Gauteng-based structural steel product manufacturer the Structa group is expanding its manufacturing facilities and equipment to support its growth over the next several years.
Structa group chairperson Piet Coetzer tells Engineering News that the company is upgrading its Vaal manufacturing facilities by increasing the combined plant size from 22 000 m2 to 30 000 m2 under roof and crane.
The group is also acquiring new machinery and equipment to expand production and improve quality at its manufacturing plants.
The current steel throughput of all Structa’s plants, including the Meyerton, Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and Sasolburg sites, is between 1 500 t/m and 2 000 t/m.
The new equipment includes an automated drilling line that will increase the company’s manufacturing output.
Coetzer says that, through these expansions, the group will create at least 65 jobs.
“Structa currently employs 700 employees. We strive for graduates to fill at least 10% of the new jobs created and to reflect the employment equity needs of the group.
“We also expect to hire 30 apprentices over the next 36 months,” he adds.
Coetzer says the group’s objective is to become a significant manufacturer and supplier of structural steel products and related services for electricity and telecommunications, petrochemicals, industrial, water and mines infrastructure in Southern Africa.
“We intend to develop new manufacturing lines to participate in green energy products and manufacture wind turbine masts, components for nuclear plants and category II pressure vessels.”
The category of a pressure vessel is determined based on the volume, pressure and type of fluid it contains.
Structa’s customers include petrochemicals group Sasol, State-owned power utility Eskom, Namibian power utility NamPower, Democratic Republic of Congo power utility Société Nationale d’Électricité, Botswana power utility Botswana Power Corporation, African downstream petroleum marketer Engen and iron-ore miner Kumba Iron Ore, besides others.
Coetzer emphasises that structural steelwork underpins most infrastructure in the broader South African industry and, therefore, presents significant opportunities for growth. However, it could also become a major problem area if care is not taken to resolve the problems facing the industry. He says a skills deficit continues to plague the industry, with particular shortages of artisans, draughtspeople, estimators and engineers.
“This situation is made worse by excessive pay demands.”
He believes that the skills shortage can only be tackled through a concerted effort by the combined industry to create training opportunities for school leavers. “If this could be aided by a working, user-friendly system of government assistance, we could have success within four to five years.”
Further, a shortage in steel supply is also posing a challenge. Coetzer says South African steel manufacturers are often short of critical plate thicknesses and structural sections, which results in delays.
“This is caused by breakdowns in some steel plants and fluctuations in the economy, as well as poor planning and interaction with converters,” he notes.
Further, South African steel manufacturers’ prices are high, rendering them uncompetitive. “We can import steel at cheaper prices, especially in bulk. But this puts pressure on the buyer’s cash flow and may require them to order more than needed.
“In many cases, the South African order of cheaper products becomes part of a world mix and is not necessarily a priority delivery,” Coetzer adds.
Another risk related to cheaper imported steel is that it may also be of suspect quality.
“The local industry is facing a major problem with cheap manufactured products entering the country from the likes of China and Turkey. These countries subsidise exports by an effective 30% in some cases,” Coetzer says.
He proposes two ways of solving the problem.
“South Africa must produce structural steel products more effectively and at a lower conversion cost, which would require cheaper steel and more realistic wage demands. “Further, government protection can be improved through the implementation of import taxes on strategic products.”
Coetzer believes that greater cooperation is needed between tertiary institutions and industry role-players in terms of interactive research & development (R&D).
The Structa group has an active R&D programme with the University of Pretoria to improve its design skills and understanding of product behaviour.
“It is difficult in the current economic climate to invest in R&D as the focus is on short-term profitability but we are taking a longer-term view and investing in the future,” he adds.
However, Coetzer has an optimistic outlook: “The steel industry will benefit from large capital projects, such as Eskom’s envisaged nuclear programme and the essential infrastructure builds that are underpinned by steel structures.”