Category: Business

SAISC warns local sector to steel itself for knock-on effects of ArcelorMittal’s Newcastle mill closure

The imminent closure of the ArcelorMittal Newcastle ‘long’ steel products operation in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, is likely to cause considerable turbulence within the local steel sector, with potential projected ‘knock-on’ effects including product shortages, quality issues and even price increases, according to Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) Chief Executive Officer, Amanuel Gebremeskel.

Commenting on an announcement by ArcelorMittal South Africa in which the company advised that it had had exhausted all options and could not save the mill from closure, Gebremeskel warns that shutting down the only remaining fully integrated mill – and the largest producer of long steel products in South Africa – could have serious repercussions.

Economic challenges and supply shortages

According to ArcelorMittal South Africa’s board and management, aggressive cost-saving initiatives, improved raw material cost-savings, asset footprint adjustments and other productivity measures had unfortunately not managed to counter the combined impact of a slow economy,  difficult trading environment, high logistics costs and protracted grid energy supply issues.

“The production and supply of all long products will be affected, including UB, UC, IPE, angles, channels and rods. This will no doubt affect the local and regional market considerably, especially for those products such as UB and UC profiles where ArcelorMittal SA is the sole remaining local producer.

Mini-mills, merchants and service centres are likely to play a crucial role in making up the shortfall that will be left by the mill closure, having to expand and ramp up their production accordingly to procure new sources of structural steel in the case of merchants and service centres, and billets or scrap metal in the case of the mini-mills. However, this will inevitably take time.

In addition, while we have several mini-mills producing good quality long steel products, their range may be limited. The mill closure may also have an adverse effect on the price of steel. In turn, various projects which are in the planning stages may be adversely affected both in terms of cost and scheduling,” Gebremeskel observes.

However, he adds that the engineers, detailers, merchants, fabricators and contractors who know how to design, specify and procure steel in such a way that the market disruption does not negatively affect their projects, will succeed despite challenges moving forward.

Benefits of beneficiation

The Newcastle mill is the only remaining fully integrated mill in South Africa which converts iron ore into long product steel. Other mills either recycle steel, or use billets as their input material when making long products.

Gebremeskel points out that this is significant when it comes to the local beneficiation of South Africa’s abundant iron ore resources, which are mainly exported to steel manufacturers around the world.

He also laments the projected 3 500 job losses, in an area where unemployment is already high. “These are very worrying – particularly considering the already high levels of unemployment in South Africa. The steel industry provides well-paid, quality jobs and any manufacturing facility closure is therefore of great concern. Various jobs at value-adding service providers that are linked to the Newcastle operation will also be adversely affected,” he comments. 

Steel quality and availability

Just as concerning, he adds, is that the SAISC – which is the acknowledged industry authority on South African structural steel material availability, training, technical specifications and standards – will have to reconsider the quality and range of steel products which are available locally, and communicate its findings to the market.

“Steel specifiers will also need to follow the market closely to ensure that the steel sections that they require are available, in the desired quantity and quality. Alternatively, they will need to think about redesigning their structures using substitute steel sections until the market stabilises,” he advises.

“Fabricators will have to communicate very closely and frequently with merchants, service centres and specifiers early in the design phase, so that only sections that are available in the desired timeframe, quality and quantity are specified. Contractors will also have to communicate very early on in the project life-cycle with fabricators, merchants and service centres – to ensure that material shortages or quality issues do not delay projects,” he continues.

Gebremeskel advises project owners to be aware of the inevitable transitionary challenges, and to make sure that they allocate sufficient budgets and set realistic lead-times when it comes to the structural steel required for their projects.

Quality supports sector sustainability

Most importantly, he also cautions the entire steel supply chain to be aware of quality issues that could potentially arise, and to support the SAISC in its ongoing quality initiative; as well as its mission and objective to develop and promote high standards within the industry.

“The closure of an established and high-quality long product manufacturing steel mill means that we will have to diversify our sources of long product steel. Inevitably, this means we will – more than ever – need a quality regime to closely monitor the steel which will either be imported, or be manufactured by smaller mills.

As the designated custodian of all technical matters related to structural steel, the SAISC spearheads this quality initiative on behalf of the South African steel sector, as the promotion of quality throughout the sector contributes to its ongoing viability and sustainability. We therefore call on all players in the steel value chain to support this vital initiative, so that we can maintain our lead in the design, manufacture and construction of high-quality steel projects locally and Pan-Africa,” Gebremeskel concludes.

Expanding its roots and growing the tree of knowledge: DEKRA IOL celebrates local success and Pan-African expansion

In theory at least, a qualification helps a person get a job. But not everyone is cut out for university or college and, very often, tertiary education does not equip a person directly for the workplace. The DEKRA Institute of Learning (IOL) develops people who are not just qualified but employable, according to Chris Mörsner, Head of Training at this groundbreaking QCTO-accredited educational institution.

“One of our most pressing goals is to address one of the biggest challenges faced by South African industry today: building up a base of skilled employees, who can successfully navigate daily operational challenges,” says Mörsner.

He concedes that it is hard work, but the already enormous and ever-increasing demand for occupational training indicates just how important a gap DEKRA IOL is filling.

“This is also a step-by-step process, starting with the training and wellness of our own employees. By putting down sturdy roots through the development and empowerment of our people, we are establishing an ethos and setting an operational example of hard work and dedication for our students. That is why – every day – we strive to live by what we say,” he explains. 

The mantra and ethos that DEKRA IOL lives by is encapsulated in the concept of building a strong foundation by establishing strong roots. It is these very same roots which are the reason for the Institute’s incredibly successful year, Mörsner believes.

Deep roots for a bright future

Notwithstanding its alignment with the latest learning and educational trends and developments in the workplace, DEKRA IOL has deep roots which are nearly 100 years old. Part of a 98-year-old global group, and with a formidable reputation built up over the years and an innate understanding of the demands of local industry, the IOL’s parent company DEKRA Industrial is a Pan-African leader in inspection services, non-destructive testing (NDT), material testing, laboratory services, advanced NDT, asset integrity services. DEKRA IOL leads the field in terms  of occupational skills training and adult-based education.

Skills training provided through DEKRA IOL is applicable within a multitude of industries, including power generation, oil and gas, construction, petrochemical, manufacturing, fabrication, pulp and paper, rail, mining, steel industry and foundries.

For Mörsner, the true value to be found in this wide range of  skills training, industry-related full qualifications and occupational education comes through the combination of practical, theoretical and workplace components – which is always geared towards gainful employment. This also reflects the IOL’s 2028 vision to offer all forms of training and skills development, and to making a sustainable difference in reducing unemployment.

“In light of this, the roots metaphor is so apt. It refers to the tree of knowledge – a symbol for education – and also a tree that shelters and gives life. This all starts with us putting down roots, investing in our own people, training our own staff, so that each one gives the best they can, every day.

Currently, we are very successful, however that success comes with responsibility. Once you set the standard and reach the top, it takes an effort to stay there. Therefore, you have to remain humble, stick to your beliefs and keep returning to your roots,” he maintains.

