Category: Business

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.

GSI women: champions of compressed gas safety training – Empowering women throughout industry

As a leading South African provider of cutting, welding and grinding consumables and machines, First Cut has always prioritised safety – and nowhere more so than in the field of compressed gas.

First Cut’s subsidiary and well-known compressed gas safety training company GSI is extremely proud of its female team members, who have an impressive track record in gas product sales and compressed gas safety training.

Melanie Kearns, GSI’s National Product / Sales Manager and Thabelo Rabedzwana, GSI’s  Technical Sales and Training Officer run the company’s compressed gas safety training, and in addition, are also frequently requested to attend private and public sector forums where they share the importance of compressed gas safety. 

Executive Assistant Anneke Hofmeyr is another pivotal member in the GSI team. Supporting Managing Director Peter Rohlssen, as well as Kearns and Rabedzwana, she also contributes to GSI’s compressed gas safety training success.

Sharing the compressed gas safety message

An example of this was the company’s attendance in August 2023 at the government printing works’ national Women’s Day event. Gas safety was the third item on the agenda, and Kearns’s and Rabedzwana’s messages were very well-received, by a very different audience to the more familiar industrial audiences at mining, welding, fabrication and engineering companies.

“Our safety message was still extremely relevant – and empowering to women, being a Women’s Day gathering,” Rabedzwana says of the event. “The response was positive, and we were subsequently invited to present at the University of Limpopo.”

Rabedzwana is quick to point out that the more in-depth training courses offered by GSI usually cover the range of industrial compressed gases used for welding and cutting; whereas the information shared at the government printing works event focused more on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG.)

However, this did not detract from the vital key messages which she and Kearns conveyed around the need for compressed gas safety – particularly since more consumers are moving to gas due to the ongoing national power crisis.

“At this event, we focused more on gas safety for home use, explaining the properties of LPG gas and equipping people with practical knowledge on how to handle it,” Rabedzwana adds.   

“People forget that gas is a propellent in most aerosol cans, and it is important to demonstrate this in such forums and events – as well as to remind the audience about the highly flammable nature of compressed gas and how important it is to  check for leaks before use, and always close the cylinder valve after use.”

Women training – and empowering – women

The perception that the cutting, welding and fabrication sectors are exclusively male domains is changing. Kearns and Rabedzwana are just two of a well-represented group of women in pivotal roles at GSI and First Cut who are championing this shift.

Working in compressed gas sales and safety training roles, these women are also supported by First Cut’s and GSI’s company culture, which fosters the growth and progression of women in the welding, engineering and mining sectors. In turn, they are encouraged by the growing number of female welders and others working throughout industry, attending GSI’s compressed gas safety training seminars.

“The certificates obtained from these seminars are valid for a period of two and three years,” says Kearns.

“Yet many women who previously attended are asking for a refresher course after two years, which just goes to show how much they value GSI’s training, and wish to keep up to date with compressed gas safety.

Furthermore, when we analyse new attendees – particularly in the mining sector – there are always a significant number of women. It is very empowering for us as women in the sector to train and empower other women,” she adds.

Kearns has become a well-known authority in her field, and her passion for compressed gas safety training at GSI (which extends to oxyfuel product sales and accreditations) is evident:

She cites GSI’s Level 3 training seminars, typically conducted over a five day period. “Judging by the evaluations from the students, these high-level compressed gas safety training seminars are very well received. It makes me really happy to see that people are still so positive about our training, and our equipment…it is just the best!”.

By the same token, Rabedzwana says she feels empowered when sharing her knowledge and skills around compressed gas safety, specifically as it applies to the welding sector:

“It is empowering because it saves lives, giving welders working with compressed gas on a daily basis, the knowledge and the confidence to perform their duties in a skilful, safe and responsible manner, while also reducing welding-related costs.”

Growing interest in compressed gas safety training

Interest in compressed gas safety training from women continues to gain traction – particularly in the mining and welding sectors. To this point, Rabedzwana has been encouraged by the increasing numbers of female artisans, welders and fitters from the large mining houses. 

Kearns shares in this optimism, celebrating the growing diversity of attendees at GSI’s  training seminars. However, she would also like to see a more substantial presence of women in  supervisory roles.

