BDG-Service expert scathing of South African foundries

Manuel Bosse, an environmental and energy management expert with the BDG-Service GmbH in Düsseldorf, Germany was not very complimentary in a recent interview he gave to Casting Plant & Technology and published in the German Foundry Association quarterly publication.

When asked the following “South African foundries have to cope with high scrap rates and their energy use is often very inefficient, what was your impression of the situation during your visits to South Africa and what has EffSAFound achieved in this respect?” he answered:

“Until 2008, the foundries in South Africa had benefited very much from low energy prices. Between 2008 and 2011, the utility company Eskom raised the electricity price every year by 20 per cent. At the same time, the foundries were required to reduce electricity consumption by 10 per cent. The melting furnaces and moulding equipment in the foundries are quite old. Power consumption had never been an issue. Furnaces used to be operated without closing the covers and the practice of ladle preheating was the exception and, if practiced at all, it was done by means of molten metal.”

“95 per cent of the furnaces in South Africa are powered by electricity. All of a sudden, foundry operators were faced with the situation that they had to save energy. Since 2010, there has been a rise in investments in modern equipment. This perfectly coincided with our joint project, which was kicked off in May 2013. Energy and material efficiency were exactly our areas of focus.”

“When foundries replace their obsolete equipment or start to simulate their processes, quality will improve automatically. Since 2013/2014 the issue of material efficiency has also been moving in the focus of attention. It had been common practice to simply dump used foundry sands, but the foundries were faced with constantly increasing dumping costs. We made the foundry operators aware of the possibility of recycling the sands 30 or even 40 times. We did this by presenting suitable products and explaining that the efficient use of material and energy also provides economic advantages.”

“The local foundries are very much under pressure. Since 2005, the number of foundries has shrunk from 270 to 170, due to cheap castings imported from China sold on the South African market.”

Bosse elaborated further when it was put to him that the skills of personnel in South African foundries leave much to be desired and has EffSAFound been able to render support in this respect?

“According to a survey 70% of the people working in South African foundries have never gone to school or only have basic education. This makes training and further education very difficult. One has to resort to illustrations and videos to train the people. Only 25% have a school-leaving certificate. Those are usually the supervisors.”

“They do their best to train the workers, but it’s a hard job. And, finally, there are 5% with a university graduation. Those hold the managing positions in the foundries.”

“Since 2010, all institutions in South Africa related to the foundry industry have been joining forces to promote education in the foundries. For example, the University of Johannesburg has set up a programme dedicated to bringing more coloured and black people into management positions.”

“For example, all engineers graduating from the University of Johannesburg have spent a semester at a foreign university, for instance in Freiberg, Germany, and more and more of them occupy leading positions in South African foundries. In order to train those 25% of the workers with a school-leaving certificate, the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) has opened a training foundry near Johannesburg, where most of the foundries of the country are located.”

“Every year between 20 and 40 young people are trained there to be head melters, mouldmakers and machining specialists. With this approach, the Society has introduced the classical German model of dual apprenticeship in the country.”

“We have supported this programme by providing teaching material and know-how. To reach those workers who have no school education at all, we have introduced a software programme that Heger Pro uses in quality management. We have translated the software into English and added the topic of energy management. In the staffrooms of the foundries, the software runs on a display. Thus the workers learn from pictures, for example, showing a furnace with an open cover versus one with a closed cover.”

EffSAFound2 is a joint German-South African project dedicated to improve energy and resource efficiency in South African foundries. The project ran from May 2013 until October 2015.