Growing the tree of knowledge, expanding roots

Looking back over 2023, Mörsner says the greatest demand has been for instruction as a forklift operator which DEKRA IOL is able to offer through its partner Willco Safety and Training, which specialises in machine operator training. 

Another growing area which he expects to become even more sought-after next year is First Aid training. Pending changes in rules and regulations governing first aid accreditation have seen new elements being added to the training offered. Once DEKRA IOL has received its accreditation to meet these requirements, it will be the first occupational training institution in the country to offer the updated courses. 

An even more exciting growth spurt involves DEKRA IOL’s expansion into Africa, starting in Uganda and then expanding into 17 African countries over the next few months, providing process safety consulting and training including zone calculations and flammability source identification for a large Pan-African distillery.

In addition, the Institute is finalising a proposal which – if accepted – will secure a training deal for 2 500 branches of a large local retail group in aspects such as visual merchandising, and logistically-related training on facilities and warehousing management, including receiving and dispatching of goods. 

Mörsner says training for staff at the distillery will be relatively specific to that sector – such as atmospheric testing. However, tuition for the retail company will involve the provision of a wider spread of skills, which are also sought-after in many other industries.

He admits that DEKRA IOL’s push into Africa will test the company’s educational approach. While digital or online training has really gained popularity in South Africa, African clients prefer in-person training.

“This is what we will provide to the Pan-African distillery client. However, for the retail company, we will provide all 3 learning methods in a hybrid ‘blended learning’ model: a combination of classroom-based, in-person and online modules,” he points out.

As an enthusiastic custodian of the ‘tree of knowledge’ and excited by the imminent expansion of our roots into Africa, we are looking forward to meeting the adult education and occupational training requirements of many different industries locally and throughout Africa, in 2024 and beyond!” Mörsner concludes.

Steel Awards Pan-African Trailblazer sponsor Macsteel supports steel innovation and reinvention across Africa

Innovation, quality and capability are hallmarks of a Pan-Africa trailblazer, and therefore no surprise that Macsteel, a leading manufacturer, merchandiser and distributor of steel and value-added steel products was first in line to take up the highly sought-after Pan-African Trailblazer sponsorship opportunity at the 2023 South African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) Steel Awards.

Trailblazing innovation was also the mainstay of one of the Steel Awards’ most exciting category winners. The Azmet Reactors project – which won the Mining and Industrial as well as the Best Export Project categories – comprised a combination of six colossal reactors in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This distinctive project was recognised for its precision engineering, use of steel and overcoming seemingly insurmountable logistical challenges. It also represents the innovation, tenacity and foresight – which

Macsteel’s CEO Mike Benfield believes reflects the spirit and essence of what it means to be a pan-African trailblazer.

Pursuing reinvention

In addition, the project is closely aligned with Macsteel’s operational ethos of ‘Pursuing Reinvention’ which, in turn, reflects and supports the Pan-African Trailblazer sponsorship concept.

Benfield believes it is important to support organisations such as the SAISC, which provide a platform for members of the steel value chain to drive a common agenda in the  sector, while also fostering a ‘Team Africa’ approach to  quality and collaboration across the continent. This is increasingly important, as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement becomes a reality.

“The SAISC Steel Awards also encourage innovation, which is the ethos and mantra we live by. We are role players in a very old field, and so we need to continuously innovate and improve the way in which we do things. The whole steel sector needs to reinvent itself. We need to make people think about steel in different ways,” Benfield points out.

Not reinventing the wheel, reinventing steel

In the Macsteel ethos, steel touches every aspect of people’s lives and indeed society as a whole. The best feature of the Steel Awards, according to Benfield, is that the entire steel supply chain is recognised: not just suppliers, but also the architects, fabricators and contractors involved in projects. 

“Furthermore, in pursuing reinvention, Macsteel advocates for the entire steel value chain – including clients – to consider steel in ways which are different, unusual and more cost-effective. We have to begin thinking of steel as more than a material of construction: rather, as a construction innovation, or an architectural feature, emphasising safety and aesthetics. Any construction – from the mining to the residential sector – can showcase the innovative use of steel, elevating and reinforcing its relevance throughout a broad spectrum of sectors,” he continues.

“There are several examples in our own operations where we have successfully combined innovation and reinvention. A recent high-profile example is the Pick ‘n Pay Distribution Centre East Port project, joint winner of the 2023 Steel Awards Factory and Warehouse category, the Innovation and Sustainability category and recipient of the Best Project Gauteng award.

One of the stand-out features of this project was the need for extremely long roofing sheets, and a unique roof curvature. Both of these factors or challenges were easily overcome through the application of Macsteel’s innovative ‘sky-forming’ method to roll and shape the roofing sheets accurately and cost-effectively. A crowning achievement was that this earned the project a place in the Guinness World Records for the longest continuous roof sheet.

Another innovation example is a product we produce, cellular steel beams, a modern version of the traditional castellated beam, made from a patented double-cut profiling process to achieve greater load carrying capacity and stiffness. Cellular beams offer a far wider range of applications to achieve long clear spans, service integration and shallow floor depths. The product is also aesthetically pleasing – an appealing trait for architects! These are the kinds of solutions we can provide while steel projects are still in the design stage,” he explains.

Africa ‘under construction’

Another key factor in Macsteel’s eagerness to be the Pan-African Trailblazer sponsor is the fact that it focuses on Africa, and the capabilities of the South African steel sector in completing excellent Pan-African steel projects. Benfield emphasises that with a vast amount of infrastructure required, Africa is still ‘under construction’ – which creates massive opportunities for local steel companies.

“In Africa, the fundamental building blocks are there, but further beneficiation must be targeted for Africa to achieve its fullest potential. Only  basic commodities are currently being produced – however beneficiation is now almost a requirement for viable Pan-African economic growth. Therefore, innovation and reinvention are needed more than ever before! Beneficiation will grow the economy and, when this happens, it drives the demand for steel. This then becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of demand.     

African economies depend on commodities, and steel has a crucial role to play in driving further beneficiation, downstream of the basic commodity. The use of steel is integral to mining, and the lives of mines can be extended when costs reduce. Through the use of steel and innovating around it, this can also be achieved. The ore body becomes more viable when a mine becomes more efficient. In this way, the entire future of the mine is extended, along with the entire mining community which it supports,” Benfield points out.

However, he concedes that in Africa, the greatest challenge is that cost remains a determining factor: 

“The prevailing view seems to be that ‘tomorrow will be better, but today there is only so much to spend’. As a result, from the South African steel sector perspective, we should be fabricating and supplying innovatively, highlighting the benefits of steel as a material of construction. We need to focus on the pain points our clients will encounter during design and construction – and set about finding creative new ways to use steel to meet those challenges.”

Steel challenges and opportunities

As Benfield notes, most African governments tend to be vague and contradictory when it comes to economic policy and the consistent application thereof, which can be a grave impediment to  the contribution of steel in growing the economy. On this point, although the evolution of a buoyant steel industry can create jobs, stimulate manufacturing and localisation, a stable local economy is definitely a prerequisite.

