Archive: April 25, 2024

Dekra Institute of Learning: embracing change to make a difference and offer QCTO-accredited First Aid training

The Dekra Institute of Learning (IOL), a leading adult-based education and occupational skills training provider, has achieved a groundbreaking milestone by achieving Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) accreditation for First Aid training.

Christopher Mörsner, Head of Training and Consulting at DEKRA IOL, highlights the importance of this accreditation: “This is not just a recognition of our team’s efforts over the past two years, for which I am immensely grateful!

It also demonstrates the importance of proactively embracing the new over the old: that is, many regulatory and accreditation changes which have characterised the training environment recently. It is furthermore a strong capability and reputational endorsement – and an indication to our clients that their confidence and faith in us is justified.”

In addition, this QCTO accreditation reaffirms the IOL’s commitment to making a tangible difference by growing people through skills and occupational training and development, enhancing their employability and reducing South Africa’s high unemployment rate.

First Aid’s importance and history

“Driven by the modern mandatory requirement for trained First Aid responders – regardless of company size – across all industry sectors, First Aid training is crucial for workplace safety. However, few stop to think of why this training is so essential, what its primary objectives are, and what its origins are,” Mörsner comments.

He explains that First Aid is primarily there to prevent death – or serious injury from worsening. The key aims of first aid can be summarised with the acronym of ‘the three Ps’:

  • Preserve life: The overriding aim of all medical care which includes first aid, is to save lives and minimise the threat of death
  • Prevent further harm: Prevention of further harm includes addressing both external factors, such as moving a patient away from any cause of harm
  • Promote recovery: First aid also involves trying to start the recovery process from the illness or injury, such as in the case of applying a plaster to a small wound

“It is however crucial to note that First Aid is not medical treatment and cannot be compared with what a trained medical professional provides,” Mörsner emphasises.

First Aid has its historical roots in 1870s European military, when the concept was first formally introduced to the military, and the term ‘First Aid’ was coined. In 1872, the Order of St John of Jerusalem in England established a system of practical medical help, including the establishment of the UK’s first ambulance service.

“Also in the UK, First Aid was introduced in the British Army. First aid training spread through the British Empire thereafter, through organisations such as St John, including in high-risk, industrial sectors such as in the maritime and rail industries, from which our modern First Aid practices and training arose,” Mörsner advises.

A proactive approach

The IOL’s proactive approach in obtaining the QCTO First Aid course accreditation positions the company well ahead of its industry competitors, providing Dekra IOL’s clients with a clear strategic advantage in delivering fully accredited First Aid training which meets regulatory requirements.

The IOL was also part of the technical committee which contributed to shaping the new QCTO-accredited First Aid curriculum – along with emergency response and other healthcare professionals and subject matter experts.

“Furthermore, by facilitating workshops and providing clarity for the South African adult-based education industry on the transition from legacy unit standards to QCTO standards, we have empowered industry to navigate these changes effectively – reinforcing our dedication to fostering a culture of safety and skills development, in line with the ethos of our 99 year-old parent company Dekra. We remain steadfast in our mission to empower individuals and organisations with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive in today’s dynamic and demanding work environment.”

A rigorous process and impactful training

The QCTO accreditation process involved rigorous evaluation and assessment of Dekra IOL’s First Aid course curriculum, to ensure its alignment with the stringent criteria stipulated by the QCTO. As such, the IOL has demonstrated its capability to deliver comprehensive, high-quality occupational training which meets the needs of today’s workforce.

The IOL’s QCTO-accredited First Aid course has been carefully structured to deliver accessible and yet also impactful practical, in-person training which prepares participants to respond effectively to real-life emergencies. The former First Aid level 1, 2 and 3 training is now known as Basic, Intermediate and Advanced First Aid Responder training. This is equipping learners with the essential skills and knowledge required as first aid responders, who are the first line of defence in preservation and saving of lives.

“By offering this QCTO-accredited First Aid training, we are effectively empowering people to make the most important difference of all: preserving and saving lives, and thereby ensuring safer environments – ‘at work, on the road and at home’, as our parent company DEKRA Global’s safety mantra goes.

As the expiration deadline date for legacy qualifications and singular unit standards – 30 June 2024 – swiftly approaches, DEKRA IOL’s First Aid course accreditation by the QCTO provides a strong assurance to companies seeking the highest quality basic, intermediate and advanced training for First Aid responders,” Mörsner concludes.