“The majority of women who attend our training are welders, boilermakers and artisans – which is great. We do however look forward to seeing more female engineers and engineering contractors attending going forward,” she concludes.

AES: making a material difference through energy optimisation in the textile sector

A change of fortunes for South Africa’s beleaguered textile sector depends on many factors – and leading operations and maintenance service provider to the steam and boiler sector, Associated Energy Services (AES), can make a material difference to its future success.

“AES has been active in the sector since the 1990s, and has first-hand experience of its implosion after trade liberalisation and an influx of cheap imports toppled less competitive local companies, leading to the loss of over 100 000 jobs. Now, we are well positioned to share our knowledge around energy optimisation, to make a real difference in the much-needed revitalisation of the textile sector,” says Managing Director, Chris Paterson.

Weaving a new textile tomorrow

According to Paterson, the company is already working with a large textile dyehouse in KwaZulu-Natal, looking at options for optimising its steam supply.

“Most of the current hope and positivity within the textile sector hinges on key market changes. Overall, according to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), the textile industry accounts for 14% of manufacturing employment (60 000 to 80 000 jobs) and contributes around 8% to GDP (gross domestic product).

According to the Cape Clothing and Textile Cluster (CCTC), a not-for-profit initiative established by government and industry to boost competitiveness, the sector stabilised after 2014 by implementing best practices, lean manufacturing principles and a government-supported machinery modernisation programme,” Paterson points out.

He adds that a global shift by retailers towards a Quick Response (QR) supply chain model – which hinges on stocking the most desirable products in the shortest possible time and rapidly replenishing big sellers – also favours local suppliers over offshore producers.

However, another trend – environmental sustainability or ‘greening’ – could prove a hurdle. Already, retailers are punting ‘greener’ fabrics that are natural, require less water and are sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint associated with long-distance transport.

Fabric of the industry

AES believes that, given ongoing economic uncertainties, it is still early days for South Africa’s textile industry. Companies – quite literally – need to cut their coats according to their cloth.

As Paterson explains, a single factory has multiple energy requirements: from using thermal oil for heat setting of materials, to using steam for washing textiles before dyeing and printing. During dyeing, steam opens open up the cellulose structure to allow for comprehensive dyeing. This can even raise the rate at which the dye is absorbed, increasing throughput. Steam is also used in laundry process to finish fabrics.

He notes that, to remain competitive, particularly in comparison with Asian producers where the cost of labour and energy is less, local manufacturers must focus on their cost inputs – and energy is one of the highest.

In addition to reducing fuel usage and cost per metre of fabric produced, AES also looks at how efficiently steam and thermal oil are used in the textile producing facility.

Commercial Director Dennis Williams explains: “If there is any waste in the system, the investment in terms of people, turnaround time and equipment changes is relatively small, but the benefits are considerable. Therefore, we advise companies to go for the low-hanging fruit of waste reduction first, to establish a proper baseline from which to make further choices. They might even find that waste improvements mean that changing to a different fuel no longer makes economic sense.”

He says a cautious approach is needed: “Regarding efficiency and sustainability, it makes sense to manufacture locally. However to re-establish a whole supply chain requires massive capex investment – especially where textile plant assets were stripped and machinery is very outdated.”

Opportunities for AES include advising and assisting with the starting up of mothballed textile plants – around boilers particularly, including sizing which is critical. The company also advises new investors on the most appropriate choices for the longer term, including sourcing skilled operational staff.

Sewing up sustainability

While the main consideration for the South African textile industry remains survival, local manufacturers need to go beyond improving technology, to deal with challenges like sustainability, carbon tax implications,  water (condensate) and heat recovery. These are all areas where AES is already providing input.

“AES’s standard approach is to optimise what is there, generally by making an efficiency improvement. Reducing fuel consumption and emissions substantially improves sustainability,” says Williams.

He cautions that sustainability investments for the textile industry must be economically viable: “We work with textile companies to minimise waste and recover heat or water. Hopefully, those improvements will also improve competitiveness as this is what will drive their commitment to sustainability.”

Paterson is keen to see the local textile sector flourishing – but also more focused on addressing its safety issues. Fires, associated with the operation of thermal oil heaters have been a key challenge for textile companies in the past. AES is, again, well positioned to monitor and care for these sorts of assets.