There is also a pervasive distrust of the private sector, which often prevents governments working together with companies to constructively address pressing infrastructural and developmental issues. 

“Governments need to collaborate with the private sector to build Pan-African economies. The private sector has capital, can secure financing, absorb a certain amount of risk and has the relevant experience and skills to invest in a discernible trajectory. However, when economic growth is predicated on state-owned enterprises (SEOs) which are hamstrung by corruption, progress stalls. Governments need to change the way they think,” he advises.

This brings him back to the importance of the Steel Awards, which celebrate the role of steel in the economy and showcase excellence and reinvention.

“When excellence and high standards become the baseline of a project, opportunities abound as the demand for quality grows, and the cost of quality reduces due to economies of scale. This needs to start right at project inception, with the architects, specifiers, designers and fabricators. By setting high standards from the outset, and investing in lowering the total cost of the project, over its entire duration, a far higher value is achieved for its owners and stakeholders,” he emphasises. 

He furthermore acknowledges that local steel sector companies cannot compete with their Asian counterparts when it comes to the price of steel. This requires Africa to fix its internal issues to become more competitive and build an export footprint. Here, the ‘Team Africa’ concept will play an important role.

“By working together, we can pool our skills and resources, build relationships and improve competitiveness. South African-based steel value chain participants must also remember that their greatest asset is that they are resilient, resourceful – and that they know and understand Africa.

As Macsteel, we always pursue reinvention. It is our core ethos and value proposition, and we will wholeheartedly support any project which reflects this. Given this, we view our Steel Awards Pan-African Trailblazer sponsorship as more than just an event sponsorship – but as the embodiment of our support for South African steel sector innovation and excellence across the Africa,” Benfield concludes.

A Cut Above The Rest – GSI and First Cut showcase S.A.T. welding system at Essen Welding and Cutting

The Essen Welding and Cutting show in Germany made a remarkable return in 2023 after a six-year hiatus, showcasing significant change in the industry, says Ian McCrystal, CEO of First Cut and Peter Rohlssen, MD of Gas Safety International (GSI). McCrystal and Rohlssen were in attendance, representing First Cut and subsidiary GSI at Messer Cutting Systems’ extensive exhibition stand. Rohlssen also had the opportunity to demonstrate the patented oxyfuel S.A.T. system to delegates.

“I was truly impressed by the overwhelming interest sparked by the oxyfuel S.A.T. system. In a matter of minutes after commencing the demonstration, the number of attendees at the stand increased from just three or four delegates to an audience of fifty or more,” says Rohlssen.

First Cut and GSI first launched the new S.A.T. system at the Safety Unites Compressed Gas Safety conference in Johannesburg last year.

The system represents a significant advancement in the field of compressed gas safety, thanks to the three patented Safety Advanced Technology (S.A.T.) components: the process, valve, and cutting torch. By incorporating advanced safety measures and technologies, the system significantly reduces the risks associated with working with compressed gases, including the risk of leaks due to improper handling, external damage, and normal wear and tear.

Human error, insufficient training: a global challenge

“The prevalence of severe accidents within the mining and industrial sectors can largely be attributed to human errors,” explains McCrystal. “These errors often result from inadequate training, and this is not confined to a local issue – we have observed the repercussions of sub-standard training on a global scale.”

Both McCrystal and Rohlssen say that the international exposure at the Essen show was critically important: not just for the advancement of First Cut, GSI and the oxyfuel system – but also to raise awareness about compressed gas safety at a global level.

“Two significant and real barriers still obstruct the path to substantive transformation in compressed gas safety throughout industry. The first challenge pertains to insufficient training and awareness, as previously highlighted. The second hurdle is the continued resistance to change. Take, for instance, the positioning of the cutting lever on European welding torches, which is typically at the top. In South Africa, they are often found at the bottom,” Rohlssen explains.

“While this may appear trivial, achieving buy-in is essential for widespread adoption. This is one of the rationales behind GSI’s ceaseless innovation, and exploration of alternative designs which aim to achieve higher levels of safety and reduced risk.

For example, we have encountered requests from a large South African mining company for a tailored system with safety features that cannot be bypassed. Overcoming these challenges demands unwavering determination and ingenuity, but our commitment to enhancing global compressed gas safety through innovation remains resolute. We aim not only to improve safety for welders and other industrial users – but also to accommodate the needs of our customers – to attain our objectives and remain competitive.”

Oxyfuel (Sur)passes Rigorous Tests

McCrystal and Rohlssen say that they had also made significant strides in terms of industry compliance ahead of the Essen exhibition.

“Compliance to international accreditation standards  is a significant consideration when engaging with European clients. We therefore subjected the oxyfuel system to the rigorous technical criteria of the ISO 5175-2 standard.

Based on our prior assessments, we were confident that the S.A.T. system could effortlessly endure pressures of up to 25 – 27 bars. However, when we submitted the valve to independent third-party testing in Germany, they conducted evaluations at 60 bars of pressure – and it passed!” Rohlssen enthuses.

The independent testing also subjected the valve to an internal leakage test using helium (a thin and non-flammable gas, ideal for testing even the slightest leaks), an external leakage test and a reverse-flow test measuring its performance when subjected to reverse gas flow. This is crucial for preventing gas flow in the wrong direction, as it ensures that gases only flow in the intended direction. The S.A.T. system  successfully met the required criteria, showing its  conformance to compressed gas safety requirements.

“The exceptional performance of the S.A.T. system during testing unequivocally underscores its readiness for adoption by international companies – and its capability to meet the most demanding standards and specifications,” Rohlssen adds.

South Africa Can Lead The Way In Cutting Technology Safety

“While engaging with conference delegates, I had a renewed perspective on the relatively modest size of the South African market. One of our major clients here produces around 10 000 appliances each month. In contrast, during our discussions in Germany, we encountered manufacturers with monthly production figures in the millions. Yet, despite the size of the local market, we are confident that we are at the forefront of driving welding and compressed gas safety development.

We expect that the oxyfuel system will soon receive ISO 9001 accreditation, and First Cut and GSI intend to reveal a further new innovation in the coming months. All I can say is – watch this space!” says Rohlssen.

“The Essen show provided a unique opportunity to connect with high-level executives and technical experts, paving the way for future collaborations,” says McCrystal. “What was particularly inspiring too, was witnessing innovation – such as our S.A.T. system – emanating from South Africa and influencing Europe, rather than the reverse. We find ourselves at the vanguard of this race!” he concludes.

‘A go’ at AGOA

South Africans were also able to view the S.A.T. system in action and gain insight into this – as well as GSI’s compressed gas and welding safety training – at the highly successful AGOA show in Johannesburg in early November. Both GSI and First Cut were delighted with the response as well as the turnout at the event.

Steel Awards sponsor B.E.D. shines a spotlight on versatility and role of steel with iconic table décor

“We hold things together. Nine times out of 10, if something has to be connected with bolts and nuts, then we are part of that supply chain,” explains founder and CEO of Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.), Mike Giltrow.