Safety and risk mitigation in the galvanizing sector: ‘hot topics’ for the HDGASA

The Hot Dip Galvanizers Association of South Africa (HDGASA) plays an important role in ensuring safety and risk mitigation within the galvanizing sector and champions best practice amongst its own members and the steel value chain in general, according to Executive Director, Robin Clarke.

“The galvanizing process is relatively straightforward, and the industry is not regarded as high risk. It has a good safety record. Nevertheless, safety is an enduring operational imperative, and as such, the HDGASA urges constant vigilance and compliance with existing regulations and best practices,” Clarke says. 

Passing on the steel safety baton

Safety begins before the item reaches the galvanizer, with fabricators required to remove any excess oil, grease, debur holes – and, crucially, to drill the appropriate vent and drainage holes. 

Clarke explains that these vent and drainage holes are critical for the efficient and effective galvanizing of internal and external surfaces: “Proper venting and drainage allows for the ingress of molten zinc – while also facilitating the venting of any air and moisture trapped in internal cavities. Evacuation of fluids prevents a flash-over to steam and a potential explosion. Such an event may damage the articles or even the zinc kettle itself. Of greatest concern, naturally, is the potential of harm to the kettle operators, Clarke advises.

In terms of the ISO 14713 standard, the responsibility for venting and providing correctly placed and sized vent and drainage holes lies with the fabricator. The HDGASA is therefore committed to educating fabricators about the preferred design parameters for drainage and venting.

“We provide technical literature in the form of i-wall charts and case studies, found on our website to enable fabricators and designers to know where to drill the holes, how large to make them and how to adopt best welding practices,” he adds.

The danger lies in inadvertently creating a pressure vessel: “One risks having a small amount of liquid entrapped in the enclosed article which goes into a molten bath. The quick and instant super heating of that liquid turns it into steam that can potentially cause an explosion. An uncontrolled emission of steam can not only damage the article but cause burns, injuries and even fatalities to those in the immediate vicinity,” he warns.

Safe suspension

This is not the only part of the galvanizing process where safety is paramount. After pre-inspection and clearance, the material which is to be galvanized is jigged – or suspended on a hanger bar.

“Since the articles are generally strung onto the hanger bar using wire, there is great emphasis placed on eliminating the risk of falling. Product jigging requires robust but simple processes and rules – and our galvanizers are generally very mindful of using the correct equipment for safe suspension of heavy loads,” he continues.

It is here that the Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act – which regulates the maintenance of cranes and stipulates the use of well-trained operators and licensed forklift drivers – applies.

Once safely suspended, the material goes through a number of cleaning process. The cleaning tanks contain acidic and alkaline solutions and all tanks are consequently fully bunded. Clarke explains that tanks must be enclosed to contain splashing and ensure that fugitive materials do not escape, as this could result in ground water contamination.

In addition to having bunded process tanks, galvanizers also need to comply with air emission regulations, with single point measurements taken from the stacks of extraction fans.

Throughout the process, all OSH Act safety protocols for working with molten metals must be followed, including the provision of appropriate safety and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Strong safety record

Clarke notes that HDGASA members have implemented induction courses for both employees and visitors at their plants which cover key safety protocols.

“The galvanizing sector takes the health and safety of all on site exceptionally seriously. It is furthermore recognised that any – potentially negative impact on the environment will not make for sustainable businesses,” he emphasises.

As a result of the strong safety and environmental ethos of the Association, membership of the HDGASA comes with an inherent safety endorsement.

However, Clarke acknowledges that there is always the danger that somewhere in the steel value chain the so-called ‘safety ball’ may be dropped, such as drilling of critical safety holes. 

“As the HDGASA, we bring the steps stipulated in ISO 14713 to the forefront of industry awareness, as far back as the initial design of an article. We create a platform for people to understand the importance of safety and risk mitigation,” he stresses.

Clarke adds that the HDGASA also plays an important role in the clarification of safety and environmental policies and measurements, assisting both galvanizers and local authorities.

“We have lobbied government for the exclusion of zinc, ash and dross from the waste stream, to promote responsible handling thereof and therefore, environmental risk mitigation,” he elaborates. The application has been lodged and we await the response.

