The South African bus sector has faced challenges over the past two years, with commercial-vehicle sliding-window designer and manufacturer Widney Transport Components noting a drop in volumes, says sales manager Lucas Mehlape.
“Local demand is mainly driven by government tenders, so the more the State invests in the sector, the better it is for all concerned. About 60% to 70% of bus orders are linked to government tenders and, currently, there is reduced activity in this regard,” he reveals, highlighting that Widney is a major window supplier for the South African bus sector.
Bus manufacturers are also feeling the impact of supply chain shortages, including chassis. Widney has seen a drop in orders, relative to pre-Covid volumes. Volumes from transport vehicle manufacturer IVECO have dropped off significantly, while MAN is still active in the market and regular orders have been received from bus body manufacturer Marcopolo, commuter bus services providerPublic Utility Transport Corporation (Putco) and other smaller players in the market.
The company is currently completing an order for 100 bus window sets for Marcopolo
Widney is also working on several localisation opportunities, where manufacturers are exploring local manufacturing to ease the complexity of international supply chains.
“We are positive that the market will improve as we distance ourselves from the main impact of the Covid-19 lockdown impacts,” says Mehlape
Meanwhile, there has been significant growth in the leisure sector for Widney, owing to greater demand for caravans.
“Luckily, we have positioned ourselves to take advantage of the uptick in the leisure sector, which is proving to be bigger than the bus sector, and second to rail,” he tells Engineering News.
Through its in-house design team, including draughting, three-dimensional printing technology and its ability to tap into the know-how of its parent company PG Group, Widney prides itself on its ability to innovate, states Mehlape
For example, Widney supplies rubber glazed windows and bonded windows for Putco buses.
“This is old technology and can take 10 to 12 minutes to fit. We are working on a new design that will reduce window fitment time to four minutes,” says Mehlape.
The new design, nicknamed Widney’s ‘EasyFit’ window, is at an advanced stage of development, with the company hoping to launch the product onto the market later this year.
The company was also awarded the sliding-window contract for Japanese vehicle manufacturer Isuzu Motor’s newly launched seventh-generation D-Max bakkie in 2019 and developed a “state-of-the art sliding window” for the vehicle from scratch, he states. The D-Max was launched last month in Gqeberha, in the Eastern Cape, where the bakkie is being manufactured, following a R1.2-billion investment by Isuzu in 2019.
“If you decide to buy an Isuzu bakkie, it is likely to be equipped with a Widney sliding window,” highlights Mehlape.
Widney is initially supplying about 400 units a month for the D-Max, but expects Isuzu to ramp up production, which will require 1 000 units a month on average.
One of Widney’s biggest manufacturing challenges has been the rising cost of input materials, especially aluminium, which has increased by more than 40% over the past 12 to 13 months, significantly increasing the company's input costs.
“If you consider that 50% to 60% of our windows include aluminium frames, you will understand how difficult it is to try and keep our prices low while remaining competitive in the market,” says Mehlape.
While the company’s strategy to limit input costs includes negotiating better rates with suppliers, this is a challenge given the international inflationary environment and supply chain challenges.
“To offset these costs we continually look for value-added engineering projects, reviewing every facet of our production process to identify where we can decrease cycle times and boost output while avoiding overtime,” elaborates Mehlape.
For example, Widney has implemented improvement projects to lower its aluminium rejection rate. Aluminium is a relatively soft material, making it susceptible to scratches and dents. Through a process focus on improved handling and Widney’s investment in sandblasting technology during the preparation phase, these imperfections can be improved, reducing waste.
“Widney is continuously adding to our manufacturing capabilities, including powder coating, profile bending and plastic injection moulding, to diversify our service offering. We have, for example, recently received an influx of requests for mild steel powder coating from some of our existing customers,” explains Mehlape.
Subsequently, Widney has been awarded a contract to powder-coat mild steel towbars and is following up on other enquires.