At this year’s South African Institute of Steel Construction’s Steel Awards in October, B.E.D. sponsored striking table décor which reflected the Game of Thrones theme that had been chosen to represent the role of steel through the ages at this iconic annual steel industry showcase at Emperor’s Palace in Johannesburg.

This is the second consecutive year that B.E.D. has been a Steel Awards sponsor. In 2022, they were a Premium Partner sponsor.

“The table décor – for which B.E.D. supplied the steel that fellow SAISC member General Steel Works cut and welded – demonstrated the versatility and value of steel in infrastructure and construction projects across the ages, and indeed in this day and age, across a number of different sectors,” Giltrow comments.

B.E.D.’s relationship with the SAISC has always been an extremely positive one and goes back several years, punctuated by a hiatus due to the economic austerity measures which were unfortunately required in the aftermath of the impact of negative mining industry events such as Marikana in 2012.

Having returned to the SAISC fold last year, B.E.D. has once again found membership to be very beneficial – and has not only participated in events such as the Steel Awards and other networking events, but also been invited to do training presentations on new products.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in November this year – and although the B.E.D. Group started out supplying a comprehensive range of locally produced and imported fasteners – the company has diversified into quality tools, welding and cutting equipment and consumables, bearings, personal and protective equipment (PPE), industrial paints and thinners, oils and lubricants, and lifting products during that time.

“Our input and participation in forums such as the SAISC has always been well received, because members are like-minded, equally motivated people who all want the Institute – and the entire steel value chain – to benefit in some way,” says Giltrow.

“This year, more than ever, I was blown away by the quality of the projects which were nominated for the Steel Awards. The projects are world-class, and show that South African steel companies can compete with the very best. We are very proud that  award recipients are some of our customers and, in many instances, our products – specifically fasteners – played a pivotal role in those projects,” he adds.

Next year the B.E.D. Group would like to ramp up our support for the SAISC Awards and perhaps even sponsor a category award.

“We have always felt comfortable that any sponsorship we provide will always be put to good use and benefit all members. There is also a substantial amount of PR, marketing and media coverage around the Awards and winning projects. Therefore, in 2024, we would like to be involved with a specific Steel Award category, as we will get even more mileage from that,” he points out.

Giltrow says that industry should never underestimate the value of the SAISC as an Institute, which is one of just six worldwide.

“The SAISC is up there with the best of what such Institutes can offer  the steel sector, and we can all be so proud of the hard work that they are doing for our industry to develop and showcase the South African steel value chain locally and Pan-Africa !

Through our challenges over the years, we have all proven that we are resilient. A huge amount of value and intellectual property resides in the SAISC and the steel value chain – and B.E.D is proud to be part of that,” Giltrow concludes. 

AES places energy efficiency at the top of the menu in the food and beverage sector

South Africa’s food and beverage sector plays an important role in maintaining food security. Conversely, this energy-intensive industry is under considerable pressure from retailers and consumers alike, to absorb ever-growing input costs and help curb rapidly increasing food price inflation.

Associated Energy Services (AES), South Africa’s leading operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, believes that it can help food and beverage sector manufacturers deal with their many challenges.

AES Commercial Director Dennis Williams sums up the sector’s key production-related performance challenges in three words: efficiency, quality and reliability. Consequently – and as one of the country’s largest users of thermal energy – Williams says the food and beverage industry needs an energy management ally.

“One of the idiosyncrasies of the food and beverage sector is that not only is thermal energy a key input in the beneficiation process, but this usually exceeds electricity requirements – by two or three times.

Electrical energy is dense and easy to use and – except during load shedding – is there whenever one needs it. But thermal energy has to be converted into a usable format on site. That is where AES comes in,” he explains.

The complexities do not end there. The applications for energy in the food and beverage production sector are vast, and can include everything from spray drying coffee creamers to the heating of raw materials ahead of processing, as happens during beer production. One manufacturer may use steam for cooking and canning vegetables; while another – such as the dairy industry – uses it for pasteurising. Temperature control of work spaces and ‘clean-in-place’ (CIP) processes, which include cleaning and sanitation to meet stringent health and safety standards, are also important. This means reticulating steam throughout the food and beverage processing and production facility to operational areas.

To add to this, different manufacturers and product categories come with their own specific requirements which means creating bespoke solutions for individual clients.   

Food for thought

At food processing and production facilities, AES is responsible for the whole chain of control, starting with selection and availability of the right fuel and continuing on to the actual generation of steam and its delivery to the processing plant.

Strong and longstanding relationships that depend on good communication and education – and include an on-the-ground understanding of exactly how a particular plant and business operates – are paramount in this process.

Williams says that proper design and planning of reticulation systems are crucial: “In older plants, AES often finds that, because of space and time constraints, processes are not ideally situated when it comes to energy supply – and may even include thermally active pipelines which are actually just dead-ends due to haphazard expansions over the years, reducing efficiencies,” he advises.   

Addressing such design and operational footprint inefficiencies and limitations needs to be done in partnership with the client.

While AES can generate a thermal energy carrier efficiently, it is down to the client to use it optimally. “We can generate the thermal carrier, but if the client wastes it – or uses it poorly in their production process – then they negate our efforts at the front-end. They will need more steam than necessary, and we will need to burn more fuel to provide it. That is why the partnership between AES and our clients is so pivotal, and why we strive to build a mutually beneficial understanding and synergy at all times,” he explains.

Serving up solutions

Williams says that AES has a number of success stories in the food and beverage sector. 

“AES took over operations at a large FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) client’s pilot facility, which was struggling with overall energy efficiency due to a lack of technical expertise and resulting challenges with the plant and equipment on site.

We guaranteed an improvement in the operating efficiency in the boiler house and a reduction in the use of heavy furnace oil. We put one of our own boilers on the site to bolster their capacity, installed further capacity to support their production, took over management of and trained their staff and implemented AES’s operating practices and management systems,” he recalls.

These combined efforts reduced fuel consumption and carbon footprint at the facility by an impressive 21%.

AES went on to operate a second – and larger – site for the same company where the situation was even more dire in terms of skills shortages.

“There, we delivered a 35% reduction in cost of fuel and carbon footprint. Over the years, that has enabled us to expand our footprint within the company to five sites.”

During this time, AES has reconfigured steam generation facilities, introduced changes to fuel and ash handling systems, addressed health and safety issues and improved the general reliability of the plants.

Although cost constraints remain a priority, Williams says that sustainability – especially for multinationals operating in South Africa – is becoming a big focus. The reduction of emissions and waste, the choice of environmentally-friendly or ‘green’ fuels such as biomass or natural gas and water-saving as priorities.

Frozen foods go ‘green’

On this point, AES recently assisted with an evaluation of conversion to natural gas by an internationally owned frozen foods manufacturer, which had made commitments to reduce the carbon footprint of its South African facilities.

“Our involvement extended from specification of a suitable boiler for the gas burner systems, site location, reticulation of the gas pipeline and engaging with gas vendors regarding price and availability of fuel,” Williams says.

An ongoing project at a much larger sister plant began with identifying a sustainable and cost effective biomass route. The AES team has travelled to Europe and South America, reviewing between 12 and 17over 15 fuel and technology options in detail. Risk and fuel supply assessments culminated in a preliminary roll-out plan.