Investing in safety

As the majority of South Africa’s galvanizing plants were constructed during the 1950s and 1960s, many do not mirror contemporary plant layouts which are aimed at the most effective facilitation of air emissions capture and control. On such older plants a degree of compromise was required in terms of approximating best practice, Clarke acknowledges.

He adds that the HDGASA is constantly engaging with authorities to arrive at an appropriate degree of safety and risk mitigation, without threatening the viability of the business concerned:

”Galvanizing process plant footprints have evolved over time, with safety and risk regulations changing and becoming far more onerous than in the past. However, the capital investment requirement to rejig these to meet modern day standards is very challenging in the current economic climate, as there are not sufficiently sustainable volumes to provide an adequate return on investment.”

Clarke believes unlocking national infrastructure projects could provide a potential solution: “We are waiting with bated breath and with excess capacity across the steel value chain for these! We can solve the dilemma of producing finished steel products ‘cleaner, better faster’ if the sector as a whole can benefit from a more stable and supportive economic environment. The key to this is infrastructure investment and spend,” he concludes. 

Where the rubber hits the road: AES gets rubber manufacturers on the path to sustainable energy optimisation

For decades, South Africa’s rubber has been a major material used in both the mining and automotive sectors. Now, with increasing pressure to address energy usage and optimisation, the intervention of Associated Energy Services (AES), a leading operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, could be a game changer. 

AES Gauteng Regional Manager Jordan Smith, and Associate Director Operations Ray Lund – who work closely with rubber belting and tyre manufacturers in Gauteng and the Eastern Cape respectively – note that there is a strong drive in and amongst rubber companies to exchange fossil fuels for renewable energy sources.

Steam for vulcanisation

Steam plays an essential role in vulcanisation, an integral process at the heart of manufacturing of all rubber products: from tyres and conveyor belts carrying raw materials in the mining industry, to sealing components such as gaskets or protective wear such as wetsuits or gum boots. 

With the application of steam, raw natural and synthetic rubber (which has the consistency of soft bubble gum) is transformed into its final durable – yet also elastic – form.

During tyre manufacture the green tyre is placed in a mould, into which highly pressurised steam is fed. This vulcanises the tyre in the curing machine, where its parts are compressed together, giving the tyre its final shape and durable qualities.

Lund notes that tyre manufacturing comes with stringent quality and safety requirements: “This means that good control of the steam and heat energy is required when a tyre is being cured.” 

A press system is used to manufacture rubber belts through the process of steam heating, which provides the pressure and temperature necessary to bond and cure the components.

Smith points out that steam provides a consistent source of heat: “If the steam temperature drops and does not heat all sections of the plates equally, that results in a poorly-bonded product which will not deliver the required strength and durability. When there is excess temperature and pressure, the belt produced is too brittle,” he explains.

Steaming towards the future

Although rubber production has changed very little over the years, the sector is now facing many challenges. Ever-increasing cost pressures – coupled with an industry move to greener suppliers – has driven the need for innovation.

“Recently, clients have started moving from cyclically heated presses to continued heated presses where plates are not cooled and reheated, between batches,” Smith explains.

The condensate generated in the manufacturing process can also be recycled, delivering water and sensible heat back to the boiler house for re-use. 

The greatest change – and challenge – remains the replacement of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. 

“With several clients across a range of industries already using biomass, we are in strategic discussions with rubber companies which are considering a move to various forms of renewable energy. This cannot be avoided – and entails a significant technological shift,” advises Lund.

When sustainability is a stretch

Rubber manufacturers with global parent companies are at the forefront of this transformation, which entails striking a balance between the social governance commitments of a multinational and South Africa’s often harsh economic challenges. Change must be carefully managed to ensure long-term sustainability and not put businesses at risk.

Lund elaborates: “A fuel switch does, inevitably, necessitate substantial capital investment if clients want to run their plants effectively, efficiently and competitively. A large amount of capex is needed to realise those gains.”

He points out that generally, the technology required to burn biomass efficiently can be more expensive, adding that as more companies convert to biomass and demand grows, so too may the cost thereof.

“Unfortunately, there is a view that, because biomass is waste, it should be inexpensive. Typically, however, we find that locally-owned rubber sector companies are very challenged by the capital investment required and the costs entailed. Due to their global ESG (economic social and governance) commitments, their international counterparts are more inclined to consider workable solutions,” Smith observes.

