The world will most likely never revert to pre-2020 norms, says steel grating and related products supplier Vital Engineering director Glen Pringle.
He tells Engineering News that he expects continued market disruption and the rethinking of various elements of the market, including supply chains.
“Many projects in various sectors have been put on hold – particularly in construction. There has also been significant downscaling of demand. How exactly this will filter through to South Africa and play out locally, we are not entirely sure of.”
In addition, he says the local steel sector continues to face its usual challenges with regard to primary steel production, supply chain pressures, tariffs, pricing and safe-guard issues.
As a member of the South African Institute of Steel Construction (SAISC), Vital Engineering believes that the SAISC could help the local steel sector to overcome these challenges.
“The SAISC has many different steel supply chain players to accommodate, and many different mandates to consider. If it were possible, these myriad directives and mandates should be streamlined or consolidated to make the overall mission and task of the organisation less burdensome and more effective,” Pringle says.
He adds that the consolidation and streamlining of the many different directives and mandates would result in more effective efforts to improve the local steel industry.
“The industry definitely does require more economic stimulus and assistance from government though – now more than ever.”
Notwithstanding these issues, Pringle says Vital Engineering needs to ensure that it is as agile as possible, and “very quick to pivot” to take advantage of the new opportunities, even if they are “thin on the ground”.
Vital Engineering registered as an essential services supplier to other essential services suppliers at the onset of the initial lockdown in March.
For example, the company registered to supply to other essential services sectors such as the medical, food and beverage, mining, oil and gas, as well as petrochemicals sectors. This enabled Vital Engineering to remain partially open, continue manufacturing and, thereby, continue generating revenue throughout the lockdown.
“Now that lockdown levels have eased to some degree, we are seeing a slight increase in economic stimulation and activities,” Pringle notes, but adds, however, that many sectors – including construction – have been “very hard hit” and are “not yet really operational”.
He therefore expects weaker demand in the market for some time, and “when this demand does strengthen, it will be very economically driven”.
Pringle says Vital Engineering is watching South Africa’s Covid-19 infection curve very closely, as a mandatory return to lockdown Level 5 would have a very negative effect on the already struggling economy.
“Simultaneously, operationally, we are proceeding with the utmost caution, and drawing on our company culture of stringent health and safety compliance,” he assures.
Meanwhile, Vital Engineering is involved in numerous pan-African projects in the mining, petrochemicals and oil and gas sectors, supplying a variety of industrial gratings, hand railing and expanded metal products to processing plants and other structures, which are either under construction or being upgraded.
Moreover, the company is developing new gratings in line with international product standards and specifications. Pringle says this is being done particularly with the European market standards in mind.
“Engineers in Europe specify their needs in accordance with the standards they are familiar with. Therefore, it makes sense for us to develop products which match these standards as part of our value-added service to our end-user clients,” he concludes.