Bekker Steel expands and moves home

Bekker Steel expands and moves home

With the recent surge in plate and sheet work needed for the Medupi and Kusile power stations, the building and revamping of the Football World Cup 2010 stadiums and a number of other infrastructure developments, there has been a huge demand for plate processors to come to the party and deliver. One such company doing just that is Bekker Steel, based in Vereeniging, Gauteng.

“The industry has been in growth mode for a few years now. With the increases in petrol and electricity prices, more attention than ever is focused on alternative energy sources. South Africa is not immune to this clean and cost efficient energy revolution. As has been seen with the building of the new power stations it is costly and takes time, not taking into account the disruptions the projects have experienced,” said Johan Bekker, founder and owner of Bekker Steel.

“Those two power stations were good to us but looking forward wind power and solar energy can offer exciting prospects, especially if you think of the infrastructure aspects that surround them. This is why we have spent massively on a new factory and new plate processing equipment,” continued Bekker.

“We are a contract plate processing business and will remain so. We do not intend to get into fabrication or any product lines because we will then compete with our clients, which does not make good business sense.”

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The Ermaksan 600 ton press brake with a 5.1 metre bending length which was supplied by Machine Tool Promotions

Bekker has been in the plate business all his life having qualified as a boilermaker with the Babcock & Wilcox Company.

“The wheel has kind of turned full circle for me. Our administration offices and new factory that was inaugurated earlier this year, stands on the exact location where Babcock & Wilcox established there first head office in the early 1950’s. The admin building still has the commemorative plaque depicting when the original South African head office building of Babcock & Wilcox was opened in 1951. Before moving in we did do substantial renovations and alterations but the bulk of the building still remains, even the original marble flooring in some areas.”

Bekker’s professional career in the processing of application specific plate began with VRN Steel, which is now incorporated into the Macsteel Group. Bekker spent close to 18 years with the company in various positions, starting off on the shopfloor before moving into management and then directorship. His last position with VRN Steel was running the full service centre branch in Vereeniging, which he had opened for the company in 2000.

“My ambition was always to run my own company. My chance came in 2004 when I struck a deal with a major engineering company in the Vereeniging area. They were known as DCD Dorbyl in those days and subsequently have changed to DCD – Heavy Engineering.”

“They wanted to outsource their plate preparation work so I acquired their existing equipment and even rented shopfloor space from them.  However I knew that a shop that relied too heavily on one revenue stream was, in a sense, fabricating on thin ice. It came back to diversification, both of clients and markets, and managing risk.”

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The new Ficep Gemini CNC plate processing system, which was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools

“From being 100 % indebted to DCD I quickly acquired more clients. Today I still supply and process plate DCD Heavy Engineering but that business makes up less than five percent of my turnover. The relationship has benefitted both companies and I will always remain grateful to the management at the time for giving me my break.”

“I started off with seven staff, a Messer flame cutter, a plate plainer, two other gas cutting machines and a huge loan against my pension. However I recognised from the start that, even though the core competency of the company was plate processing and preparation, competitive pricing, topnotch quality and service gets you to the table. If a customer leaves, quite often it’s because of late delivery, which is why we try to keep our on-time delivery percentage very high, above 80 percent. As a result within the first six months of our existence we moved from seven staff to 18 and our monthly turnover virtually doubled.”

“We proved to our customers that we’ll deliver exactly what they want, when they need it,” Bekker said. “This gives us a huge advantage and today the strategy continues to pay off.”

New equipment, new factory, diversification

“I was able to purchase my first new machine in 2005, which is still part of our mix of equipment today. The machine, custom built by S & D Services has a Kaliburn Spirit 275a source and Burny CNC controls.”

“S & D have subsequently supplied me with two more custom built machines. These two machines have bed sizes of 36 x 3,2 metres and in the new factory we have backed them up in one bay so you can imagine the space required to accommodate them.”

Bekker Steel’s tonnage per month grew rapidly to 600 tons of processed plate as a result of securing new clients that are in the mining, maintenance and capital goods industries. These increasing contracts drove the decision to move to a larger facility and in 2006 the company moved some operations into its own 2 500m² factory.

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S & D Services have supplied two custom built high definition profile cutting machines with a bed size of 36 x 3,2 metres

“I had acquired the land earlier and we built our own factory. We had to move or we would stunt the growth of the company. We also installed a 15 ton crane in the new building. It might sound ridiculous but material handling in our game is an issue that you have to be careful about. It’s not forgiving, even if you have a 500 kilogram plate to move around. It moves you wherever it wants to.”

“At the same time we increased our capacity with the installation of another high definition plasma built by S & D Services.”

“Simultaneously I built an identical factory next door and we began a period of diversification in terms of the services that we could offer clients. We were always getting requests for bending, rolling and guillotining. So I set up a partnership, which would latter dissolve, and we added these services to Bekker Steel’s offerings, even though they were being done by a separate company.”

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The two custom built high definition profile cutting machines have been backed up in the new factory

By 2009 the company doubled its monthly output to 1 200 tons. This represented a significant milestone in the company’s history in that it was now in a position to purchase plate directly from Highveld Steel and ArcelorMittal, whereas before it had to buy from the large steel merchant companies because its tonnage was not enough.