A phased approach and impressive track record

Smith and Lund both favour a long-term, phased approach which AES typically recommends to clients in the rubber sector. This begins with the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of quicker gains from optimising the performance of existing plant and processes – which ultimately opens up the way for a switch to renewables further down the line.

Taking the phased approach has been successful: AES has a proven track record of delivering substantial energy optimisation-related improvements, and assisted a rubber sector client to reduce its CO² emissions and coal consumption by an impressive 11.03 percent – with zero capital investment. 

Smith attributes this to AES effectively leveraging economies of scale, doing cost-effective procurement of the correct quality coal and spares for maintenance – and individually assessing each client’s site to determine bespoke improvements and savings. Further to this, well-trained and operationally skilled staff on site 24/7 are key in successfully driving energy plant improvements.

“We have the expertise to ensure the best set-up and operation of the steam reticulation and energy plant on our clients’ sites. Many businesses are looking for that extra percentage gain in efficiency, and partnering with AES is an effective way of unlocking that improvement,” he says.

With input cost and energy efficiency – and even carbon emission tax savings – the rubber sector can make the much-needed transition from dependence on fossil fuels, Lund continues.

“We would like to encourage rubber sector companies to optimise their energy usage through a strategic partnership with AES. We can get them ‘bouncing back’ and on the road to energy optimisation and sustainability,” he concludes.

Steel Strong: B.E.D. Klerksdorp and Consulmet Construction: building on a firm foundation of reliable supply and customer service

In the bustling heart of the North West province town of Klerksdorp, a partnership of innovation and reliability has flourished between Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) and Consulmet Construction, demonstrating a commitment to excellence in cutting and welding solutions.

Consulmet Construction, a leading name in the steel fabrication sector, has entrusted B.E.D. Klerksdorp with their cutting and welding equipment requirements, opting for their expertise and quality solutions, over those of other potential vendors.

The natural choice

Ian Lloyd, Operations Manager at B.E.D. Klerksdorp sheds light on the customer’s choice: “Our partnership with Consulmet Construction has flourished as the company has grown. We initially introduced Consulmet Construction’s Managing Director Martin Rautenbach to the latest GYS CO2/MIG/MAG welding machines two years ago, and the company made its first purchase shortly thereafter. With our local presence in Klerksdorp, Martin gained confidence in our ability to provide timeous supply and exceptional customer service – as well as the all-important after-sales support.”

Dwayne Kriek, Procurement Manager at Consulmet Construction agrees: “As a steel fabrication company, optimising productivity while minimising downtime is crucial for our sustained profitability. The GYS welding range has proven to be instrumental in mitigating machine breakdowns, thereby enhancing our production efficiency and profitability. The robustness and reliability of these products justifies the investment. Efficiency ensures productivity, and with GYS machines, we achieve this consistently!”

However, the relationship between the two companies is more than merely transactional: it is about trust and understanding. Sean Christian, B.E.D. Welding & Cutting Specialist, emphasises the significance of this bond: “People buy from people. Consulmet Construction’s production line operates under extreme pressure, demanding high levels of efficiency and reliability. Our close relationship with this valued customer – coupled with the superior speed and quality of our welding equipment, made B.E.D. the natural choice for Consulmet Construction.”

Consulmet Construction’s specific requirements were meticulously addressed by B.E.D. Klerksdorp, taking factors such as reliability, performance, and sector-specific suitability into account. Lloyd explains: “We tailor our solutions based on the applications and desired outcomes of our customers. Our range of equipment, including the MAGYS 400, PROMIG 400, and GYSMI 200 inverters and Hypertherm XPR 170 plasma cutting unit, offer unparalleled reliability and performance – which are all ideal for Consulmet Construction’s steel fabrication requirements.”

B.E.D. Klerksdorp recommended this equipment to Consulmet Construction based on a thorough assessment of their particular requirements, challenges and operational environment.

“Understanding fabricators’ applications and objectives was paramount. With a focus on steel fabrication, the welding equipment and consumables we supplied needed to be versatile enough to handle a variety of metal materials and thicknesses commonly encountered in the company’s projects,” Lloyd advises.

He adds that durability and reliability were essential criteria, especially considering the demanding nature of the construction industry, with its tight deadlines and focus on minimising downtime as far as possible.