When it comes to saving water, Williams says that managing condensate, an inevitable by-product of the process, is “the low hanging fruit”.   

“Even in instances where it has a much lower temperature, that condensate still has value. We can include this with any make-up water that goes back into the boilers and reduce water, fuel and chemical consumption for treatment purposes,” he notes.

Future-proofed energy and food processing

Change in the food and beverage processing and production industry requires ongoing and constant engagement with clients, Williams maintains. 

“We walk through the reticulation process. We do thermal imaging and talk to them about whether or not steam traps are functioning correctly, make recommendations about things like reticulation dead-ends and where they can be isolated. Strategic input includes conducting a high-level energy audit – which provide very high-level cost impacts,” he says.

Then comes the innovation component, as demonstrated during a recent project: “We operate a biomass boiler with an economiser (or heat exchanger). Hot flue gas coming out of the boiler passes through this before it goes up the stack. We now circulate water going into the boiler through that heat exchanger to heat it – which reduces fuel usage.”

Williams believes that most food and beverage manufacturers are aware of the need to maximise efficiency and ensure that operations are sustainable. Although there are many high-tech operations in South Africa’s food and beverage sector, there are even more that have to continue to do the best they can with what they have.

However, small changes can have a large impact.

“AES’s role is to help optimise expansions and improvements to existing food and beverage production processes. It is very much a supportive, synergistic partnership. Together, we can make these companies more competitive in the market place both locally and internationally,” Williams concludes.

Steel for Africa! – Local steel sector proves its ‘metal’ as major Pan-African player at the SAISC Steel Awards 2023

Inspiring steel value chain collaboration between architects, designers, engineers and construction companies delivering world-class projects across the African continent was the highlight of the 2023 Steel Awards, presented by the Southern African Institute for Steel Construction (SAISC).

This red carpet event, commonly referred to as the ‘Oscars of the steel industry’ was held at Emperor’s Palace, Gauteng on October 19 and themed Game of Thrones: not only to celebrate the proud legacy of steel through the ages and its pivotal contribution to civilisation, but also the significant achievements of the South African steel sector.

Every year, the SAISC-hosted Steel Awards provide an opportunity for stakeholders across the industry and steel value chain – including designers, architects, engineers, processors, merchants and fabricators – to present their work and be honoured for their outstanding achievements.

Forging head in Africa

Of particular interest to the judges this year was that many of the notable projects nominated were not confined to South Africa, but exported – and in some cases executed – across the continent. This was reflected in the number of Pan-African projects which won awards, and indicated that one of the SAISC’s long-held goals – is being realised.   

“Fabricators and manufacturers have really forged ahead and made a big leap into Africa! They have built structures in a way that has never been done before, delivering products and innovations which have never been seen before – not only locally but across the continent,” says SAISC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Amanuel Gebremeskel.

“For over a decade, we have been encouraging our industry not only to be a centre of manufacturing excellence, but also to get involved in more advanced projects – producing products and innovations which have not been used before in the world. You would expect this in first-world economies like Europe, the US, South Korea or Japan. The fact that we can achieve this standard in South Africa is impressive! We always hear that many large African projects are being created by Chinese, Indian or even American contractors. That does not have to be the case. We have the capacity and the engineering capability to do this and that is what the Steel Awards are all about,” Gebremeskel enthuses.

He adds that many of the projects showcased at the SAISC 2023 Awards are iconic structures, which have made a lasting contribution to the built environment – and will be a testament to South African steel sector skill for many years.

Gebremeskel highlighted the following three projects in particular:

Fresh and fabulous as the overall winner – and more

The Mpumalanga International Fresh Produce Market is not only the Steel Awards 2023 overall winner – but also garnered several other awards as winner of the Factory and Warehouse category, the Tubular category and recipient of the Best Project Mpumalanga Award.

Nominated by Tass Engineering, the project was designed by Orbic Architects and constructed by (amongst several others) the main contractor Enza Construction and steelwork contractor Tass Engineering.

This so-called ‘market of the future’ was constructed for the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency to act as a regional catalyst for growth, creating jobs and improving food security. Serving the local and international food industry, it is more effective and efficient than existing, traditional fresh produce markets.

The steelwork roof covers a 29,000m2 floor and is designed to provide maximum usable floor space with minimal support columns. The building was also designed to accommodate future alterations and expansion.

The main challenge was the sheer size of the roof structure and its structural framing system, which posed a significant logistical challenge to transport – from the Kempton Park fabrication site to the market site over 300km away in Mbombela. To address this challenge, modular components were transported in smaller sections and then erected on site.

“Fitting all the pieces of this Meccano-like construction in a seamless and cohesive manner was a huge achievement. These challenges were overcome by carefully-designed jigging systems used for the fabrication of the components, and then trial assembling the major structural components and interfaces between them.

Also impressive is the fact that the engineer who designed the structure came up with a very elegant solution for the problem posed: the need for a lot of column-free space. To solve this, an arched roof was used along the entire 220 metre length – supported at each end using a structural framing system. The aesthetics and project execution – including the engineering, connections used, the seamlessness thereof and how the structure was erected – is quite amazing and a testament to the power of structural steel as a material of construction,” Gebremeskel comments.

A record-breaking distribution centre

Structural steel also played a pivotal role in the Pick ‘n Pay Distribution Centre East Port project, joint winner of the Factory and Warehouse category, winner of the Innovation and Sustainability category and recipient of the Best Project Gauteng Award.

One of the stand-out features of this exceptional project is the use of extremely long roofing sheets, ranging from 68 metres to a staggering 280 metres. These unprecedented roof sheeting lengths required innovative solutions for handling and installation – ultimately earning the project a place in the Guinness World Records.

The roof design features a distinctive curved profile with a radius of approximately 600 metres. This unique curvature required the use of the ‘sky-forming’ method to roll and shape the roofing sheets accurately. The success of the project hinged on close collaboration between various teams, including structural engineers, steel fabricators, material suppliers and roofing contractors. This teamwork was essential for problem-solving and adapting the design and construction to the very specific challenges posed by this challenging project.

“This is a phenomenal innovation, and a lot of work went into it. It is very nice to see one of our established, older steel companies showing a lot of vigour and energy. We have really achieved world leadership in sky-rolling capabilities. This is not only a notable project in South Africa, but globally,” Gebremeskel comments.

A praiseworthy achievement in Chad

The third project Gebremeskel highlighted is the Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in N’Djamena in Chad, which is the winner of the Light Steel Frame Building category.

Conceptual design to restore the cathedral started in March 2014, and addressed wind-load considerations through the implementation of a specialised shell structure design employing custom-made brackets to securely anchor the light-weight steel to the concrete structure.

This remote Central African project location required on-site fabrication. A number of logistical challenges had to be overcome due to the absence of nearby ports and limited road infrastructure suitable for container transport. The entire project also had to be successfully delivered during a period of political instability in the region.

