James Durrans and Sons spreads its knowledge worldwide

When James Durrans and Sons first opened for business in 1863, Yorkshire was awash with Victorian optimism, and the region’s companies were taking the UK into new markets. Now, the family-owned company that celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, is an internationally recognised entity with manufacturing sites in China, India, South Africa, Germany and France and customers include steelmakers, foundries, glass, refractory and furnace manufacturers, as well as the battery, chemical, lubrication and automotive industries.

The company, which recently moved into a new state-of-the-art Head Office especially constructed to mark the 150th milestone, is located in the Pennine town of Penistone, UK and operates four UK manufacturing sites, namely Penistone (Yorkshire), Bilston (West Midlands), Brancepeth (Co. Durham) and Scunthorpe (Lincolnshire). Each site has a particular specialisation.


Mike Robinson and Kevin Nesbit of Durrans RMS presented Christopher Durrans of James Durrans and Sons with a bronze statue to mark the occasion of the company’s 150th anniversary. Dave Armitage of James Durrans and Sons is on the right

Manufacturing facilities in Europe are centred in Willich (near Dusseldorf, Germany) where a centre of excellence houses a modern refractory coatings production facility. Asia and Far East countries are serviced from the refractory coatings plant situated in China (James Durrans (Tianjin) Coatings). Joint ventures are located in South Africa, India, Germany and France.

The company supplies refractory coatings and carbon-based materials such as milled coal dust and anthracite, metallurgical and petroleum cokes to manufacturers across the world.

South African JV
James Durrans and Sons relationship with South Africa was cemented in 1999 when the company signed a joint venture manufacturing agreement with local company RMS, to manufacture their mould coatings locally. Production subsequently began in 2000.

A new company, Durrans-RMS (Pty) Ltd, was formed to locally manufacture and market the mould coatings and the other products that James Durrans and Sons manufacture in the group, which includes blackings, recarburisers, sand additives and natural graphites.

At that stage it was the first time that James Durrans and Sons had entered into a JV agreement. The success of this JV was the model for their other JV’s internationally.

The local company’s relationship with the James Durrans and Sons Group resulted in the company promoting the flood coating range of coatings for moulds and cores in South Africa. Traditionally RMS had supplied foundries locally with coatings which were only suitable for brushing, spraying and swabbing.

The local company was innovative in introducing the static and transportable returnable bulk tanks that have proved to be very successful. There are obvious major advantages in the use of bulk tanks for mould coatings. Essentially the foundry only pays for the coating used without the problem of bucket and drum costs and disposal thereof. The provision of storage tanks and flood coating equipment is provided to the end user at no cost, provided it is utilised for the proprietary products.

Durrans RMS new coatings manufacturing equipment set up in Boksburg
The JV company between RMS and James Durrans & Sons continued to grow its market share in the coatings market. However capacity was limiting growth and in line with James Durrans’ strategy to standardise their manufacturing facilities around the world, including China, the company invested over R1,5 million in a new state-of-the-art Vollrath mixing plant imported from Germany in 2005.

This coincided with a move to a 7 500 m² under roof site in Anderbolt, Boksburg North, Gauteng.

The mixer, which is capable of mixing five tons in a mix, increased the company’s capacity three-fold. With their technology transfer Durrans RMS supplies coatings that are of the same quality and consistency as is supplied worldwide. The plant produces a full range of both solvent and water based coatings.

The Durrans RMS JV had been a great success. Ironically, Durrans’ next step forward in expanding production overseas would not employ the joint venture template. China, where the Group had been involved for some years, was rather different. Although the country was a major source of petroleum cokes for Durrans, and had a booming economy, its auditing, financial and legal infrastructure was much less developed.

Durrans had been extending its presence in China even before the South African joint venture had been set up. Christopher Durrans, the current MD and a fifth generation family member, had been travelling in China, purchasing raw materials, as his father had done. He realised that a full-time employee was needed there if the Group was to make any more progress. In 1998 he persuaded Jiang Ping, whose knowledge and expertise had been invaluable during the preceding decade, to join the Group from Minmetals and take over the task of sourcing Durrans products from China. As he recalled, ‘This was a huge step for us and one that secured our leading position in Asia’.

Over the next few years, the Group started developing its sales and marketing function in China, and also set up a trading operation, selling raw material to customers in Europe and South America. In 1999, just as the South Africa venture was getting underway, Durrans began exporting trough blacking from the UK for use in China’s state-owned centrifugal pipe foundries.

