Planned maintenance essential during pandemic

12th February 2021 By: Khutso Maphatsoe - journalist

With ventilation and filtration having become paramount in the prevention of Covid-19 infections, preventive maintenance for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment has become “vital” in ensuring that machines work optimally, says air conditioning specialist Flat Foot Engineering MD Max Mabuti.

It is, therefore, important to appoint a reliable HVAC maintenance service provider who has experience in specific areas of equipment, such as that used at hospitals, to offer advice and deliver a maintenance plan that is suitable to the HVAC systems being used.

“Planned preventive maintenance schedules are needed to ensure that the equipment is regularly serviced to prevent breakdowns that could result in unplanned downtime,” he says.

Mabuti adds that, when machines are maintained periodically and at regular intervals, critical and costly breakdowns are reduced, and in some cases prevented. 

Skills shortage

Mabuti points out that the air conditioning engineering industry runs the risk of fading away owing to the lack of skills. He states that most of the people that he knew in the industry have either retired or passed away. The impact of Covid-19 is severely felt in this regard.

‘’This is a world-wide issue that is not only facing us in South Africa. When I visited Germany in 2019, I realised that it was experiencing the same problem in terms of lack of skills and technicians,’’ he says.

In addition, another is the younger generation wanting to work in offices instead of working with their hands.  It is vital for the survival of the industry that the younger generation is encouraged to learn the skills that are needed for the air conditioning industry and to enter into the field.

“I decided to work with various institutions of higher learning and colleges to teach their students the skills that are needed in the air conditioning engineering industry. I am busy working with 65 students who are currently receiving practical training,” Mabuti says.

He highlights that the HVAC industry is also an ideal employer for females with 30% of the students who are currently under his mentorship being female. 

To encourage more participation by the youth, Flat Foot Engineering is also offering paid internships to the people who are willing to learn and gain some experience in becoming specialised in the air conditioning engineering industry.

Reflecting on the hard lockdown last year, Mabuti points out that, unfortunately, quite a number of HVAC businesses were forced to close, while there were also “a huge number of staff retrenchments, business rescues and liquidations”.

Flat Foot Engineering had to be strategic to ensure that the lockdown did not result in its closing.

“We had to make a number of difficult, but important decisions to ensure that we stay afloat; these included management agreeing to salary cuts. We also had to reduce expenses and overheads where we could . . . to relieve the strain on . . .cash flow,” he says.

However, Mabuti states that, by working with government initiatives which assisted businesses during the lockdown – banks, the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation that offered grants and loans – the company managed to survive.

“We are grateful that we did not have to retrench any employees during this time, which includes 65 electrical and mechanical students for in-service training.”

The company is fortunate to have existing contracts in place, with those clients ensuring revenue over the next two years.

This year, Flat Foot Engineering’s strategy is to build its client base in the private sector by continuing with its quotes and tender submissions so that about 30% of its revenue derives from the private sector, Mabuti concludes.