“We recognised that this customer could certainly not afford lengthy interruptions to their workflow due to equipment failures,” he points out.

For all skills levels

User-friendliness and accessibility of the equipment, to cater to varying degrees of welding skill, also played a significant role in the product recommendation and selection process.

“As such, we understood that simplicity and ease of operation were crucial, particularly for general welders who might not be as experienced with complex welding machines. The selected equipment offers intuitive welding interfaces with a very easy set-up, reducing the likelihood of confusion and errors during operation.

Considering the challenging working conditions in steel construction – including dust and unreliable, erratic power supply due to load shedding – B.E.D. Klerksdorp prioritised welding machines with robust features, recommending transformer-based equipment with built-in surge protection to withstand fluctuations in power supply without risking damage.

This advanced technology incorporates features such as microprocessors, semi-synergic operation and dynamic arc control, all of which provide precise and efficient welding performance. The machines’ ability to adjust settings automatically based on material thickness, coupled with user-friendly interfaces, enhances productivity and minimises setup time.

B.E.D. Klerksdorp’s consistent after-sales support and service have been instrumental in Consulmet Construction’s operational efficiency and market competitiveness. Lloyd affirms: “Our local support in Klerksdorp ensures a smooth, downtime-free production process which, in turn, means that Consulmet Construction’s products meet international standards, which is essential for the export market. We conduct regular customer status visits, training sessions, and on-hand after-sales support and assistance to keep production running smoothly.”

Furthermore, the partnership between B.E.D. Klerksdorp and Consulmet Construction is also not just about meeting expectations – it is about exceeding them. Sean Christian recounts a particular instance where B.E.D. demonstrated exceptional responsiveness: “Welding consumables wastage had become challenging at one point. We were able to effectively address this through the ingenious Hypertherm cartridge system.”

Clever cartridge

The cartridge system is an innovative technology developed by Hypertherm, a leading manufacturer of plasma cutting systems and another of B.E.D.’s quality global suppliers. This system streamlines the process of replacing the 5 stack consumables in plasma cutting torches.

The innovative Hypertherm cartridge system consolidates the multiple consumable parts into a single cartridge, so that when a consumable part needs to be replaced, instead of manually handling and aligning individual components, the entire cartridge is swapped out, reducing downtime and the risk of errors.

This is just one way in which B.E.D. Klerksdorp stays at the forefront of quality and technological advancement, ensuring that their products and solutions assist the customer to overcome their daily operational challenges.

“B.E.D. distinguishes itself through exceptional after-sales service, with a team of knowledgeable professionals who consistently go above and beyond to meet our specific needs.

Their understanding of our requirements as a dynamic steel fabricator, specialising in constructing processing plants, is unparalleled. Time is of the essence in our industry, and B.E.D.’s prompt turnaround time for repairs and product supply – from fasteners to welding equipment consumables and personal protective equipment (PPE) – aligns perfectly with our operational requirements,” Kriek enthuses.

Consulmet Construction’s Managing Director Martin Rautenbach adds: “We form part of the greater Consulmet Group, and B.E.D.’s constant and trustworthy support – together with their supply of new and innovative equipment – keeps us at the forefront of the market. This ensures that we can deliver our processing plants within specific time frames and – even more importantly – in line with the highest quality standards.”

“B.E.D.’s enduring relationship with Consulmet Construction is based on a firm foundation of mutual trust, and is a testament to the power of collaboration, reliability of supply and unwavering dedication to customer service,” Lloyd concludes.

DEKRA IOL: loving being local in Lephalale – Making an exciting and sustainable difference

In line with the company’s stated intention of expanding its roots and ‘Vision 2028’ – offering all forms of training and skills development, and making a sustainable difference in reducing unemployment – Dekra Institute of Learning (IOL) has opened a branch in Lephalale, a busy town in Limpopo province.

There is an urgent need for an accredited provider of skills programmes and industry-related full qualifications and occupational adult-based education in Lephalale (formerly Ellisras), to serve the local coal mining, agricultural, power generation and commercial sectors.

Accredited training provider

DEKRA IOL Head of Training and Consulting, Christopher Mörsner explains: “We are filling this void by offering much-needed and QCTO-accredited safety, First Aid and other occupational and skills training.

