The past 12 months have proved a challenging time for mining businesses in South Africa. Despite the tough current environment domestically, Mining and Slurry Technology (Pty) Ltd has remained a paragon of activity and has achieved great success by casting its nets further afield.
In 2012 The SA-Mag spoke with Eddie Lizemore, Managing Director, about the meteoric success the company had enjoyed, having changed tack and established its own foundry.
With a company ethos that proclaims “Forging new direction and maintaining strength”, Mining and Slurry Technology (Pty) Ltd (MST) has demonstrated adaptability and courage, to deliver a remarkably successful change in strategy.
MST is a slurry pump company operating from its centralized design, manufacturing and assembly plant in Vulcania, Brakpan. The company specializes in manufacturing robust and heavy duty slurry pumps for all abrasive applications, providing solutions to the mining industry with a range of horizontal and vertical centrifugal pumps.
The company’s adaptability came from recognisingthat prevailing market forces required a change in focus; the courage came from implementing that new direction.
Much of the above remains true to this day; with the business seeking out opportunities elsewhere in Africa and the Americas.
“There has been a bit of a slow-down in the economy which has affected everyone,” Lizemore says. “We started focusing on opportunities in the rest of Africa and today roughly 70 per cent of our business comes from elsewhere in Africa and the Americas – 12 months ago it was nearer 40 per cent.
“We have focused particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia but there are also terrific opportunities in Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“Our next big project will be Mozambique and we are now starting to get established over there in anticipation of the coal fields coming on stream.”
Of course getting set-up in new territories is anything but straight forward, given the challenges of language, politics, red tape and cultural differences – for Lizemore, much of the success comes down to the distributors, who have local knowledge.
“It is a huge challenge to break into new markets and we don’t really do very much direct marketing. Our reliance is on our agents or distributors – especially in Mozambique. We currently work with 9 distributors and up to 80 per cent of our turnover comes through their efforts.”
To achieve such success requires a deep level of trust in each distributor and Lizemore says that the status of Mining and Slurry is a big help:
“We have to find quality distributors. Fortunately they often find us first and we have people coming to ask if they can work for us based on our reputation as a company. We do of course have very stringent standards that we measure each application against.”
Measuring standards is a common theme at present for Mining and Slurry, as the business is in the midst of implementing a new production planning system which will enable Lizemore to streamline processes.
“We introduced the system 3 months ago and already we have managed to increase our foundry production by 20 per cent without using extra manpower or expansion,” he enthuses. “The time planning software has been installed and will link up all different areas of the business – including our supply chain management.
“There is lots of ongoing training for the workforce and the first people to receive training were the administrative team – I’m confident that they already have it under their wings. The training has now moved on to our shop floor team and whilst there was some initial suspicion, they are now learning to understand and appreciate the system and its benefits both to the business and them.”
Lizemore is hopeful that the new system will be fully optimised by the end of this year and will prove a huge help in trouble shooting:
“We will be able to identify problems much easier and this should help us to reduce control costs and to identify unproductive units on the production line. The software has been written exclusively for us, by a guy based in Port Elizabeth. He is here 3 days a week currently, overseeing the implementation.
“In time, we will also need to train up some of our key suppliers as the concept of the software is very similar to the just in time system.”
When we spoke last year, Lizemore outlined how the company’s chain in focus – and introduction of a foundry, was partly in response to the threat of Chinese imports:
“We started on our journey about 30 months ago when we began manufacturing pumps locally, having previously imported these from China and the Far East. We saw the need to get the local market going and acquired a foundry – since thenwe have grown rapidly and increased our capacitysix-fold in the past year and a half.
“The company was successful but today the industry is going through several major challenges here in South Africa: everyone in this business imports pumps from China and that has several disadvantages, including the fluctuations in exchange rate, issues around quality and also the impound time which can delay delivery by eight weeks – as a consequence we were losing flexibility.
“Our customers couldn’t wait eight weeks and we decided to branch out and make our own products, meaning we now deliver on time and importantly we manage our own quality (we are currently working towards ISO 9002 accreditation).”
That philosophy has certainly helped to significantly grow the business and Lizemore says that today, the competition is substantially less: “The weakness of the Rand has helped us and imports from China are currently on the back foot.
“We were really fortunate and planned ahead and now we have the potential to manufacture locally we have reaped the benefits in the last 9 months as we can produce pumps cheaper than the imports.”
Last year Lizemore also announced plans to build a pump testing performance facility that met ISO standards. That plan is very much in practice right now, with water tanks and super structures already in place and electrical components on order.
“Once completed, this site will give the company another level of credibility. If you sell pumps and people ask if the pump curve has been tested, you can invite them over to the facility to test it themselves. We will be applying for ISO 9000 accreditation this coming January.”
Despite the challenges of the domestic market, Lizemore remains hugely upbeat for Mining and Slurry’s future: “It is a very difficult time but we believe that growth at this stage depends on producing a quality product, with on-time delivery and excellent service. I think that next year we will concentrate on getting better representation into Africa,” he predicts.