sector, where there is a need for enormous bolts which are not available off the shelf,” he explains.

Fastening knowledge

Most importantly, van Zyl attributes the level of service offered by B.E.D’s Cape Town branch to B.E.D’s immense pool of industry knowledge and over 400 years’ combined management experience. 

“If we do not know about something here, there will be someone in the Group who does. And, because we have branches across South Africa, we can leverage this joint experience. What makes B.E.D. unique is that we nurture open communication between our branches, thereby ensuring that customers receive the right advice and solution far quicker than if they were dealing with a standalone company struggling to find a solution. Just another way in which we provide ‘the perfect fit, fast!’,” he concludes.