Christopher Durrans soon concluded that there was great potential for Durrans in the
booming Chinese economy. Buoyed by the success of Durrans RMS, he felt that the time was right to establish a production base in China, which would also enable the company to offer local Chinese customers a high quality service and more competitive prices.

Initially, Christopher Durrans was happy to consider another joint venture, even though in China this stipulated that it was the Chinese partner who should retain a majority holding. At the time, however, this was the only route available for foreign businesses seeking to set up operations in the country. But it proved to be a complex and time-consuming process, revealing the under-development of China’s legal and financial infrastructure. Fortunately, China had begun to loosen restrictions on foreign investment and it became possible to set up a completely independent company. For Christopher Durrans, this was essential in order to retain control over the business and its intellectual property. Durrans was also able to take up tax incentives designed to encourage inward investment. Nevertheless, the rules governing the creation of new companies were still very complex, and the company took advice from leading accountants and lawyers.

James Durrans (Tianjin) Coatings Ltd was established in Tanggu, part of China’s biggest industrial port, Tianjin, in 2003. Jiang Ping was joined on the local board by David Armitage, who is the company’s Technical Director, who would spend eight months of every year in China. Together they promoted the Group’s products, highlighting the qualities of the Durrans range, and working closely with customers to develop products that matched their requirements.

Plans were at an advanced stage for the new factory. Plant and equipment were ordered from Germany, and a Vollrath mixing plant was installed. The latter would actually be the Group’s first Vollrath, predating the machines later acquired in 2005 for the UK and South Africa and in 2006 for Germany. In fact it was the benefits of the Vollrath plant in the Chinese factory that persuaded the Group to acquire similar machines for its other production plants.

The Chinese company finally came into being in December 2003. The company rented a warehouse at the Ocean Hi-Tech Development Area in Tanggu, converted it into a factory, and produced the first batch of coatings in September 2004.

Winning new business, in spite of all the efforts so far made by the Group, was still difficult.
The Chinese company built on its previous external trading links, focusing on the wider market of South-East Asia, particularly Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea. Products were also marketed to overseas foundry businesses setting up in China. And, in time, the company began winning orders from Chinese companies.

Initial growth in a rapidly expanding economy was astonishing, reaching 50 per cent every six months, and even once operations had begun to settle down, the company continued to grow at ten per cent a year after 2008.

The company soon outgrew its original premises and it was decided to build a completely new factory. Once again Durrans benefited from incentives offered by the Chinese government, acquiring land in June 2007 on a long leasehold at a preferential rate, although erecting the new factory on what was reclaimed marshland was not without its challenges. The new factory, with a production capacity of 750 tons every month, began production in 2010.


An aerial view of Durrans RMS 7 500 m² under roof site in Anderbolt, Boksburg North

In 2012 the Chinese company accounted for more than half of the Group’s coating production, and it recently added a third Vollrath machine, increasing capacity to over 1,000 tons a month.

Pipe foundries and the car industry accounted for 80 per cent of production. Among key customers were some of the world’s leading producers of car turbines and manifolds, for whom Durrans produced high value, low volume products. As Jiang Ping observed, ‘We tailor-make the product for them’. For instance, Durrans spent two years collaborating with the world’s largest engine-block manufacturer, developing a very high quality coating, which proved an outstanding success.

Durrans has made a difference in these sectors of the Chinese economy through the high quality of its product and service (it achieved the ISO9001 quality mark in 2006) and partnership working with customers. As a result, Durrans has won a high reputation and is widely seen as a leader in its field.

The Chinese company also helped the rest of the Group in sourcing raw material, inspecting quality, and dealing with the complex customs administration.

South African visit
In January 2014 Christopher Durrans and David Armitage visited the local JV company and a host of South African foundries.

“The primary purpose of our visit was to encourage the local industry to take note of the new products that are now emerging from the company because of the technical developments that have been taking place in China. These include the quality raw materials that are used in our products as well as the manufacturing processes. As we all know China is developing fast and new foundries are springing up every day. The growth in modern new automotive foundries to supply the ever increasing automotive OEMs setting up business in China is phenomenal and they are relying on suppliers like ourselves to add value,” said Christopher Durrans.

“Through our experience in the vibrant Chinese market we are able to impart this knowledge to the local industry, which also needs to be aware that in China the foundry industry is now regarded as a profession. Young engineers are constantly being recruited and modern high-tech equipment is being installed to cope with the demand and as a result quality is on the rise. Worldwide the foundry industry needs to be aware of these facts because the Chinese don’t just look internally for growth.”

For further details contact RMS / Durrans RMS on TEL: 011 917 0702 or visit www.durransrms.co.za