Think out of the mould in 2022

While the world continues to grapple with the pandemic it’s important to remember to make an effort to focus on the positives, something this publication has concentrated on doing for 20 years.

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.

And despite the increasing number of foundries closing their doors for good in South Africa, for those that remain, this kind of cooperation for industry is welcomed and will go some distance to help keep the South African foundry industry as an attractive place to do business.

Just look north to Europe, and for the time being at least, raw materials are scarce and expensive, the cost of energy has been increasing steadily and significantly – a crisis that is far from over – this notably at the start of their winter with looming lockdowns and positive COVID-19 numbers soaring and borders closing – all of this adds up to a substantial threat to the foundry industry in that part of the world.

Take the case of the Gibela rail consortium and their localisation programme as an example. Gibela has a R51 billion contract with the South African government to manufacture 600 trains for PRASA. The scope of the contract includes train maintenance, technical support and the manufacture and supply of spare parts. The positive knock-on effects of this are self-explanatory.

Localisation is one of the four pillars of Gibela’s Economic Development Policy. Accordingly, Gibela aims to develop a robust and sustainable local supplier base through leveraging its majority shareholder’s expertise in an effort to contribute to the revitalisation of the local railway manufacturing industry through the implementation of a comprehensive localisation plan.

This plan includes the purchase of local raw materials and components in order to ensure maximum South African content and equipping established and emerging local rail enterprises with the capability to be globally competitive.

So, as a parting message for what has surely been another tumultuous year for everyone, remember that we have some of the best metallurgists, foundrymen, minds and experience in the world right here in South Africa – don’t forget that. We are entrepreneurial and innovative by nature as South Africans and I encourage us all to look to 2022 with these values in mind, and long may we continue to think out of the mould.