Whilst the global economy cannot safeguard any industry, there are some businesses that are able to sustain and even grow through a specialism and reputation. Across the world, the name Imerys is recognised as a leader in specialty minerals and raw materials for industries like the ceramic and refractory industries.
Operating under the ownership of Imerys has in turn, helped Calderys to become a world leader in monolithic refractories. The business delivers top flight refractory products manufactured in its 17 production facilities spanning across 15 countries. Along with the materials, the company provides design, installation, maintenance, and repair service support as well.
Within South Africa, the company is headquartered in Vereeniging, Gauteng, from where it mirrors the aspirations of the whole group when it comes to innovation, expertise and quality. For the past 18 months, the business has been run by Rein Van Der Wal, Managing Director:
“Calderys manufacture and supply monolithic material to industrial customers. With worldwide coverage, local presence, technical expertise and projects and installation capabilities, we are a leading player in the refractory application market. Our refractory solutions assist the customer in moving their business forward in terms of productivity, sustainability, safety and profitability,” he describes.
The company was created through the merger of Plibrico International and Lafarge Refractories back in 2005 and Van Der Wal says that the domestic business subsequently grew after a series of acquisitions.
“Today, Calderys South Africa has 180 local full time employees, and can go up to 400 during peak project and installation periods. We operate a manufacturing unit and have three pro-rata contract sites,” he describes.
The name Calderys has become synonymous with quality and the company’s reputation is reflected across a diverse range of industries, helping to foster a stable business and to build on long-standing relationships, as Van Der Wal acknowledges:
“Our customers include the total spectrum of industries involving high temperatures. The job type varies quite considerably, for example a job could be pre-casting seal bricks for an electrode ring or providing total project management on a new kiln installation. As we are not serving only one segment of the market it means that we have to account and make the correct decision within the industry that we are working in. Although some similarities exist one industry is not the same as the next.
“Our iron and steel customers include: Arcelormittal, Evraz Group, Columbus Stainless Steel, Scaw Metals and Cape Gate, while out foundry and aluminium business, ferro-alloy business includes such names as: the Xstrata/Merafe group of companies, Samancor Chrome, IFM, Hernic Ferrochrome and ASA Metals.
“We also work within the cement sector with companies like PPC Group, and our power generation business includes Eskom, Steinmuller and Babcock.”
Of course working with such luminaries requires years of experience in order to build a successful track record for quality and reliability. It comes as little surprise to learn that much of Caldery’s business comes from repeat customers in such niche markets, as Van Der Wal confirms:
“The refractory business is built on repeat business and good relationships with our customers. Our business is very much commodity-based and can be cyclical in nature, starting with the build or rebuild of a furnace, kiln or other unit that requires refractories.
“However, maintenance and repair forms the biggest part of our business purely because new installation happens in cycles of 3 – 10 years. The aim is always to look for and tender and secure green field type business, as this ensures the first installation of our product and a reference from Day One.”
The quality aspect of operations is extremely stringently managed from the moment the raw materials are delivered, throughout the whole process to completion of a product.
“Documentation is available to make sure that each product or service conforms to the specification, and allows traceability throughout the system,” Van Der Wal explains, “while a claims database exists that can track and trace any customer complaints or product failures.
“Being part of a global business has been an advantage for us and the international QA management team supports the business in issuing and updating quality norms and standards throughout the group. Calderys South Africa also conforms to the ISO 9001 quality system,” he adds.
In an industry that is very exacting on controls and quality, managing supply chain becomes a critical process. Once again, Van Der Wal says that Calderys has benefitted from its wider interests:
“Calderys has a global network that is equipped to coordinate delivery of the most complex orders. Our purchasing and customer service teams work together to ensure that we get the best commercial term for our raw materials and ensures that we deliver to the client on-time and in full. Raw material is our main expense purely because of our global demand for such items.”
The timing aspect of operations is equally paramount when working on projects, as any delays could prove critical to a client’s business. That means Calderys has to place special emphasis on maintenance of equipment used to both manufacture and service customer needs and Van Der Wal confirms that both scheduled and ongoing maintenance are constant factors in ensuring the company is 100 per cent prepared for work when needed.
Increasingly the business is able to optimise its operations through the use of technology and unsurprisingly, Van Der Wal says that the South African business has benefitted from global activity:
“Technology plays an important role in Calderys. One of our core values is Innovation and the company constantly upgrades its solution offering thanks to a global network of over 100 experts and our three world-class R&D Centers. We are also able to capitalize on our excellent knowledge of the industrial process to develop new solutions,” he affirms.
Knowledge and expertise are not readily available in South Africa, making the hiring of people with the right skills something of a challenge. Part of the solution is training, not only for new staff, but in the form of refresher courses for experienced staff. “Training is important for the organisation as a trained organisation is a productive organisation,” Van Der Wal states. “A budget of around 2 per cent of the total pay roll is allocated to training each year.
“Training is not only product related and a lot of training is spent on Health Safety and Environmental issues. Zero harm is the main priority at Calderys Group and especially so here at Calderys South Africa,” he continues.
With the technical side of the business running smoothly, Van Der Wal is acutely aware of the pressures caused by financial instability in the global markets. Serving a diverse range of industries spreads the company’s risks, but he remains adamant that relationships across the various sectors is the best way to sustain business:
“South Africa is not immune to the global slowdown and the recessionary environment, and management of accounts has become very important and I feel that constant dialogue and staying close to the customers is vital.
“On the whole I still feel it is a good time to be in the refractory business – for as long as there are industries that need refractory protection, there will be a market to serve, and hopefully Calderys will be the preferred partner.”
Given the specialist nature of its business, the company is likely to be busy for the foreseeable future, with Van Der Wal looking forward to 2013:
“Calderys is a growing company and together with support from the global operation we believe that the growth will continue. We are exploring the African market and it is one where we also see growth potential. We are not looking into any new investments or acquisitions, but we will not rule this out should a viable opportunity present itself,” he concludes.