Industry study shines a light on the challenges facing foundries

The National Foundry Technology Network (NFTN) recently completed a survey of all South African foundries to evaluate the industry status quo and level of environmental compliance in the sub sector.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Environmental Services unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), aims to provide an informed and up-to-date overview of the foundry industry in South Africa that will enable the NFTN and the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) to better support the recovery of the industry and assist foundries to become sustainable.

The NFTN plans to share the results and findings of the survey and phase one of the study in a free online workshop in November 2020. The following gives a snapshot of what went into the study, and a glimpse of the preliminary findings.

According to NFTN Programme Manager, Sandy Majatladi, there were specific objectives of this phase one of the exercise. “The first thing we wanted to do was to compile an updated national inventory of South African foundries, across all relevant metals sub-sectors. No-one in the industry seems to have an accurate and up-to-date list of foundries and what they focus on. There is so much fluidity in the industry, as we all know, and businesses open and close for various reasons.”

The second objective, according to Majatladi, was to establish and report on the operational status and context of the foundries. Simply put, are they still operational or have they scaled back or closed?

The third, and most challenging, objective was to establish the level of environmental compliance and other related challenges facing the participating companies. This process, which was achieved by means of a survey questionnaire, proved enlightening, as many hours were spent calling and visiting foundries across nine provinces.

“A database compiled from existing lists and discussions with authorities, foundry managers and online research resulted in 146 foundry names forming the basis of the research,” the NFTN manager explained.

“All these companies were contacted by phone and the overwhelming majority were prepared to see us or at least answer the questionnaire electronically. In the end, 76 operational foundries were visited and interviewed. Unfortunately, two foundries that were visited and interviewed were on the verge of closing and stopping their operations indefinitely and two of the facilities visited were determined not to be foundries.”

“Another 21 foundries opted to complete the questionnaire only and 18 were not able to participate for various reasons. This is a highly positive response from the industry, with an unusually high percentage of participation in a study of this nature. The NFTN believes that this is indicative of the eagerness of the sector to receive advice and support in any way possible.”

“The NFTN hopes that the information gathered can assist the relevant authorities in devising policies, strategies and incentives that are relevant for the sector,” said Majatladi.

“This Status Quo Report provides substantive baseline information on the operational status, technology analysis and operational nature of foundries. This baseline can be subjected to strategic analysis and be used to guide policy formulation. It will obviously assist us to support industry associations and members when lobbying and appealing environmental issues, but we believe the data can be used to better understand the sector on a broader level, and inform policies that reach way beyond environmental compliance.”

“Common challenges that came from the survey included issues of competitiveness and cheap imports, a shortage of skills and labour, environmental compliance and impacts and atmospheric emissions – and a recurring set of challenges around energy supply and costs.”

“The NFTN expected energy to be an issue, and this confirmation have given impetus to a second phase of the study, which will include a significant focus on the energy baseline of the sector. The next phase will analyse the energy supply and demand challenges and provide useful solutions.”

Majatladi says that this second phase is in the business plan for the current financial year, but has been delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown. The lockdown also delayed the results of the phase one report and the planned feedback to the sector.

A date will be finalised in November and all participants and readers will soon receive an invitation to the workshop. Details will also be on the NFTN website

Majatladi and his team are confident that this information will be used to the benefit of the sector.

“Based on the results of the study, it can be concluded that there are 123 operational foundries in South Africa as at June 2020. We want to see that number stabilise and eventually grow, to the benefit of all South African manufacturers,” he concluded.

For further details contact Sandy Majadladi, Programme Manager of the NFTN on 083 901 5324 or email