A R121-million brownfield development at the Defy plant, in Jacobs, Durban, has seen the addition of an automated plant to manufacture top loader washing machines for both the local and export markets.
Defy South Africa CEO Evren Albas, Turkish holding company Arçelik Global chief technology officer Oguzhan Ozturk and Trade and Industry Minister Dr Rob Davies officiated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Tuesday.
This doubled up as a celebration of an overall investment of over R1.2-billion at Defy’s three production plants in Durban, East London and Ezakheni since Arçelik, which is the world’s second-largest white goods manufacturer, bought the company in 2011.
These plants are now at “world benchmark level”, Albas said.
Investment to date includes R210-million spent during 2018, with a further R200-million to be invested this year.
Davies welcomed the fact that a further development pipeline worth another R1-billion was expected to be rolled out by Defy over the next five to seven years and said government would work with the group to facilitate this.
Future investment is expected to include the construction of a large warehousing facility, in Ladysmith, for which Defy recently signed a lease with Transnet, according to Albas.
Continued refurbishment of the 60-year-old plant in Jacobs is expected to follow with significant upgrades of the production lines that currently turn out cooking appliances and tumble driers.
By 2020, Defy is also looking to expand output to include new cooking products such as 60 cm built-in ovens and a new free-standing stove.
Establishing the new top loader plant, which is designed to produce a thousand 6 kg, 7.5 kg and 10 kg washing machines per shift, presented a number of engineering challenges. Like many of its neighbouring manufacturing operations in south Durban, it is situated on a strategically well located property close to the busy port but is restricted by both space and the age of the infrastructure and buildings.
Work began on the injection moulding shop that houses the new equipment imported from China in May 2018. The structure was completed in January this year.
A former parking area was transformed to house the new metal presses. The floor was lifted by a metre during the third quarter of 2018 and the structure was ready for the new plant by the time it arrived at the end of the year.
The 70-year-old building that houses the assembly plant was too short for the full 110-m-long production line. The aged building was raised by 5 m and a second level installed.
These are linked by a sophisticated lift system that was designed in-house to loop the highly automated line up to the upper level. It ends with an 85 m transfer line that takes the packaged washing machines to the warehouse for distribution.
Albas said Defy planned to export at least half of its production from the Durban plant and had already received its first orders from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Paraguay.
The new plant is producing 200 machines per shift at present and this is expected to increase to 350 per shift by next month.
Albas said the plant had been designed to more than treble this capacity and Defy was confident that it would get the orders needed to operate at full capacity within a very short space of time.
The new plant has created 75 new jobs. Employment would grow as new shifts were added to accommodate growing orders.
Ozturk pointed out that South Africa was of strategic importance to Arçelik and that South Africa was now regarded as the headquarters for its operations in sub-Saharan Africa.
The three local production centres would be supported by extensive research and development and the global manufacturing network of Arçelik.
The group, which has 20 factories, is active in 145 countries. Group turnover totalled $5.6-billion at the end of the 2018 financial year.
Davies noted that Defy was well positioned to benefit from the signing of the African free trade agreement which was rapidly gaining momentum. Already, a third of the country’s exports went to Africa.
He also welcomed Defy’s commitment to growing local skills and boosting its South African supplier base through the localisation programme that accompanies this new investment.