Our vision is to stand out from other training service providers in the area as – over and above our QCTO-accredited courses, occupational health and safety training – DEKRA IOL is the only training provider offering business and operational training with a strongly client-centric approach. This is definitely the right time and place for us to collaborate with and support the local training industry!”

Mörsner adds: “The strategic decision to open this branch stems from our strong commitment to localising our services – and thereby addressing the specific safety and occupational training requirements of the businesses and sectors present in the town, and in the greater region. These include the mining, power generation, renewable energy, agriculture and petrochemical sectors.

Our choice of Lephalale was therefore driven by its status as a bustling regional hub where all these sectors – as well as many other commercial sector businesses – have growing requirements for a QCTO-accredited training provider with a quality approach to – and passion for – adult-based education,” he explains.

Long-term sustainability and opportunities

Mörsner adds that DEKRA Industrial will also be offering its non-destructive testing and inspection services to the same sectors which DEKRA IOL will be servicing: “We will be able to develop client relationships from an adult-based education and training – and a NDT and inspection – perspective.

The mining, power generation and other industrial sectors also have unique health and safety training challenges, due to their stringent statutory safety protocols. This allows us the opportunity f to leverage our expertise and innovative methodologies to enhance safety standards and promote a culture of safety. Our accredited health and safety awareness, and many other related courses are all aimed at promoting employee well-being and safety, underpinned by a ‘zero harm’ ethos,” he points out.

Dekra IOL also recognises the importance of community engagement and empowerment in a tight-knit regional community such as Lephalale. Through initiatives such as skills development programmes and local employment opportunities at the branch itself – and by the training and career enhancement offered – DEKRA IOL aims not only to offer the highest standards of training, but also to contribute to the socio-economic development of the local Lephalale community. This people-driven, inclusive approach reflects DEKRA IOL’s dedication to creating a sustainable impact – which extends far beyond the confines of the workplace, fostering a culture of pride, ownership and prosperity for generations to come.

New premises, energy and growth

The official premises opening and launch event took place in Lephalale on Friday 5 April, and was attended by representatives from all the key industry sectors. Following a ribbon-cutting to declare the branch officially open for business, guests were treated to a tour of the facility and refreshments.

“The rain which fell on the day of the launch represented the new life, energy and growth which we at DEKRA IOL are so keen to engender through our training. Guests at the launch showed great enthusiasm for the training and development our branch – managed by our Lephalale ‘local’ Kyle Masterson and his team – will be offering. I am pleased to report that early indications from the local industries and businesses we have met so far, are that Dekra IOL’s services will be in high demand going forward,” Mörsner concludes.

Concrete collaboration – Colossal Concrete expands into Eswatini through distribution agreement and potential manufacturing facility investment with NPC

Colossal Concrete Products (‘Colossal’), with a 65 year track record as South Africa’s largest manufacturer of railway sleepers, is extending its footprint into Eswatini through a distribution agreement with local concrete construction products leader Nkonyeni Precast Limited (NPC).

The company is also signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU)  with NPC, which will kick start a feasibility study into the two parties’ potential joint investment in a railway sleeper and concrete pole manufacturing facility in Eswatini.

While Colossal’s products have been available in that country previously, the formal distribution agreement marks the beginning of a phased move into Eswatini by Colossal. This will potentially be Colossal’s first permanent manufacturing operation outside South Africa. The proposed new facility is expected to create 20 to 30 jobs at the outset and then scale up to a larger facility employing at least 150 people. 

According to Executive Director Chris ‘CK’ Klagsbrun, following the legal conclusion of the distribution agreement, Colossal’s concrete poles, masts and railway sleepers will immediately be available in Eswatini from NPC.

The proposed new plant will encompass world-class manufacturing technology used at Colossal’s Brakpan and De Aar facilities in South Africa, which produce the widest range of railway sleepers in Africa. The facility will furthermore allow both companies to benefit from the substantial trade incentives and export opportunities available to both foreign investors and local manufacturers in Eswatini.

“For Colossal, NPC is a perfect fit: we share the same organisational values and culture, and the same stringent approach to customer service, excellence and quality, safe manufacturing,” asserts Klagsbrun.

Marissa van Zuydam Kunene, Managing Director of NPC, adds that joining forces with Colossal is a natural progression from NPC’s listing on the Eswatini Stock Exchange in 2023.