“A significant value chain can be created via the textile sector: from cotton farmers to transporters, mills to dye houses and then cut, make and trim operations and retailers. This can create much-needed employment, with all the attendant socio-economic progress benefits. AES looks forward to contributing to that,” he concludes.

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

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

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

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

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

Origin of standards

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

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

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

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

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

Science of galvanizing standards

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

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

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

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

Standards training

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

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

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

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

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

The right roots 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Branching out

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future growth

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strength in diversity

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

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

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

The ‘nuts and bolts’ of selling fasteners

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

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

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

Building strong relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fastening knowledge

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

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

Our Lady of Peace Cathedral in Chad: an emblem of hope for steel in Africa

The restoration of the Notre-Dame de la Paix cathedral in N’Djamena, Chad – which won the Light Steel Frame Building category at the Southern African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC) Steel Awards 2023 – stands as a lasting monument to resilience and hope. Synergising the building’s history with contemporary design is a significant achievement, and a powerful testament to the tenacity and innovation of South Africa’s steel industry.

SAISC CEO, Amanuel Gebremeskel, makes the following observations about this miraculous achievement: “Through this project, we have demonstrated that our industry can do what others cannot – and, of course, that steel is the best solution. The project team could have used treated timber or even concrete. The fact that they went with a light steel frame structure shows that the local steel sector has moved towards solutions that are better suited to these sorts of projects.”

One of the key aspects of the project brief was that the roof should be constructed using a non-combustible material. That is because the cathedral, originally consecrated by the Catholic church in March 1965, burnt down during civil unrest in 1989.

The once beautiful building waited until 2014 for its restoration to officially begin.

Restoring hope

Local steel company MiTek Industries believed it could achieve what others thought was impossible. The remote location required on-site fabrication, and its Ultra-Span product’s precision cut-to-length capability proved to be the ideal solution. This prefabricated, light gauge steel roof truss system is both lightweight and compact, enabling the weight of the roof to be split across 1100-millimetre centres with trusses clustered close together. This effectively minimises the impact on the original foundations and addresses other key factors such as wind load.   

During construction, the 21-metre frames were laid out on a jig adjacent to the cathedral. Two frames were arranged on top of each other with bracing placed between them. Cross-bracing was added to ensure a stable structure so that it could be hoisted into place using a crane that had fortunately been left on site and was available to use.

Once lifted into place onto the concrete ring beam, additional braces were fitted between each pair of trusses, creating a shell structure for the whole cathedral. The curved end at the back of the cathedral was critical, with difficult geometry to overcome.

“The distinctively curved roof design is actually very beautiful, but it is certainly not an easy one to construct. That, of course, speaks to the standard of the architects and the engineers, who were very involved in the process – from start to finish – working closely with the fabrication and installation teams. Together, they explored many different material options, with light gauge steel ultimately chosen as the most appropriate,” Gebremeskel observes.

He points out that working on an existing structure such as the cathedral is always more complicated than working on a new build, because one has to deal with whatever inherent errors are already present.

“The project team did an excellent job. The cladding work was also relatively complicated, as the overall geometry and design of the building is complex. It would be a difficult job to do even here in South Africa – let alone in Chad, close to the Sahara desert,” he explains. 

The next challenge was that, with a roof structure clad in light gauge steel tiles, the cathedral’s interior could become very hot in the local climate. A robust insulation solution and underlay were therefore used to keep the building cool.

The restored cathedral is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also serves as a reinvigorated place of worship and community.

Celebrating project management excellence

Gebremeskel notes that the Our Lady of Peace Cathedral not only had a troubled history, but that its restoration was executed under particularly difficult circumstances. 

Logistics was the major challenge. The town of N’Djamena is 1000 kilometres away from the nearest port. All the components were shipped via Spain to Cameroon, after which the project team had to contend with extremely poor roads to reach their final destination.

Chad is not only a landlocked country, but is also a region where there has unfortunately been a lot of conflict for a long time, which meant that getting the materials safety to site was not an easy task. As the parts were premanufactured and only assembled on site, there could be no errors in measurements when it came to the components transported from South Africa. Then, an excellent installation and erection team was also required. This is really about top-notch project management and the logistical capability of our steel sector,” Gebremeskel points out.

