Affable Dudley de Beer retires

After spending his entire working career in the foundry industry, which totals 46 years, Dudley de Beer, Sales Director for the foundry and non-ferrous divisions of the Insimbi Group, has decided to retire from corporate work life but not from life itself.

“Not many can say they have remained in the same industry their whole professional working career. I started off with Denver Metal Works in 1977 as a laboratory assistant and I have held a number of technical and management positions in the metals industry since then, both on the supplier side and also working at a foundry.”

“My introduction into the metals industry was by chance. After matriculating at Escourt High School in 1974 I then did my national service with the SAAF. While there I applied for and was selected for pilot training but failed the medical. Uncertain of what to do career wise so I spent some time in the camp library reading career options and came across this unknown thing called metallurgy, which kind of sounded interesting.”

“I then went to stay with an aunt in Germiston who had a friend whose son worked at Denver Metals. They arranged an interview for me and I was subsequently employed. While there I indicated my interest in studying and was accepted as a late entrant into Wits Tech, but was warned that it was unlikely that I would catch up with the other students on material already covered as the academic year had already started a few months before.”

“This proved to be case and I unfortunately did not pass all the first year subjects. Naturally my employers were reluctant to allow me to continue studying and I needed to make a decision. Fortunately one of my class mates mentioned that Balbardie Steel Works, which had links to the UK, were hiring trainee metallurgists. I applied for the position and was offered a position there as a junior shift metallurgist.”

“When I got married in 1980, I requested that I be put on to permanent day shift, but this was unfortunately not possible and I decided to resign. I then applied for a position with and was employed by Metal Sales. While I was there the company changed its name to Huletts Metals and then it subsequently became Zimalco. Initially I was employed as a lab technician and then was promoted production supervisor in the ingot plant and then plant superintendent at the now infamous West Rand powder plant, which some may recall had a massive explosion. Uncertain of what to do with me my boss at the time Bob Angel wanted to transfer me to Richards Bay, which I declined.”

“Once again through a fellow student, Cliff Matthews, I applied for and was employed by Standard Brass Iron and Steel, as assistant works metallurgist to Cliff. When Cliff resigned to join National Bolts, I assumed his role and responsibilities, but unfortunately was not promoted to his position and of course the same pay package. Feeling a bit put out by this it was not a hard decision to make when approached by George Paizes, whom many foundry men will recall, I resigned Standard Brass Iron and Steel and joined George as his Foundry Manager at Benoni Castings and his newly established steel foundry Cannuck, which specialised in manufacturing ground engaging tools (GET), the metallurgy and production of which I was intimately familiar with, as Standard Brass were the ESCO agents for the same product.

“Sadly the Cannuck group became financially distressed and was eventually liquidated. I then joined Metallurg SA, which was the fore runner of the Insimbi Group, as a technical sales rep, where I stayed until 1989.”

“In 1990 I unsuccessfully attempted to break away to do my own thing. This having failed I joined American Iron and Brass as works metallurgist in 1992 on the very day that the NUMSA strike started. In the ensuing years, I was promoted to Foundry Manager and ultimately Technical Director. Sadly that 1992 strike was to be the demise of this fine company which was started in 1948. After years of legal battles the courts found in favour of the 22 employees who had been dismissed during the strike, and the company was forced to re-employ 21 of the workers, and fully compensate them for seven years of pay and bonuses etc.”
“Despite our best efforts, the return of these workers caused a huge drop in productivity and quality, resulting in some major customers to withdraw their patterns. Finally in 2000 the company had no alternative but to liquidate. Taking whatever financial resources I had left, I started a small foundry in Meyerton which, due to some poor decisions and a fair amount of bad luck, failed in 2003.”

“Once again I was in the job market and worked at Viking Foundry and then Crown Cast until 2006, when I was offered a position at the Insimbi Group. I did become the Sales Director for the foundry and Non-ferrous divisions and was appointed a director of Insimbi Alloy Supplies Proprietary Limited on 30 June 2014.”

“This closed the full circle, and I have been both fortunate and honoured to have been recognised and rewarded by the management of the company.”

“Some highlights in my career that I can recall include being complemented early in my career by Vincent at Balbardie for perfecting the production method of a difficult grade of steel.”

“Another was designing and building a drum sand reclamation plant at Cannuck, which I believe was replicated by a foundry plant supplier, as I saw a very similar one installed at Forbes Brothers sometime later.”

“The design and installing of a rotary melter/holding furnace at American Iron and Brass in an attempt to get around the problems associated with poor quality coke for cupola melting.”

“People I admired that in one way or another had a significant influence on my career include, but are not limited to, included Ken McCusker of Denver Metals, Vincent Horsburgh, Allan Stevens and John Stanley of Balbardie Steel Works, Cliff Mathews of Standard Brass, Alf Bray of American Iron and Brass and Danny O’Connor of Metallurg.”

“In conclusion. When I began my career in this industry in 1977 I recall counting the number of foundries in the PWV region, as recorded in the Foundry Log around that time, as totalling 202 companies. Sadly this number has steadily declined and I would guess that there are now less than 70.”

“In my opinion this is primarily as a result of lack of investment in newer technology, the loss of critical technical skills locally, and of course the inability of local foundries to curtail costs which opened the door to cheaper imports.”

“The future for the industry that I love is somewhat grim given the challenges that foundries currently (sic) face. And to coin a phrase by Clayton Anderson:“ Success will be to the last man standing”.