Aluminium, tilt casting and aluminium light-fix- ture manufacturer Wahl Industries is supplying thousands of aluminium overhead bulk fittings to various schools in the country.
The company states that government has started to reinvest money in schools. Wahl has received orders to supply bulkhead light fittings to various schools in the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo.
“Government is replacing old bulkhead fittings, which are of a poor quality and falling apart,” says Wahl Industries MD Randal Wahl.
He states that the company opened its new upgraded showroom, which took four months to build, in June.
“We host a number of presentations in the showroom and use it as a platform to showcase the aluminium light fittings we offer with a ten-year construction guarantee,” he says.
The company operates an aluminium gravity and tilt die-casting foundry, which produces a range of castings for the automotive, irrigation, catering, general engineering, furniture and lighting industries.
“Our aluminium commercial and domestic light fittings comprise 75% of the business and, although we occasionally supply government departments, we generally focus on private commercial developments,” he states.
Wahl says the aluminium foundry industry has been inconsistent since 2010, but notes that the company has benefited from the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as it supplied various aluminium products to contractors for two years in preparation for the event.
“The industry has been unstable since the 2010 FIFA World Cup and if we had only focused on the foundry casting business, we would have been affected by the industry’s instability,” he says.
Wahl adds that many foundries closed in the past two years, adding that the market has become very competitive.
“We are competing with foundries that are struggling to simply pay salaries, with many offering prices that are unsustainable; hence, the closure of so many over the past few years.”
To remain profitable, the company has not only diversified but also increased the amount of stock it carries to improve customer service.
“We carry stock castings and I do not think there is another foundry in the country that does that. “Two years ago, manufacturing companies were cutting their stock to the bone and, as a manufacturing company, you cannot have too little, as small runs result in less efficiency and higher costs, he says.
Wahl says the company recently filled an order for a mining company for 500 conveyor-belt castings. Because Wahl had castings in stock, it was able to deliver the products the next day.
“Having castings in stock has helped us expand our business. We have done work for hotels in Mauritius and we see the rest of Africa as a significant area of potential growth,” he states.
Meanwhile, a major challenge facing the company is the cost of gas and electricity.
“We installed a 635 kVA generator in our foundry three years ago at a cost of more than R1-million. “We need to have a constant supply of work moving through the foundry when we are producing and can’t risk disruption.
“We can’t keep aluminium in the crucibles, as this would damage them as they solidify after a few hours.
“Every time there was a power outage for more than six hours, it would be the equivalent of losing two days of production. We have been fortunate with a more stable supply of power over the past few years; however, the capital costs associated with the backup power make us less competitive than our offshore competitors.
“Stable infrastructure is the foundation of all industrialised economies,” says Wahl.Aluminium
makes up 8% of the earth’s solid surface by weight, but does not occur in nature as a free metal.
“Aluminium is too chemically reactive and is, therefore, found as a combined element in more than 270 different minerals, primarily bauxite ore,” he says.
Wahl notes that aluminium’s value is its resistance to corrosion and its low density.
“Aluminium is malleable, durable and lightweight. It is regarded as being able to store energy because it retains the original energy used to convert it.
“In the recycling of the metal, the original stored energy is reused and only 5% of the original energy input is required to recycle aluminium, without any loss in quality.
“We only use recycled alloyed aluminium. “All runners and flaring cutoffs during the manufacturing process are remelted, so we try to waste as little energy and leftover aluminium as possible,” he explains.
Wahl says the company’s foundry is one of the largest privately owned aluminium foundries in South Africa, with 10 500 m2 under cover, a maximum height of 4 m and overhead lifting capacity of 5 t.
“It has gas melting furnaces, a transfer ladle and electric furnaces with strict temperature controls,” he says.
He adds that the foundry comprises gravity and tilt castings, a tool room and machinery.
“We produce between 58 000 and 70 000 castings a month, ranging from 100 g to 18 kg,” he concludes.