“South African steel companies are not only doing incredible work in very complicated environments administratively, politically and security-wise – but are creating structures that are also very noteworthy – as demonstrated by this and other Pan-African projects this year,” advises Gebremeskel.

In summary, the Steel Awards 2023 category winners are as follows:

Mining and Industrial:

Winner: Azmet Reactors  – this bold pan-African mining project entailed fabrication and transport to the DRC of 6 reactor tanks, with detailed design of complex geometry featuring FEM (finite element method) modelling and an integrated support frame and platform

Factory and Warehouse Category / Metal Cladding

Winners: Mpumulanga International Fresh Produce Market and Pick ‘n Pay Distribution Centre East Port 

Tubular Category

Winner: Mpumulanga International Fresh Produce Market 

Light Steel Frame Building

Winner: Our Lady of Peace Cathedral – Chad 

Architecturally Exposed Steelwork

Winner: NMU Ocean Sciences Campus Extensions – this project’s innovative use of steel succeeds in showcasing the university as a world-class tertiary education institution of choice

Innovation and Sustainability

Winner: Pick ‘n Pay Distribution Centre East Port

Best Export Project 

Winner: Azmet Reactors

Regional Awards

  • Best Project Gauteng – Pick ‘n Pay Distribution Centre East Port 
  • Best Project Western Cape – Hasso Plattner d-school Afrika – this innovative use of space expresses and celebrates the building’s unusual geometry, overcoming the challenges of a highly congested site and construction during the Covid-19 pandemic 
  • Best Project Eastern Cape – NMU Ocean Sciences Campus Extensions 
  • Best Project Mpumalanga – Mpumulanga International Fresh Produce Market
  • Best Project KwaZulu-Natal – Pepkor Warehouse, Hammarsdale – this retailer warehouse was completed against a background of severe socio-political unrest and also extreme weather. The cost-effective design and interactive project coordination and implementation are key highlights of this project

Steel trends

Although the SAISC does not judge project nominations according to budget and size, Gebremeskel acknowledged that many nominated this year were far greater in size and financial value than previously. Although mining projects – and especially those in remote locations – are inevitably the largest, he observes that large retail distribution centres have also grown tremendously in size, and also aesthetically.

“Projects such as the Pick and Pay distribution centre – winner in several categories – and the KwaZulu-Natal category winner, the Pepkor Warehouse, Hammarsdale – both point to this. Our retailers are looking for greater efficiency, so these buildings are getting larger every year. South Africa is becoming the vanguard for the construction of distribution centres throughout the region. These are the kinds of buildings that many other countries in Africa require moving forward, so we need to develop local steel sector expertise to deliver similar projects cross-border in the future,” he says. 

He adds that there were also a lot of architecturally-driven projects this year. Winner of the Architecturally Exposed Steelwork and Best Project Eastern Cape categories, the Ocean Sciences Campus at Nelson Mandela University, showed how a large educational institution project could utilise steel to echo the client’s image as a world-class tertiary education facility.

Diverse judging panel and generous sponsors

“The SAISC is very grateful to the Steel Awards judges, who have given of their own time to contribute to the industry that they love.

This year, the judging panel was more diverse than ever when it came to age, gender and professional specialisation. With the greater emphasis on Pan-African projects, we look forward to growing and diversifying the judging panel even further. This includes featuring judges from other African countries, which will provide insight into the challenges faced by project teams in countries such as the DRC, Chad and Namibia,” Gebremeskel remarks.

The SAISC also thanks all stakeholders who worked to make the Awards a success – and the generous sponsors. These include the main sponsor, Unica Iron and Steel, Macsteel (Pan-African Trailblazer sponsor), Bolt and Engineering Distributors Group (table decor sponsor), BSi Steel (factory and warehouse category sponsor), Stewarts & Lloyds (light steel frame buildings category sponsor) NJR Steel  (innovation and sustainability category sponsor), The Association of Steel Tube and Pipe Manufacturers (tubular steel category sponsor) and Isilo Steel (photo booth sponsor).

“The 2023 Steel Awards provide significant insight into our sector, and just how notable and impressive the projects are. The Awards form an essential platform for showcasing – and celebrating – what the South African steel sector can do, not only locally but across the continent. For this reason, we are encouraging all our members to continue to focus on innovation and quality, setting their sights beyond South Africa, and throughout Africa,” he concludes.

Concrete progress: Colossal Concrete Products reopens De Aar plant, boosts revival of rail and infrastructure development

Colossal Concrete Products, a Level 1 B-BBEE company and the largest manufacturer of railway sleepers in Southern Africa, with a proud 64-year track record, reopened its mothballed De Aar factory in October.

This eagerly anticipated move follows the recent conclusion of a 1-year contract with Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) to supply precast concrete railway sleepers for the parastatal’s national freight rail network upgrade.   

The De Aar facility is strategically located in the Northern Cape, near one of the arterial railway junctions connecting the Cape Town, Johannesburg and Kimberley lines. Through its manufacturing facility reopening, the company will not only provide a much-needed boost to the regional economy through the creation of jobs – and additional upstream and downstream manufacturing and supply opportunities – but is now in a position to reach its inherent capacity, with the production of over 1 million railway sleepers per annum.

Parallel tracks of growth and development

This will pave the way for growth in South Africa and beyond, according to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Gwen Mahuma-Madida.

“Africa is rich in natural resources, but much-needed growth and progress are often hampered by lack of finance and the required infrastructure. Colossal Concrete Products understands the pivotal importance of infrastructure development – and the impact that this has on the economic development of any country. In line with our precast concrete manufacturing capacity, skills and our Pan-African growth strategy, Colossal can play a significant part in the roll-out of rail, civils and general infrastructure development – improving the overall prosperity of the continent,” Mahuma-Madida explains.

The company has grown substantially over the past two years, taking over from a listed entity and entrenching its own style and culture, while maintaining a sound client base and expanding its market share both locally and cross-border.

This followed the June 2021 acquisition – by a consortium made up of Colossal Africa Group, Mafoko Holdings, Clone Capital and Randvest Capital – of Aveng Infraset’s Brakpan and De Aar facilities for their rail, telecommunications, civil engineering and specialised precast concrete manufacturing capabilities and intellectual property (IP).

Mahuma-Madida says that even though the De Aar facility had in fact been mothballed prior to the 2021 acquisition, its potential was always extremely evident: “The TFR contract has been the catalyst for the reopening, and there are now further plans to keep the operation sustainable. The acquisition of an adjoining property in De Aar will also assist us in growing our footprint within the renewable energy space, which is on the cusp of significant growth following the publication of the final draft of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Masterplan in July this year,” she explains, adding that the De Aar facility is close to the current Northern Cape hub of many renewable energy projects – and is expected to be pivotal in supplying products such as precast wind turbine towers, amongst others.”

Concretising job creation

“De Aar, like many areas in the Northern Cape, has been economically depressed in recent years. It is with this in mind that one of the most important elements in the rejuvenation of the manufacturing facility is the creation of some fifty jobs. No employment opportunities have been available since the plant was mothballed by the previous owner over three years ago, and we have been inundated with job applications. We are also collaborating closely with the local mayor and municipal manager, who are extremely excited about the plant reopening and what this means for the town as a whole, “ says Executive Director Chris ‘CK’ Klagsbrun.

