Casting a future

It might sound like an old cliché but I often get asked how our foundry industry in South Africa is doing and, the metalworking industry in general. It is very hard to give a definitive answer especially when you do not have qualified and quantified figures at hand. There are a number of figures that are bandied about and I have even seen a report saying 70 foundries have closed since 2010.

However, the most common response amongst industry and government officials is: “South Africa has about 170 foundries which directly employ about 9 500 people. Mostly small and medium-sized enterprises, a total of 25 foundries, have closed in South Africa since 2010, shedding 1 600 jobs.”

How these figures are derived I am not sure as I have not seen the research that has been done and by whom. In fact it is very difficult to get any South African figures on machines/equipment sold into any manufacturing industry let alone the number of products manufactured in a particular industry because, unlike most of our international trading partners, South African companies are not compelled to provide figures that are of real interest to make qualified decisions whether to invest or not. Sure you could probably get all the figures you want on staff numbers and the composition of them for any company, but the meaningful ones that influence investment decisions are not readily available in the open market.

My stock answer to the people that ask the question, whether they are a skeptic or not, is to go and read my magazine and see the positive stories that appear in each issue. This issue is no exception.

Some say that there are some “islands of excellence” but the positive stories, which either involve investment in equipment or new processes, or both, in our local foundry industry, continue to be written about.

Last issue I had an update on the continual investment at Naledi Foundry, as well as the stories on Ceralcast and Agni Steel. This issue there is the story on SA Metal that is beneficiating the scrap copper and brass metal into an essential product – not just ingot but one that is used in many different industries.

Then there is the story on one of South Africa’s biggest foundries that exports most of its castings. Atlantis Foundries have embarked on a process project that will pave the way to becoming a Smart Foundry by embracing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This project aims to combine various technologies available to gather and analyse process data, with the aim of improving product quality and cost efficiency.

Atlantis Foundries has stated that its investment does not stop there. Currently the company is installing a sand reclamation system and more robots are planned.

I also know that from information given to me is that there are a number of other big installations that are either currently taking place and about to be completed and others that will happen soon. And this isn’t just happening at the so-called ‘big’ foundries, it is at new foundries that have just started up.

So we might not have the qualitative figures to work with but companies are making positive decisions despite this.