“Our recent listing in November 2023 paved the way for further innovation and expansion, and for NPC to access capital for new projects, acquisitions and technological advancements, in line with our culture of continuous improvement.

Collaborating with a very well-established, credible and respected market leader such as Colossal Concrete Products is another important step in this growth journey,” van Zuydam Kunene points out.

NPC Board Chairman, Frans Pienaar, says the distribution agreement has come at a time when the Eswatini market in general – and for concrete products in particular – is ripe for growth: “The Eswatini government is very forward-thinking and committed to growing our national economy, positioning the country as a dynamic hub and springboard for foreign investments and exports into the rest of Africa and beyond.

As such, the Kingdom is positioning itself as a preferred and attractive destination for foreign direct investment – and is in the process of updating logistics and related infrastructure to facilitate this.”

A concrete start

The initial objective for Colossal and NPC is on growing the Eswatini market for concrete poles and masts. Accordingly, NPC intends to engage in a substantial product education campaign in the local target market – which has, until now, largely relied on treated timber poles for electrification, streetlights and telecommunications services.

“Switching over to concrete for these (and many other) applications will facilitate the roll-out of much local infrastructure: mobile telecommunications and fibre services, municipal upgrades of electrical reticulation and transmission infrastructure, and the replacement of poles which are vulnerable to fire damage in our extensive timber plantations,” Pienaar enthuses. 

He adds that concrete poles represent a much better long-term investment, as they are more durable and robust – outlasting wooden poles by far. They also are not attractive targets for theft, as are those made from steel – and are also less prone to vandalism.


Van Zuydam Kunene believes that the local manufacturing of concrete poles, masts and railway sleepers is the logical next step.

“NPC is the largest concrete block and brick manufacturer locally in Eswatini, with a manufacturing capacity of approximately 90 to 100 000 pavers and 20 000 blocks per day. We are also the only concrete roof tile manufacturer in the country, and have been since 2007,” she advises.

A key contributor to the future viability of manufacturing concrete products such as poles and railway sleepers locally is NPC’s access to raw input materials. In addition to operating its own sand mine, NPC is finalising the acquisition of another strategic raw material source. This will secure the supply chain, as the bulk of aggregates required will be available in-house, and within close proximity to the site of NPC’s manufacturing facility.

Another plus is NPC’s access to transport infrastructure. The proposed new facility that will be the subject of the feasibility study, will be located at (or close to) NPC’s existing operations at Sidvokodvo, in close proximity to a railway line.

Cost-effective investment

According to Klagsbrun, all these factors combine to make the capital outlay required to establish a rail sleeper manufacturing facility substantially more cost-effective: “Ease of access to the requisite raw materials and transport channels means that the proposed facility will be extremely cost-competitive, and represent excellent value to NPC’s shareholders. This further supports our rationale for collaborating, leveraging existing elements to make it beneficial and very viable,” he says.

Colossal will contribute to this viability with its impressive concrete manufacturing experience, techniques and technology: “We can use the same pre-stressed long-line system we use to manufacture our concrete products in South Africa. We can start by producing poles and then use the same system for sleepers, beginning with smaller volumes during phase 1 – and then growing with the roll-out of local and pan-regional infrastructure projects,” he explains.

Klagsbrun also notes that Colossal has worked with Eswatini Rail for over two decades, and looks forward to supporting their potential rail upgrades in the future: “Our view is that there are already existing rail networks and lines which need to be upgraded, even before new ground is broken for the link to the border.”

The companies’ common vision extends beyond local rail infrastructure to exports, so concrete products produced in Eswatini can be exported via Maputo to the rest of Africa, the Middle East and South Africa.

“We are very enthusiastic about our collaboration with NPC. This is a strategic move for both parties, in anticipation of the growing domestic and export market in Eswatini. Our collaboration positions us for this imminent and exciting growth,” Klagsbrun concludes.

All about the quality More to hot dip galvanizing than an attractive surface appearance

Hot dip galvanizing is a corrosion control mechanism. Yet, as with many things, hot dip galvanized articles are frequently – and inaccurately – judged on their surface appearance only.