Jobs include mixer operators, team leaders, boom scraper, line feeder, crane operators, boiler operators, wire feeders, fork lift drivers, grinder operators, wire cutters, slot washers, preppers and quality controllers.

“Preference is being given to those previously employed in the above positions at our De Aar facility, and I am confident that a fair percentage of former employees will be re-employed,” he advises. 

Mahuma-Madida adds that not only are she and her team extremely pleased to have a contract which necessitated the plant reopening; but also that all Colossal’s products have met the safety and technical requirements required when implementing projects for TFR.

“The foundational concept here is that infrastructure development and job creation go hand-in-hand: when TFR – or any other public or private sector entity – chooses Colossal as their precast concrete products provider, this means that we can create jobs,” she emphasises.

Further down the track 

Mahuma-Madida notes that the company’s 64-year track record as a supplier of precast products in rail, telecommunications, civil engineering and mining – as well as its valuable intellectual property (IP) – were a critical part of the original decision to acquire Aveng Infraset’s Brakpan and De Aar precast concrete manufacturing plants.

Currently, Colossal Concrete Products is recognised internationally as one of the world’s most innovative and diverse concrete sleeper producers, with a highly experienced research and development division having developed over 40 rail-related products. In addition, Colossal manufactures other precast concrete products including culverts, poles and masts, for use in the mining, civil engineering, construction and renewable energy sectors, to name but a few. There are furthermore plans manufacture wind turbine towers moving forward.

“We are still the only company locally that has such a large range of railway products.  To retain that leadership position is critical. While our competitors do manufacture a selective range of main line  sleepers, we are the only ones to make the entire range,” she says.

Already, there are plans to move manufacture of all turnout sleepers to De Aar. These are highly specialised and supplied to VAE which adds rails.

Technically, Klagsbrun points out that Colossal has maintained its high manufacturing standards with all specifications remaining in line with original technology provided by its Swedish licensor. The company also consistently invests in research and development, which remains a very crucial element of the business.

“Our vision is to constantly bring innovative new solutions to the rail, mining, renewable energy, civil engineering and construction sectors – among many others. Taking this a step further, we also plan to replicate what Colossal does across Africa. We have already grown our consulting division close to home; and we are working closely with our Swedish partner on Pan-African rail projects. There have been two recent enquiries around establishing new manufacturing plants which we have participated in, where Colossal could either oversee construction or conclude service level agreements to manage these facilities,” Klagsbrun explains.

A new platform for De Aar

As the company is a major player in the precast concrete space supplying the mining, construction, civils and general infrastructure sectors, Mahuma-Madida says every Colossal facility will always produce a variety of products servicing multiple sectors: “Not only is the De Aar plant strongly positioned for projects in the renewable energy space – but it is strategically and operationally well placed to fill the gap left by the closure of companies serving the construction sector in the Northern Cape,” she points out.

“Therefore, once we have a solid base and increasing revenue, we will resume marketing to the civil engineering and construction sector once again, selling our culverts, pipes and more. When the De Aar and other plants serving the construction sector closed in the Northern Cape, it left a void. Construction companies were forced to import precast products from Gauteng and other regions. So, we will fill that gap – and save them transport costs!” she enthuses.

The same goes for Colossal’s strategy in neighbouring countries: “We will use rail as a base to move into adjacent countries. Once this is set up, we can introduce other products. For us, it is very important to be a Pan-African player as well as a South African player. Although South Africa still has some way to go, that is where a lot of the infrastructure development stems from – and we really need to be part of that!

In summary, we are very sincerely committed to the future not only of rail, but also of infrastructure development – and therefore also of South Africa and the rest of the continent, and are proud to play our part in moving this forward,” Mahuma-Madida concludes.

B.E.D. Cape Town: cultivating customer relationships for a harvest of growth and success in the Western Cape agri sector

Grain SA’s NAMPO Cape 2023, held in Bredasdorp between 13 and 16 September, proved the perfect platform for Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Cape Town – not only to showcase its diverse product range – but also to sow the seeds of important new customer relationships within the Western Cape agricultural sector, according to B.E.D. Cape Town’s Area Sales Manager, Ruan Willers.

Established in 2010, B.E.D. Cape Town services a large and extremely varied agricultural region that extends as far as Bredasdorp, a town in the Southern Overberg region of the Western Cape: “In the Overberg region, there is a lot of canola, hops and barley; while sheep and dairy farming are typically prevalent in the Malmesbury and Swartland region. It is a very large and extremely diverse sector with a large geographical footprint throughout the province,” Willers explains.

Local is lekker

Agriculture is one of the highest earning sectors for B.E.D Cape Town, accounting for approximately a third of its business over the past year. The sector not only includes farmers and farmers’ co-operatives; but also wholesalers and retailers servicing this sector, as well as local manufacturers of agricultural equipment.

Willers says that local Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) make up a particularly important segment of this market. 

Partnering with agricultural suppliers – many of which are located in the smaller and more remote Western Cape towns – is another win / win”: “This is our route to market and enables them to stock top international brands that they would not have been able to make available to their customers without their partnership with B.E.D,” he notes.

Willers adds that, since making new customer contacts at NAMPO in September, he has closed several deals and will regularly be visiting areas close to Swellendam, as visitors to B.E.D.’s NAMPO stand had opened his eyes to opportunities within the area. 

An ear to the ground

Willers points out that NAMPO 2023 was excellent, notwithstanding the weather challenges which did impact visitor numbers this year.

“Exhibiting at the show enabled B.E.D. not only to connect with different customer segments and with potential new customers – but also to develop a clear understanding of the many challenges facing the sector.

For example, there is a general feeling of uncertainty due to the ongoing energy crisis, turbulent economic times and weather related issues. With waterlogged lands, farmers cannot plant or spray crops. This means that yields are down, while production costs are climbing. As a result, there was a certain amount of reticence when it came to spending on big ticket items at NAMPO,” Willers comments.

“That said, smaller items often pave the way for bigger business further down the track – and B.E.D.’s excellent customer service is always a favourite. Brand exclusivity also proved an asset: having the spares and knowledge to service older machines attracted significant interest, which is an important entry point that could ultimately lead to more enquiries and business further down the line,” he adds.

At NAMPO 2023, B.E.D. showcased a range of brands and products, including established names such as Fronius and SKF. “We also used showcased Metabo, an international supplier of industrial power tools, grinders and impactors which we are introducing to the Western Cape’s agricultural sector,” Willers adds. 

Live demonstrations, which included the use of the Metabo grinders and impactors, and extended to sheet metal nibblers and glass grinding, were particularly well received by farmers and their families. 

“All in all, this was a good way to ensure our products were noticed, and to attract a crowd. NAMPO is a very dynamic event. There are so many farms and ways to reach farmers and the agricultural sector as a whole – and NAMPO is one of the best,” he enthuses.

Taking stock

Willers describes the Western Cape farming community as “real, honest, authentic and human.”

