Local glass reinforced polyester (GRP) pipe and fitting manufacturer Fiberpipe says a successful management buyout (MBO) from Saudi Arabian pipe manufacturer Amiantit Company will streamline the business and enable it to grow its South African market share.
The manufacturer, which was formerly known as Amitech, made an offer to Amiantit at the end of March last year and has since been operating under the name Fiberpipe.
Fiberpipe MD Hein Momberg says the company still has all the benefits and support of Amiantit’s Flowtite technology but will not have to deal with delays caused by decision-making restrictions.
“Our products are still manufactured to the same Flowtite technology licensing requirements prior to the MBO. We also still adhere to all relevant product standard requirements, as specified by the South African Bureau of Standards, the International Organisation for Standardisation and the American Water Works Association,” he says.
The company is ISO 9001:2008-accredited and is a member of the Southern African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association.
Momberg notes that the company saw an opportunity to make the MBO offer when Amiantit started closing some of its businesses outside of Europe.
He says the company’s independence will enable it to be more flexible. More senior management will be involved in decision-making opportunities, closing in fewer growing pains.
Further, the company expects water supply and sewerage infrastructure projects in South Africa to increase the demand for its Flowtite and Vectus GRP products, which are mainly used in water, sewerage and industrial applications.
“Water shortages are a pressing issue in South Africa and, as soon as government starts implementing its planned water infrastructure projects, we will definitely see an increased demand for our products. However, government is lagging in getting these projects off the ground,” says Momberg.
In addition, he explains that consumers and buyers are not yet as accustomed to GRP pipes as they are to steel pipes, which have been available for many years.
“Educating the consumer and the industrial buyer on the benefits of GRP pipes will also help us to increase demand for these products. For now, it is still a case of people opting for steel products simply because they have been doing so for many years,” he notes.
The company reports that its Flowtite and Vectus pipes and fittings are suitable for use in highly corrosive environments.
“This differentiates these products from steel, which corrodes easily if not treated with expensive epoxy coatings. Historically, steel was the more traditional material used in bulk water and sewerage applications but GRP has proven to be a most cost-effective alternative, especially in medium- to high-pressure applications,” claims Momberg.
These products are also lightweight, easy to install and affordable, reports the company.
Fiberpipe branch manager Roy Caldeira says the Flowtite and Vectus products have been used in Europe for almost 40 years and prices of steel pipes and fibreglass pipes are nearly the same, as demand for these GRP products in Europe has grown significantly.
In sub-Saharan Africa, GRP products are more affordable than steel, because consumers are not well educated on the benefits of this material.
“We manufacture the Flowtite and Vectus products at a lower price than our European counterparts,” says Caldeira.
Fiberpipe is the sole manufacturer and supplier of Flowtite and Vectus pipes and fittings in sub-Saharan Africa.
Even though Flowtite and Vectus products have been available in South Africa since 1992, there is still a shortage of contractors who have the knowledge and skills to install these pipes and fittings.
“Qualified contractors can easily install steel pipes, because they have been doing it for many years. Our challenge is to make sure that our product is properly installed. Therefore, we have decided to make field service representa- tives available on sites where installation is being done,” says Momberg.
Caldeira adds that this is a free value-added service provided by the company to assure clients that installation is up to standard. The company also provides installation training for contractors as well as a technician to assist with the installation.
“By providing this service, we are developing a new set of GRP pipe installation skills in the country. This will accelerate the growth of these products and will improve their reputation in the market,” he notes.
The client or contractor, who successfully completes the GRP pipe installation training, receives an Installation Certificate from Fiberpipe, qualifying the contractor or client for future GRP pipe installation projects.
Making a Move
Meanwhile, the company acquired and moved into new premises, in Germiston, last month.
The company will manufacture its signature Flowtite and Vectus pipes and fittings at this new 13 000 m2 under-roof factory.
Momberg explains that the company uses a continuous filament winding process to produce its Flowtite product and a discontinuous double helix reciprocal filament winding process to produce its Vectus pipes. This process gives the Vectus pipes a balanced combination of axial and hoop mechanical properties.
“Our new factory is tailor-made specifically for our unique manufacturing processes and, for the manufacturing of the Vectus product, it is equipped with composites manufacturing technology from Argentina,” he adds.
The Flowtite equipment has also been upgraded with the latest electronics and software from Norway.
“These upgrades will increase our manufacturing capacity and improve the overall quality of the product, while reducing the direct manu- facturing cost. This, in turn, is beneficial for the customer,” highlights Momberg.
It took the company just over 40 working days to move its entire factory from its previous premises in Alrode, Alberton, to its new factory. Several companies were employed to strip, reassemble and move the manufacturing equipment.
“We sold three properties to acquire our new premises, which covers 25 600 m2,” he adds.