Steel is ideal for Africa

MiTek Technical Director Mike Newham points out that in a location such as this, Ultra-Span trusses ensured longevity and durability due to their galvanised coating and resistance to borer, vermin and fungus.

Benefits of the use of steel in this application included cost-savings on shipping and transportation due to the lightweight nature of the product, streamlined on-site installation and fabrication processes, reduced waste – and the commitment to environmental sustainability by ensuring 100% recyclability of this steel roof at the end of its life.

Further demonstrating that steel is the building material of the future in Africa, MiTek is most proud of how it employed innovative design and technology to address the structural complexities and logistical demands of this project. The company successfully leveraged its Ultra-Span product’s exceptional capabilities to ensure this innovative project excelled beyond conventional parameters – not only locally, but also in the heart of Africa.

A new era for steel across Africa

Gebremeskel believes that the Our Lady of Peace Cathedral project also signals a new era in the use of light steel frame throughout Africa. Whereas there was a time when lower quality steel was used across the continent, the complete opposite now applies.

“What we are now finding is that the more remote and challenging the site, good quality steel is the best solution. The project team could have tried many other materials, but these were just not viable. This proves that steel – and, in this case, light gauge steel – is the ideal solution in environments such as this. We are definitely entering an era when there will be many projects with similar applications for light steel frame across the continent,” he concludes. 

First Cut’s product offering: ensuring customers get quality and affordability

For many companies throughout industry, a tough economic climate in recent years has inevitably meant tightening their belts and looking for more cost-effective products and services.

This is why First Cut – a leading distributor of cutting, welding and grinding consumables and equipment – has met halfway with suppliers to ensure that cost-effective products are not inferior products.

“With the current market pressures in South Africa, we know that customers are looking for affordability, while still wanting quality,” says Zelda Vorster, First Cut’s Commercial Director.

“Therefore, we have negotiated with our suppliers to ensure that the products we distribute are affordable – but at the same time, we are ensuring our customers get the best of both worlds by selling well-priced products that do not compromise on quality.”

A proudly local, quality product

Looking at First Cut’s extensive product portfolio – including a range of locally-manufactured blades – their Messer welding electrode range is a good example of a ‘proudly local’ product. 

These popular, high-quality electrodes can be used for every application and material, from galvanised steel to stainless and even so-called ‘problem’ steels. Furthermore, as this is locally produced, First Cut has been able to control stock levels. There are also no import taxes and freight costs, with a knock-on pricing benefit accordingly. 

“We are therefore able to focus on producing a quality product at a very competitive price,” says Vorster. “New customers test these electrodes and always come back satisfied. As the electrodes being locally manufactured, it also means we can create job opportunities for South Africans.”     

First Cut’s product range is sold and distributed to multiple sectors: from mining and fabrication to agricultural, timber, food and beverage and many others. It is the DIY sector however, where First Cut is really looking to expand their current footprint, with their hand tool range. “Approximately 10% of our product range services the DIY market, and we are hoping to really get into this market sector,” says Vorster.

Two globally renowned and popular brands in First Cut’s portfolio of hand tools and power tool accessories (PTA) are Eclipse and Starrett respectively.

‘Eclipse-ing’ the DIY market

The range of Eclipse hand tools includes pliers, nippers, bolt cutters, various clamps and vices and swivel bases.

As hand tool specialists, Eclipse is continually enhancing their range and adding new and innovative products to it to meet market demand. Interestingly, some of this demand arose directly due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“Many people engaged in home improvement during the pandemic, as they were working remotely and therefore more flexibly – and many were also confined by national lockdowns to their own properties and gardens. Eclipse has launched a fantastic range of home and garden tools as a response to customer demand accordingly,” notes Vorster.

“This range is well known in the DIY market. We have strengthened our relationship with Eclipse and structured the pricing accordingly, so that it is very competitive – but again, we are not compromising on quality.”   

“We have significant stock of the full Eclipse range and are confident we can serve the needs of our DIY customers moving forward.”

Reducing cost-per-cut

Starrett saws come with specialised bimetal saw technology. The advantages of this technology are higher resistance to tooth breakage, smoother and faster cuts, longer blade life and reducing cost- per-cut.

In-house training and technical support from suppliers such as Starrett have ensured that First Cut staff know what product to supply for specific industry applications. It is certainly not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to blades, says Vorster. 

