Sheet-metal components manufacturer Fabrinox expects to complete four projects with a collective value of about R50-million for the mining, water treatment, laboratory, and the food and beverage industries within the next six months, Fabrinox MD André Visser tells Engineering News.

“These projects have provided the company with exposure to diverse markets and industries,” he emphasises, pointing out that this exposure also offers the company the opportunity to acquire new skills and experience for future markets.

In light of these opportunities, one of the four projects is an entirely new venture for Fabrinox, Visser adds. The company was awarded the contract on the back of its experience and skills in the mining and water-treatment industries.

About 80% of the contracts comprise the manufacturing and fabrication of stainless steel sheets and components, he says, which will be used for containerised plants that will be supplied to mining, water-treatment and laboratory projects in remote areas. A processing plant will be installed at a food and beverage company’s factory.

Multinational companies awarded the projects in the past year.

Manufacturing Upgrade

Fabrinox commissioned its new corner-forming machine – the first of its kind in the Western Cape – in August. The machine uses a cold process to form corners and is significantly more cost effective for control cabinets.

“The ACF Cornerformer Multiflex machine can be used for the corner forming of various metals, including mild steel of up to 4 mm, stainless steel of up to 3 mm and aluminum of up to 5 mm,” Visser says. Fabrinox acquired the machine in March.

Features of the machine include the benefit of eliminating the need for welding, grinding and finishing the corners of cabinet doors, panels and baking trays.

Meanwhile, other company plans in the pipeline include additional automation of its materials handling processes, for which the company would acquire several specific machines.

“These upgrades will reduce materials handling, improve process quality and increase production capacity by 20% to 30%,” Visser says.

The company also plans to expand its 7 000 m2 factory floor by another 2 500m2 and introduce new processes to its services next year.

While Fabrinox currently has six installation teams travelling the world to assist in projects and obtain skills from the more diversified markets abroad, the company will increase the number of installation teams and diversify geographically in 2015.

“The installation teams provide the company with the opportunity to be more competitive,” Visser says.

He further highlights that demand for the company’s services remains favourable, with a registered double-digit demand increase over the past five years.

While Visser attributes this increase to diversified market exposure, new processes and technologies, as well as new skills, he emphasises industry’s needs and expectations for increased manufacturing flexibility and solutions-based approaches.

Future Prospects

Visser believes the per capita use of stainless steel products in South Africa remains higher than in neighbouring countries, as it is more advanced in its development and industries.

He adds that the food and beverage industry, predominantly in South Africa, still offers the best return and biggest growth.

However, several neighbouring countries have pockets of high use, such as in the mining industry, Visser points out, adding that, as these countries have advanced development and food processing industries which will develop as the agricultural and retail industries develop, the food processing industry will grow.

“As the need for processing increases, demand for stainless steel sheets and components will also increase,” he says.

Visser also highlights the role of the expanding mining industries throughout Africa, such as in Mozambique and Zambia, which will drive demand for stainless steel.

State of the Industry

The stainless steel industry is not as sound as in previous years, owing to immense pressure from imports, while primary material sourced locally is not as competitively priced, Visser points out.

“Imports remain cheaper than locally produced content,” he says. He believes that supply chain structure also plays a role in exacerbating industry challenges.

In addition, only limited protection from import duties remains on finished goods that can be manufactured locally, he says.

Other industry challenges include skills availability and the development of welders, boilermakers and other artisans. Fabrinox mitigates these by means of an action plan to enrol about 12 new apprentices and young project engineers, and training them, each year. The company retains about 80% of the artisans trained.