The local gas and welding industry is still a reflection of what it was about 20 years ago and the industry is using less than 20% of the productive economy, which subsequently inhibits growth and development of the industry, says integrated gas and welding solutions provider Unique Welding Alloys CEO Nazmi Adams.
He tells Engineering News that there is a need to “normalise” the industry, explaining that this means a gas and welding industry must be built that “fires on a much broader productive industrial base”.
Adams, a chemical engineer with more than 20 years’ experience in the gas and welding industry, points out that people use words such as ‘transformation’ and ‘empowerment’, but he believes these phrases have a negative connotation that implies that somebody has to give something up and that it can sometimes reflect a win-lose situation, where people who have “spent decades building capacity, will feel cheated”.
“This leads to people trying to find ways and means to either manipulate the system or do the minimum, and that is not what it is about; we need to focus on ways to help the industry move forward.”
Adams suggests that normalisation will, by implication, bring in previously disadvantaged players and adds that he saw Unique Welding Alloys as the ideal vehicle to achieve this goal.
Unique Welding Alloys was 100%-owned by financial service provider Sanlam Investment Management business division Sanlam Private Equity.
In 2017, Sanlam Private Equity divested a significant portion of Unique Welding Alloys to black shareholders and the company became the largest independent black-owned and black-managed nationally-based, integrated gas and welding distributor in South Africa, Adams highlights.
“However, it is absolutely critical that we don’t trade purely on being a black-owned and black-managed company. We have to be able to offer clients real value that separates us from the competition.”
He notes that one of the challenges facing normalisation is reluctance from all the major South African banks to fund and support emerging companies, especially black companies.
“If it was not for the financial strength of its shareholders, Unique Welding Alloys would not have been able to succeed.”
He says banks also need to be normalised and that a different model is needed if the country and economy is destined to succeed, otherwise, growth and development will be stifled significantly.
Meanwhile, Unique Welding Alloys in the past 18 months went on to reach out to other, smaller black-owned players in the industry to create partnerships and alliances. This enabled the company to tap into a far broader base and start to unlock the remaining 80% of the country’s productive economy and capacity.
The company also entered into a partnership with industrial gas manufacturer Air Products and Adams enthuses that Air Products’ leadership fully embraced the normalisation agenda.
“Their forward-thinking executives invested an enormous amount of personal time to help Unique Welding Alloys succeed.”
Unique Welding Alloys also formed strategic alliances with global welding companies such as welding and cutting equipment and consumables producer ESAB to provide high-tech solutions.
The company, which has 14 national branches, spent the last two years enhancing and building its capacity and capability.
This included revamping and redesigning a new range of welding machines, as well as including gas selection and wire selection data on all the company’s equipment, to enable competent welders and transfer knowledge to them.
Adams notes that the company is placing a significant focus on safety through the introduction of a cost-effective, leading-edge powered air purifying respirator welding helmet kit that protects welders from hazardous welding fumes.
He adds that Unique Welding Alloys is also actively educating its clients about the risks they face as well as the solutions the industry employs to ensure their health and safety.
Unique Welding Alloys, together with its partners, have more than 40 000 industrial gas cylinders in circulation. Adams highlights that the company achieved double-digit growth in the first quarter of this year, amid a declining manufacturing and mining environment. This is largely owing to its expertise in metal inert gas and tungsten inert gas welding processes, he adds.
The company has completed several installations this year and has ongoing installation contracts.
It has successfully implemented several mini-bulk cryogenic installations across South Africa, as well as the installation of about ten large bulk cryogenic tanks.
Further, the company completed a high-tech mini bulk liquid oxygen and nitrogen installation to supply laser gases, which Adams states is much cheaper than alternatives and quicker to install.
Unique Welding Alloys currently has contracts to install or is installing more than 20 mini bulk liquefied petroleum gas tanks nationally.
The company aims to become the largest distributor of gas and welding products and to be recognised by clients as the go-to company for integrated gas and welding solutions, Adams concludes.