Steel fabricator Hydra-Arc has recently expanded its machining capability allowing it to take on work previously done by international manufacturing and engineering companies.
Founded in 1987 by Jose Maciel, Hydra-Arc has grown from a supplier of specialised welders into a leading refinery maintenance, turnaround and steel manufacturing specialist.
Training, innovation, the ability to embrace new technologies and an uncompromising approach to quality and safety, ensure that Hydra-Arc is able to constantly grow its business both locally and internationally.
According to Hydra-Arc engineering manager Ewan Huisamen, the expansion has equipped the company with a range of modern computer numerical control machinery, from vertical machining centres to heavy gantry-type machines.
“Our unique tandem horizontal boring mill from Czech Republic, manufactured by TOS Varnsdorf, is a global one of its kind.The machine has a floor-level bed spanning 36 m and has two separate rotary tables capable of rotating 40 t to 60 t workpieces,” explains Huisamen.
In addition, the machine has two independent milling columns, allowing for multiple machining operations to be completed simultaneously. “We have used our experience in the heavy engineering industry to select machines which allow Hydra-Arc to offer a complete solution to our customers, cost-effectively and at the highest level of quality.”
Hydra-Arc is currently expanding its facilities by extending three of its bays by an additional 50 m each, thereby offering four bays of 500 m in length, along with a newly allocated 4 500 m2 machine shop. It has also increased its storage facilities and relocated its plasma bay and post weld heat treating furnaces, to optimise the space and work flow in order to facilitate the larger projects.
Despite South Africa’s challenging manufacturing environment, owing to its unstable political landscape, Hydra-Arc remains positive.
The unstable political landscape has led to reluctance from foreign investors. “Economic growth will only reflect positively once companies start to reinvest in the manufacturing industries.”
In an effort to manage factors within its control, Mshiniwami training academy was established in 2014 to address the shortage of skilled artisans.
“The training academy allows trainees to assist in Hydra-Arc’s current projects. Its aim is to uplift and empower the local community. Hydra-Arc has a strong background in training and our foundations are built on the supply of skilled labour. Upskilling labour allows South Africa to rely less on foreign nationals.”
However, in order for the training academy to be successful, it will require the buy-in of the greater private sector, which is “proving to be a greater challenge than initially anticipated”, Huisamen admits.
Mshiniwami’s skills training caters for welders, boilermakers and pipefitters, with plans to expand the range of skills offered at the academy in the near future.
The amount of imported products from Asia is another challenge that faces the industry.
The reality is that Hydra-Arc cannot compete directly with a government-supported and incentivised steel and construction industry in Asia.
Should government support the local steel construction industry through embargos and levies on imported goods, it might have a significant effect on South Africa, such as improved employment figures and relief on social grants, among other benefits.
As part of its corporate social responsibility initiatives, Hydra-Arc produces water tanks for local government.
“Upon installation of the tanks in the designated areas, only people from those areas are employed for the civil works, fencing and trenching, which translates to skills development and transfer in those communities,” explains Huisamen.