Three prototypes of a new modular mobile cool-air-drying system for agricultural use will be launched at the end of this year by Pretoria-headquartered multidisciplinary engineering company Specialist Mechanical Engineers (SME).
The development of the system is in line with SME’s strategy to enter the agriculture sector, with the company traditionally focused on custom high-efficiency industrial, rail and military heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for use in adverse environmental conditions.
“There is a specific gap in the market to move from the conventional method of warm and open-air sun drying of agricultural products to control accelerated dry processes which can use the cooling technology which is the core of SME,” says SME MD Johan Pienaar.
He notes that the novel technology will offer many advantages, such as optimised drying time and low energy costs, in addition to improving the quality of produce, as it is unaffected by inclement weather conditions and cool drying prevents fungi and bacteria growth.
The air-drying system follows the launch of SME’s upgraded smelter HVAC system this year, which last month was ready for installation at diversified mining company South32’s Hillside aluminium smelter in Richards Bay. The new system offers built-in smart remote- control operating in higher ambient temperatures of 72 ºC.
“Plant environments place a heavy burden on the physiological performance and health of human operators. SME’s systems create a safe dust-free controlled micro-environment of 25 ºC in these conditions.
“The development of our new technologies was influenced by client-specific and unique demands, and our ability to conform to all client requirements, with a proven record of durability on previous products,” states Pienaar.
SME has signed new contracts with clients, equating to 30% of its yearly turnover, to date this year.
Pienaar credits a steady demand for the replacement of components and systems on HVAC systems over the long-term, as well as technological innovation with an emphasis on custom design, as driving the company’s orders.
The rail sector currently represents the greatest demand for SME’s products and services.
“This is directly related to a contract for the international supply of rooftop air-conditioning systems for passenger coaches,” explains Pienaar, adding that customised air-conditioning systems for specific applications in the rail, defence and industrial sectors are SME’s most popular products.
In addition, SME’s MK range of air conditioners, which operate in adverse conditions in aluminium smelters, are in high demand, while the defence sector, on average, still accounts for 30% of the company’s yearly turnover, with most orders placed by international clients.
Pienaar attributes the company’s ability to navigate the economic climate created by the global Covid-19 pandemic to its existing projects.
“We were fortunate to have existing projects to execute on a fairly wide platform, as well as an increase in the volume of enquiries on our website.”
Communication with existing clients and all prospective clients remains key in building a sustainable business, he states.
However, SME is still hindered by the ban on international travel, as certain aspects of its business cannot be performed virtually and most of its clients are overseas.