“All international standards related to the evaluation and specifications for hot dip galvanizing actually state that aesthetics are not important. However, the common perception remains that, if an article looks aesthetically pleasing, it must be of high quality. It is imperative that for the attainment of effective corrosion control, focus on the adherence to standards must be vigorously promoted,” advises Robin Clarke, Executive Director of the Hot Dip Galvanizers Association  Southern Africa (HDGASA).

“In a medium-corrosion environment, carbon steel which is left unprotected will corrode at a rate of 25 to 50 microns per annum. In contrast when hot dip galvanized, the zinc coating will only corrode at 0.7 to 2.1 microns per annum. So, a well galvanized piece of steel with a coating of 120 microns – in an environment where you are losing around one micron per annum – will have a coating service life of more 80 years,” Clarke explains.

In South Africa, the SANS 121 standard is the benchmark for testing of the coating – and the specifications are determined in this standard. “The perception that it is possible to apply 185 microns of zinc on a piece of steel – or 120 microns on another – to produce a ‘good, better or best’ product, is incorrect. The process – which is driven by chemical and metallurgical factors – does not allow one to do that. High quality hot dip galvanizing must be done to the same high standard consistently and repeatedly,” he adds.

Supply chain links

The most important requirement for meeting the specifications in the SANS 121 standard is good steel. Another key factor is close collaboration between designer, fabricator and galvanizer: “Everyone must do their bit so that we can predict the outcome and service life with a high degree of confidence. The corollary is: poor steel selection and poor design will lead to poor coating development – or even uncoated areas.”

This applies especially to hyper-reactive steels with high phosphorous levels or silicon content.  While reactive steels may appear to be of good quality, they either produce very poor surface finishes or chip, exposing the substrate. Designers and architects must therefore not only choose the right materials, but design to provide the galvanizer the best chance of a good outcome.

Clarke also says that there are variations when it comes to finishing. Known as fettling, this requires the smoothing of zinc drainage spikes after steel has been galvanized.

“The best way to ensure quality outcomes and reduce costs is to educate customers to choose the best steel possible, ensure good project design and fabrication techniques – and to control the galvanizing process as tightly as possible.  A galvanized article managed by the entire supply chain – and processed efficiently – does not require hours of fettling. The resulting surface finish is enhanced, with the attendant benefits of net cost reduction and customer expectations which have been successfully met.

In Europe, there is a strong focus on process control from the fabricator – through adherence to ISO 14713 prescriptions – and from the galvanizer, paying close attention to best practices for surface cleaning and fluxing prior to galvanizing.

Even though official quality standards play down aesthetics, Clarke concedes that nothing detracts more from a high-quality galvanized object than poor welding seams, jagged pin holing, discontinuities or the use of mismatching materials.  For these reasons, he admits there is growing emphasis on achieving attractive finishes. “With a collaborative approach from engineers, architects, fabricators and the galvanizers, we can achieve a high aesthetic standard consistently – and repeatedly. However, this still requires the correct selection of good material, to enable the fabricator to include the correct vent and rain holes, and to design so that there is only one submergence in the galvanizing bath, with no oxide lines,” he notes.

Quality – the real challenge

As local steel production volumes fall and imports increase, quality issues predominate. While Clarke is not overly concerned that finished product galvanized offshore will fail to meet the global standards on which South Africa’s are also based, he is worried about an influx of poor-quality steel ahead of galvanizing.

“If a merchant receives a mixed bag of steel, this will impact the entire supply chain.  An architect may order the right quality steel and provide us with the certificates. However, when we test the steel, we will discover that the certificates do not accurately represent the entire material,” he notes.

Clarke has also encountered instances where reputable suppliers have inadvertently mixed up their own metallurgy. If the HDGASA spots a trend, this is traced back to the source and a solution is found. This underscores the important industry monitoring role of the HDGASA – and the importance of education and training.

Quality training

To this end, he calls on all hot dip galvanizers to strongly encourage designers, specifiers and fabricators to attend HDGASA training courses to better understand corrosion control:

”Our courses take participants through the fundamentals – so that they can understand why the quality standards are written in the way they are. We also focus heavily on the science and on first principles, including the original concept of cathodic protection, and why zinc provides high levels of protection to a carbon steel substrate.

Most importantly, our training courses help participants to understand why – and how – to achieve quality hot dip galvanizing, ensuring they can consistently meet customers’ expectations of product service life,” Clarke concludes.