Realignment of the NFTN should increase the impact of sector interventions

The NFTN and the NCPC-SA partner to assist the casting industry achieve production efficiency and market competitiveness.

In June 2021, Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, along with business and labour from the steel and metal fabrication sector signed a master plan which, according to the introduction, aims to ‘guide the stabilisation and progress of the Industry’. The master plan aims to be a focused set of practical steps which must be implemented on a consistent basis. It’s a far-reaching set of goals and issues to tackle, and will take a joint commitment by the many players that are involved.

Two industry support programmes hosted in the CSIR are prioritising the steel industry in support of the master plan and the sustainability of the sector. These are the CSIR Smart Places Hosted Programmes, the National Foundry Technology Network (NFTN) and the National Cleaner Production Centre South Africa (NCPC-SA). Whilst the NCPC-SA provides industry support across the entire steel industry, the NFTN remains a specialised casting industry support programme. The Hosted Programmes Manager, Ndivhuho Raphulu, says that the new NFTN business plan has set its sights on skills development, R&D and the issues of greening the economy, including the long-discussed environmental compliance issues.

The two programmes have now been closely integrated, allowing the sector to benefit from a larger team and a broader scope of support.

Greening the sector
The green economy is a concept central to the NCPC-SA, but not one that springs to mind in the steel industry. However, Raphulu is not alone in the belief that future growth by any sector will require embracing a low carbon and circular economy way of thinking.

The authors of the master plan suggest that the green economy also provides opportunities for innovation and the development of new products across the steel value chain. There are opportunities in the development of renewable energy, water recycling for a much drier South Africa, desalination, the building of dams, pipelines and reticulation.

“Green processes in production are likely to become a significant competitive advantage, especially in the export market,” said Raphulu.

The Steel Master Plan in fact goes so far as to propose that the industry agree to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2050, in particular the steel mills, foundries, forges, smelters and other power-intensive processes.

This will include the increased use of renewable power, gas replacing coal power, the development of the hydrogen economy, water recycling and the more efficient use of water and waste reduction and recycling (the circular economy).

Partnership approach
“The NFTN, NCPC-SA and the broader CSIR want to improve our support to the sector going forward, with increased participation from industry, and drawing on the guidance of the master plan,” said Raphulu.

“We will ensure that the services of both programmes cross-pollinate to enhance the opportunity to make a greater impact.”

One such area is in skills development. The ten-plus years of skills development experience of the NCPC-SA is going to be used to support skills and training activities in the NFTN business plan implementation. The casting industry skills and training will be guided by a committee yet to be established from interested and relevant parties in the casting industry.

Not surprisingly, this is also a focus of the master plan, and the Hosted Programmes has a seat in the master plan work stream to ensure alignment and relevance that will benefit foundry skills development.

The NFTN will also work more closely with the CSIR Energy Centre and the Advanced Casting Technologies of the CSIR Manufacturing Cluster.

Raphulu says that the firm-level support with which foundries have become familiar will continue, but will become more strategically focused, and a number of industry partnerships will be formalised to drive supplier development in various sectors.

The NFTN and NCPC-SA are hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on behalf of the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic).

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