“We have all of this knowledge available to ensure the customer uses the correct product to get faster and better cuts – so that ultimately, they can boost their productivity,” she adds.

Power tool accessories – with an edge

First Cut offers a diverse assortment of hand tools and power tool accessories locally. This includes drill bits, hole saws, jig-saw blades, band saw blades, reciprocating saw blades, levels and tape measures.

Power tool accessories (PTA) have been a part of First Cut’s range for some time, but the range has been extended and is receiving very favourable attention in the market.

“We have always associated ourselves with specialists in cutting,” adds Vorster. “The combination of our suppliers results in us having  the best quality products in our PTA stable.”

A final word on ‘safety first’

First Cut is in continuous negotiations with suppliers to ensure customers get the quality and affordability they need. This also means supporting the smaller businesses which may not be able to absorb major price increases. Another consideration in the supply-demand chain is, of course, safety – which is vital to First Cut, with its ‘safety first’ ethos.

“Our suppliers have very high safety and quality standards and controls in their manufacturing processes, which is very important to us. When a customer works with one of our products, we want them going home safely to their families at the end of the day,” Vorster concludes.

Azmet Reactor project: a precise and praiseworthy victory for South Africa’s steel sector

Fabricating six massive reactors that are over three storeys high in Gauteng and then transporting these more than 2 500 kilometres to a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – where all 3265 parts fitted perfectly, with not even one of the 26 900 bolts out of place – is a massive achievement. 

This is according to Southern African Institute for Steel Construction (SAISC) CEO Amanuel Gebremeskel, commenting on the Azmet Reactor project, a collaborative effort led by Viva Engineering,  an innovative and deserving 2023 Steel Awards  Mining and Industrial category winner.

“The project entailed the detailed design of complex geometry with finite element (FEM) modelling, and integrated support frame and platform. As such, it exemplifies precision engineering, showcasing intricate design and fabrication processes.To appreciate the complexity thereof, one has to consider how to plan, design and fabricate such huge modular structures ahead of time, in such a way that they can be moved through four or five different countries by road to install on site at the mine,” Gebremeskel says.

He goes on to explain that the more conventional approach would be to use heavy concrete tanks; or set up a substantial design office and fabrication works with a highly skilled team, both of which are not readily available locally in the DRC. Using an established South African fabricator based in Gauteng therefore provided a viable alternative – allowing for a controlled environment and close monitoring to ensure that all construction materials and structures met the required quality and safety standards.

Poring over the project

The Azmet Reactor project not only involved creating six huge reactors – but also, several other complex tanks, as well as platework and plant buildings.

From a technical point of view, engineers had to consider the design of the vessel in relation to permanent, material, equipment and wind loads. Due the nature of the spliced connections, these had to be modelled in detail, including all the bolts. Furthermore, as the vessels had to be transported and erected piece by large piece, a lifting study first had to be performed. This focused on the selection of the most appropriate lifting methodology, considering that the reactor components would need to be loaded onto conventional heavy-duty transport vehicles.

On the opposite end, at the mine in the DRC, careful consideration was given to the constructability of the project.

Shaping up and shipping out

Gebremeskel says that the aspect of this project that stood out the most during the judging process was the logistics: “They designed each large structure in a modular fashion, for ease of transport and installation. However, bear in mind that these structures have a diameter of 9.9 metres and a height of 11.6 metres – which is almost the size of a 3-story building!”

The road transportation therefore necessitated exacting tolerances to ensure safe and timely delivery to site in the DRC. 

Transport jigs were designed and built to brace the components and reduce vibration during transportation, while meticulous load packing optimised weight distribution for the lengthy trip.

All the components of each reactor were packed so that upon arrival on site, it could be assembled from the designated package. The components also had to be carefully packed in specially designed cradles to optimise each load and minimise the number of loads to site

“The essential brilliance of this project lies in the smooth coordination and orchestration of design, fabrication and erection. This process was perfectly choreographed by the project managers who oversaw the planning down to the finest detail,” Gebremeskel observes.

Reactors are essentially large tanks that are custom-made to remove precious metals from mined ore, and must tolerate a variety of different temperatures and chemicals. A rubber bladder required to protect the steel from these compounds therefore also had to be installed prior to leaving the Viva Engineering workshop in Gauteng.