“We still buy different grades of plate from these merchants but by purchasing the majority of our plate directly from the mills it gives us a price advantage. It certainly helped in getting the contract to supply over 8 000 tons of 8 and 16 mm plate for the exhaust steam ducts at the Medupi power station and over 1 000 tons of pipe supports at both the Medupi and Kusile power stations. In total we supplied over 10 000 tons of processed plate for these two projects. We did not supply directly but were subcontracted by the main contractors.”

“Although there has been a focus on the power station business in the last two years at the company, we have not forgotten our business philosophy of diversification and on-time delivery. In-roads into the materials handling business have pushed our production output up. In fact we have increased throughput through the entire plant, especially since we moved into our new factory.”

New head office and production facility

“With these increases come other ‘problems’, the biggest and most pressing being space and capacity. I am not complaining about these ‘problems’, they are easy to find a solution to and this is what we have done.”

“We found our current site, which is 1,6 hectares in size, relatively easily. It had an existing office/administration building on it, which we knew we could fix. The production facility was more of a challenge though purely because of the cost involved in erecting something that would meet our criteria.”

“The solution came in the form of a disused winder house that was located at one of the mining operations in the Welkom area. It comprised of two 50 metre long structures, which we dismantled, fixed and erected according to our plans. More importantly the winder house housed two 40 ton and two 30 ton overhead Morris cranes that had hardly been used. If you think of the cost of buying these four cranes new today, it is exorbitant.”

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The MG 2.5m x 10mm pyramid plate roll supplied by Heli Engineering and in the background is a 220 ton press brake with a 3.8m bending width supplied by Machine Tool Promotions

“The project took 10 months to complete and we now have a 4 500m² production facility, 480m² of production offices and a 1 800m² administration building.”

“The new production facility has been designed with three distinct bays – one each for heavy, medium and light work and another one for materials storage. The four refurbished cranes have been installed and a further three new 20 ton cranes were purchased. We added a 20 ton bay to the 40 and 30 ton bays, all with 14.5m under crane clearance.”

“Specific attention was placed on the flow of materials handling, from plate delivery, to processing, to finished product. We now have greater capabilities, better productivity, fewer restrictions and as a result have increased throughput through the entire plant.”

“Currently we chew through about 1 200 tons of material a month and have the capacity to increase that to 1 600 tons overnight.”

Expansion means new equipment

“The objective of our move has been to increase our factory size, capacity and offer new services for our clients. As previously mentioned I had terminated my partnership so I wanted to incorporate bending, rolling and guillotining in our production offerings, besides our plate processing. As it so turns out we added laser cutting to the list. Careful planning and an exhaustive search has seen us purchase a Ficep Gemini CNC plate processing system, an Ermaksan 4 kilowatt laser system and two Ermaksan press brakes. The Heli guillotine and an MG plate roller were moved from our other premises to have all machinery under one roof.”

Ficep Gemini CNC plate processing system

“The Gemini is claimed to be the world’s most technologically advanced, multi-function and flexible system for profile cutting, drilling, machining and scribing, with integral bevelling and an advanced material cutting capability. The machine can produce flat metal parts from plate, 3mm up to 125mm thick, with cutting lengths from 15 metres long and 3.2 metres wide and it comes with a HPR400 Hypertherm cutting and gas system. It was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools.”

Ermaksan equipment

“The Lasermak CO2 laser comes with a 4 kilowatt power source and a 4 x 2 metre bed size. This is the first time that we have gone the laser route. In future it will give us more flexibility when customers want smaller size parts cut.”

“The two Ermaksan press brakes have really been purchased for specific contracts but having them on the floor will again give us flexibility when it comes to bending. The bigger one is a 600 ton machine with a 5.1m bending width and the smaller one a 220 ton machine with a 3.8m bending width.”“All this equipment has been supplied by Machine Tool Promotions.”

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“The Ermaksan Lasermak CO2 laser comes with a 4 kilowatt power source and a 4 x 2 metre bed size. This is the first time that we have gone the laser route. In future it will give us more flexibility when customers want smaller size parts cut.” The machine was supplied by Machine Tool Promotions

“The MG 2.5m x 10mm and 40mm x 3m hydraulic pyramid plate rolls and the Heli 16mm x 3m guillotine have been supplied by Heli Engineering.”

New branding

All the changes at Bekker Steel have also led to the company rebranding itself. New corporate colours and logos has given the company a ‘new’ and more modern look, according to Bekker, which certainly fits in with the state-of-the-art facilities it is now housed in. Even the 10 strong fleet of delivery vehicles have had a make-over.

Staff levels are up to a record high of 140 people, the company is ISO 9001:2008, ISO 14000 and OHSAS 18000 certified, it is using Sigmanest, SolidWorks, Autocad and Inventor as its propriety software and has developed its own Work in Progress (WIP) software so that management can monitor the complete production process from receipt of material right through to invoicing.

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In the centre is Johan Bekker, founder and owner of Bekker Steel. Flanking him is his daughter Rudine McClymont who is the Admin Manager and his son Ruhan Bekker who is the General Manager – Sales

Bekker has always believed in investing in his business and he has certainly done so over the last couple of years. This includes the stock holding – 1 800 tons of stock of the most common sizes of plate are kept on site.

“We know that there is a future in the emerging industries in South Africa and, coupled with the infrastructure plans, we believe we can be part of the evolvement. That is why we have geared up,” concluded Bekker.

For further details contact Bekker Steel on TEL: + 27 (16) 428 2630 or visit www.bekkersteel.co.za