The South African fastener sector is losing specialised skills as veteran workers are retiring, without skills transfer taking place. The industry also struggles to attract skilled graduates, says local standard nuts, bolts and other special fasteners manufacturer Impala Bolt & Nut.
Company MD Derek Cohen tells Engineering News that, although the company has extensive training programmes for its existing staff, it still faces the challenge of “attracting new entrants who are prepared to spend months or even years learning about the design and manufacture of fasteners”.
Cohen says South Africa has a relatively small – by global standards – market for fasteners, which adds to this challenge. “This means that return on capital investment for new technologies and machinery is slow to flow in.
“Most industry players in South Africa use old information technology systems that have not kept up with the pace of global technological developments. We are of the opinion that business management software enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems enable efficient use of scarce resources, while ensuring cost-effective operations, that are just as important as having up to standard manufacturing facilities,” explains Cohen.
He adds that for that purpose, Impala Bolt & Nut has invested in a new ERP system, which runs the entire manufacturing process – from the enquiry, order processing, design, planning and scheduling stages, through to the manufacture, bills of materials, routings, purchasing, processing and plating, packing and delivery and the collection of payment.
“This system has expanded our capacity to deal with many more complex issues concurrently, while maintaining an efficient facility,” Cohen boasts.
Cohen further tells Engineering News that Impala Bolt & Nut prides itself on manufacturing and providing products that meet the highest global quality standards and giving its customers the best services and products.
He explains that two years ago, the company started the implementation of an ISO 9001 quality management system, where it achieved full certification through the internationally recognised Data Quality Service (DQS) in 2013.
“The ISO 9001 system has become the backbone of the company and is used to manage every aspect of operations, including manufacture, distribution, procurement, quality control, finance, sales and administration.
“Having a suitable quality management system has opened up new markets and enabled us to design and manufacture specialised products for industries such as automotive, renewable energy and railway,” elaborates Cohen.
Impala Bolt & Nut’s products are manufactured at the company’s plant in Germiston, Johannesburg and are sold all over the country and exported to overseas markets. He adds that the company custom makes some of its products to meet clients’ specification.
“We have also noted that our new product offerings have been well received both locally and internationally, with several large million-rand orders being received for supply on new projects.
“For some of these projects and on request by our customers, new products have been developed, which include extended thread lengths, high tensile mechanical properties on products normally only available in mild steel, and special corrosion protective coatings designed to suit and withstand arduous environmental conditions,” details Cohen.
Cohen states that even though the local industry is considered small by world standards, there is potential for companies offering fastener solutions, to grow. He cites the expansion project by State-owned Transnet Freight Rail and the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s investment in expanding dual-voltage electrical freight locomotives and diesel locomotives as an example of such opportunities.
“Further, the introduction of anti-dumping duties from China and increasing import duties has assisted the local industry by reducing the volume of imports and encouraging local manufacture. We have also found that customers tend to prefer local products with full traceability from the raw material stage through to completion, which we are able to provide,” he explains.
Moreover, Impala Bolt & Nut has also turned its focus to growing its export market.
“We pride ourselves in developing long-term, mutually beneficial and sustainable relationships with customers and suppliers. We are also pleased to be able to maintain all existing customers while continually growing our market.
“In the last three years, the number of active customers has increased by 80%, which I believe bears testimony to the high regard in which our customers hold us,” boasts Cohen.
He concludes that some of the company’s ongoing projects include the energy, mining, infrastructure and port development sectors in and around Africa.