Here too, Gebremeskel says, adjectives such as ‘innovative’ and ‘ingenious’ come to mind.

“The lining is put on the inside to protect the steel from whatever solvent is being used. As one can imagine, it is necessary to do some fairly detailed mockups and even trial assemblies to test this. The reactors were eventually bolted together. This meant that the lining had to work in a bolted tank rather than a conventionally welded one,” he points out.

Maintaining the continuity of the rubber lining between the bolted faces of each component was successfully addressed, as the project brief explains: ‘The first reactor was trial assembled to prove that the jigs and manufacturing was correct. All six rubber-lined reactors were installed without a single flange hole out of place. Rubber lining is continuous on the bolted faces. This required that the fabrication details incorporated the lining thickness. During fabrication, spacer plates were also inserted in the connections to simulate the lining. Corrosion protection was furthermore applied to the external surfaces of the component’.

Joining quality with manufacturing excellence

Yet another innovative aspect of the Azmet Reactor project is the precision welding required to join the panels during the fabrication process, so they could be bolted together once on site. The level of welding precision and accuracy had to be very high, as the structures could not distort during the transportation process.

“A lot of the design had to cover exactly how to lift and maneuver these large and very heavy modular structures. The most significant load is during the lifting process – as opposed to when they are in use – entailing a very different kind of engineering. The entire design is driven by how one plans to construct and then transport each structure – as opposed to its ultimate application,” Gebremeskel continues.

The benefits of steel in this project were numerous, as detailed in the project brief: ‘The complexity of the reactor geometry is best suited to fabrication in steel. Construction of the reactors…in concrete would not be viable due to the complexity of formwork and deployment of plant onto a site of limited size. The benefit of steel for this application is a relatively lightweight structure (compared to concrete), which can be preassembled and trial-erected before being transported to site. This allows for fast and accurate erection in the final location’.

A precise and praiseworthy precedent

One of the chief challenges, according to Gebremeskel, was completing the project on time – as late delivery would have resulted in substantial penalties. Needless to say, timeous delivery was achieved against all odds.

“The Azmet Reactors project represents a veritable feat of engineering – showcasing brilliance of design, logistics and installation – and demonstrating the South African steel sector’s capability to execute structurally and logistically complex projects with praiseworthy precision.

This is indeed a victory for our industry, which could certainly not have been achieved elsewhere on the continent. Considering the number of mines being constructed throughout Africa, the good news is that similar projects will no doubt be required, which our local steel supply chain can certainly deliver,” he concludes.

Galvanizing the future: HDGASA says training pivotal to ensure project excellence and industry success

The Hot Dip Galvanizers Association Southern Africa (HDGASA) plays a pivotal, lynchpin role in liaising across the entire value chain as it seeks to develop the market for hot dip galvanizing as the preferred and cost-effective corrosion control technology. In line with this key objective, training and skills development for the sector are among the most crucial aspects of the Association’s multi-focused strategy, according to Executive Director, Robin Clarke.

“We wear many hats: industry advocate, custodian and champion, interacting with many different role players throughout the steel and galvanizing value chains, and acting as a lynchpin, linking different role players. A large degree of our success in doing so can be attributed to training,” Clarke states, looking back over a proud history which dates back to 1965, when the Association was founded to serve the needs of end-users, specifiers, architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators and hot dip galvanizers throughout Southern Africa.

Investment in training

Notwithstanding an excellent industry track record, the Association has faced substantial challenges in the past few years: for example, the struggles of the South African steel industry, coupled with the economic and industry-wide impacts of the global Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have seen tremendous contraction in the steel and steel-related industries during this time. Steel consumption has shrunk, which has impacted on hot dip galvanizing locally. Unfortunately, many marginal plants did not survive. However – now that the steel and galvanizing sectors have come through this period of contraction and consolidation – we are starting to see encouraging signs, including ‘green shoots’ of growth. One of the most important has been an increased demand for – and investment in – training,” Clarke points out. 

“This strong industry participation signals a strong level of optimism about the future. The galvanizing plants processing the majority of the tonnage in South Africa are engaged in ongoing internal, and external, customer-facing developmental training. Our hot dip galvanizing courses benefit all employees of companies that are committed to career development and transformation,” he adds. 