He says that community, continuity, flexibility, reliability and prompt service delivery are key to cementing bonds that can last years. As a result, he listens closely to the needs of farmers and his other agricultural customers, and has built up a portfolio of popular products,  supported by a stockholding at all times.

“Right now, everyone is ready for harvesting season and, if we cannot get that single bolt needed for one of the rollers, for example, it can cost a farmer a day’s labour. Good stockholding has enabled us to give faster service, and to keep production going. This is all about fine-tuning our operation to cater for what our agricultural customers need. Bolt and Engineering is always available and always here for them,” he maintains.

Growing fruitful relationships

Juan van Zyl, Operations Manager at B.E.D Cape Town concurs, pointing out that, in the agricultural sector, it is important as a supplier to think in the same way as one’s customers, with a human rather than a rigid corporate approach.

For van Zyl, B.E. D’s mantra ‘We care, and you matter’ applies. That starts during first time engagements (such as NAMPO) and follows through to customer service delivery.

“This is all part of the B.E.D. ‘100 / 0’ ethos which sees employees taking 100 percent responsibility and accountability with zero excuses. Add our ‘#CGB’ or ‘Continually Getting Better’ call-to-action and customers can expect good service from every single interaction,” he points out.

The company’s caring mentality also extends to their long-standing national corporate social investment (CSI) partnership with Cancervive. At NAMPO in Humansdorp and in Bredasdorp this year, B.E.D donated a Kengirl 77-piece pink toolbox for auction to raise funds. 

Farming forward

While stereotypically, farmers can be portrayed as being conservative and set in their ways, B.E.D. has found that they are in fact open to new technology, products and brands.

“We are able to assist agricultural customers in this regard. New technology ticks important boxes when it comes to efficiency, productivity and cost containment. What sets Bolt and Engineering apart, is being able to introduce new technology, products and ideas without sacrificing the warmth and character for which B.E.D. has always been known and loved for the past four decades. With this mindset, we look forward to consistently partnering in – and furthering – the growth and success of the agricultural sector in the Western Cape,” Willers concludes.

AES: putting the benefit back into ore beneficiation for mines through optimised steam generation

Efficiency, reliability, maintenance, sustainability, fuel selection and procurement are just some of the challenges facing the mining sector – and, as one of South Africa’s leading operations and maintenance service providers to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES), is perfectly placed to optimise these.

AES Commercial Director, Dennis Williams, points out that AES has walked a “long and well-trodden path” with many different industries and is currently focusing on growing its footprint in this pivotal sector.

“Our ability to deliver efficient steam generation is based on reliability and the continuity of operation as well as on the cost of production. Any opportunity to improve on production costs through reduced fuel usage will definitely have a positive operational and financial impact,” he says.

Superior energy from steam

Williams says that, although steam is often taken for granted or even relegated to history as having no part in modern industrial processes, it is in fact an important and useful energy carrier. Within the mining context, the energy generated from steam assists with everything from downstream ore beneficiation and specialist mining processes to on-site cooking and heating for mineworkers’ accommodation. 

“Typically, while a mine’s steam plant is operating and supplying steam, there is little concern. However, few mines operate their steam generation facilities with the same care as their core production equipment. Hence, this aspect of their operations and maintenance tends to lag behind the others – and this is where AES can assist,” he says.

AES’s experienced assistance encompasses many aspects, including operational efficiencies and maintenance planning, shutdown maintenance or even supplementing the often limited steam boiler operation skills pool available to mines in remote locations.

“How are you managing spare parts procurement? Can you locate a service provider? These are things that are part of our daily planning. Therefore, prospective mining clients can be sure that, when challenges arise, we are able to turn things around in the shortest possible time,” he adds.

Efficiency and productivity are the key deliverables specified as part of its service level agreements – topped off with a performance guarantee for which the company is well-known. Furthermore, Williams says that AES takes pride in partnering with clients to create bespoke solutions based on their specific operational challenges and objectives.

Mining bespoke solutions

Bespoke solutions often depend on the skills and management that have historically been on site, and the type of plant and equipment in play.

“A key focus would be on areas which the mine finds particularly challenging – as well as on their operational strengths. Potential clients in the mining sector will soon see just how far-reaching taking something like steam generation out of their scope of management – and letting AES look after it – can be. They will also see how the benefits flow from that upstream to their beneficiation process.

If you have reliable, good quality steam, you can optimise your process to the maximum. You no longer have to account for outages or drops in pressure from the steam supply side,” he explains. 

AES begins with a careful site analysis, before coming up with proposed technical solutions. In some instances, for example, the plant in use may not be fit for purpose or require changes in how it is used or configured. 

“From a skills and efficiency commitment perspective, we certainly can address challenges – whether it is maintenance and reliability or just understanding problems as a result of poor fuel selection or poor operations control. This can even extend to other areas such as sustainability, including carbon footprint reduction and reducing the consumption of water,” he notes.

Remote monitoring, valuable insights

AES’s remote monitoring system (RMS) also plays an important role here. 

“When we arrive on site and share data through our RMS system, we can make a client more aware of the impacts that their operations have on our ability to supply them with steam efficiently and reliably. Our RMS system is an Internet-based interface, and clients can even set up their own tailored dashboard to provide them with the key metrics that will influence their processes moving forward,” he advises.

Williams adds that AES is also able to assist with potential expansions. “Many mines want to open new reserves and explore new operations – but they are constrained as the national energy utility is not always able to supply them with sufficient power. In this case, AES will recommend and propose standalone power generation solutions to allow mines to develop such opportunities.”

Health, safety and sustainability

AES is acutely aware of very specific issues within the mining sector, starting with stringent health and safety requirements.

“AES can assist by ensuring that South Africa’s mines do not experience unnecessary downtime due to lost time injuries (LTIs). 25 years of experience in working with potentially dangerous pressurised steam and combustion plant means the company has an inherent awareness of – and focus on – safety. Our ISO 9001, 14 001 and 45 001 certification is testament to how the business is managed and how it can contribute to the optimised operations and maintenance in sectors such as mining,” Williams adds. 

He points out that another area where mines are under particular pressure is sustainability and environmental impact. Once AES understands a client’s objectives – whether it is reducing costs related to sustainability, mitigating these costs completely or even rebranding their business as the greenest choice in its market – the viable options can be addressed.

He points out that each of these options will have a completely different trajectory. AES can look at the energy requirements on site and how these can be integrated, share information pertaining to the very latest technologies and make solution-, technology- and fuel-agnostic recommendations. An example in this case would be using alternative, less carbon-intensive fuel sources such as biomass.

Most importantly, all of AES’s inputs are made with the unique objectives and geographical location of each mining business in mind: “For example, we make recommendations based on the geographical accessibility of fuels and the cost of transportation; as well as how, if used, they will impact on the operating costs within a reduced carbon footprint scenario.

Then there is the execution strategy. This is where our many years of expertise and experience in the operations and maintenance space – not to mention our performance guarantee – means that mines can look forward to the myriad benefits of smooth, reliable steam generation and energy for ore beneficiation and many other applications,” Williams concludes.