An industry voice through training

While certainly an industry advocate and champion, the HDGASA realised that training and education was at the heart of establishing industry credibility: of hot dip galvanizing and duplex systems as the most cost-effective, preferred corrosion control technology, and of the Association’s members.

“We found that the most effective means of promoting the technology was educating end-users, architects, specifiers, designers and project managers on exactly how the zinc coating protects iron and steel components against corrosion. Arising from this, various technical presentations were developed; and, as with all educational tools, these evolved. Over time, these were refined and  ultimately transformed into the formal training courses which we now present,” he reveals.

The ‘listening lynchpin’

Importantly, ensuring that the information and skills shared in this training are of the required quality, level and relevance is achieved through effective listening:

“We listen carefully to the challenges, pain points and requirements of the steel and galvanizing value chain – including the Association’s members, industry partners and end-users.

To this point, we find that many value chain participants, including engineers, architects, specifiers, fabricators and other professionals – still need to be educated about precisely how the technology works. This includes aspects such the development and application of the corrosion control coating, so that materials and processes can be correctly specified to achieve the best outcome. Once that outcome has been achieved, industry role players need to understand the standard against which the outcome is judged,” he explains.

By the late 1990s, elementary training courses had become the Level 1 and Level 2 training courses which today form the foundation of the HDGASA’s training offering. In addition, the HDGASA also offers bespoke training to meet the specific needs of members and other members of industry.

A custodian of skills and standards

Clarke explains that the HDGASA represents its members through participation in TC 107 – a technical committee which sets national standards through the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).

“We are also positioned to provide training on this, because we are part of the team that writes the standards. This reflects an evolution of our partnership with the international galvanizing community, members of which have representation on the International Standards Organisation (ISO) board. They write standards for hot dip galvanizing internationally, and we then play a monitoring role in the local transfer and adaptation of these by representing our members at the SABS. This, in turn, gives us the credibility to deliver lectures on these standards – and to explain why they are written in the way that they are,” he continues.

The HDGASA also partners with the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM) which ensures that professionals attending these courses are awarded the relevant career development points (CDPs).

Closing the training circle and the skills gap

Clarke points out that, while customers or end-users need to understand the required specifications and standards, the galvanizers themselves also need to understand the same specifications and deliver projects to standard.

“For example, we have developed courses for supervisors and galvanizing employees to ensure that they are upskilled on a regular basis. The way to deliver successful galvanizing projects and build faith in the technology does not end with people knowing how to specify and measure outcomes correctly. The galvanizers themselves need to be well-positioned to deliver in accordance with quality and safety specifications and standards,” he says.

At the end of its Level 2 course – where the HDGASA concentrates very heavily on standards and how to measure compliance or non-compliance – there is a 3-part examination, including a dummy inspection. Those that pass earn a card from the HDGASA that permits them to inspect hot dip galvanizing against the SANS121:ISO1461 standard.

According to Clarke, although the HDGASA is not a regulatory body, it provides this recognition of skills as a means of maintaining the high standards which it helps to set.

“A large percentage of the steel and galvanizing value chain have attended our training courses and graduated over the years. Mindful of the skills gap in the engineering, construction and other sectors in this country, some of these courses are done by our members in order to qualify and develop their own people. Some even extend this to their customers. This enables their customers’ quality teams to formulate their own independent opinions as to whether they received galvanizing which was up to standard or not,” he explains.

Exporting local galvanizing training and skills

The HDGASA’s training material has been globally recognised by the International Zinc Association (IZA), which has partnered with the Association to utilise its material as the basis for similar training in South America and parts of Asia, including Japan.

The technical elements which account for two thirds of the course form the foundation thereof, with small adaptations to suit differing regional standards that are added at the end, Clarke explains.

The Association, which has a sub-Saharan African footprint, has seen hot dip galvanizing move successfully into Africa through the work of its members – and has also provided advisory services and support in Namibia, Sudan, Angola, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The best way to market hot dip galvanizing as a preferred corrosion control technology is to consistently deliver good projects, and these depend on the knowledge, confidence and skills of the key participants within the sector. As the HDGASA, we are proud to provide a diverse range of training, resources and skills to ensure the delivery of galvanizing excellence, now and into the future,” Clarke concludes.