Steelbank unwinding the way forward

To maintain a manufacturing sector in this country, industry must continually improve upon efficiency. Manufacturers and processors can and should specify new machines that run at high speeds and allow quick setups, which are two essential ingredients for efficient operation.

When you operate in the competitive coil processing and blanking arena, which has taken on the characteristics of commoditisation in recent years, with the cost of steel rising and profit margins shrinking, you have to look for ways to reduce costs and streamline operations while maintaining quality. This takes on a new dimension in coil processing because coil handling and blanking equipment can take up plenty of space and smarter and more capable machines are already operating more effectively and delivering productively. To keep ahead of the opposition you could consider different equipment configurations and options that may deliver much-needed floor space. But there comes a time when you simply run out of space and important decisions have to be made.


An aerial view of Steelbank’s new Gauteng facility


Steelbank Gauteng’s new slitting line

The Gauteng branch of Steelbank reached that ‘point of no return’ and management was having trouble sleeping at night. In the background, the company’s policy of constantly updating its equipment and aligning itself to global industry standards to ensure it remained a world-class processor and supplier of steel products was also a nagging influence.

Steelbank is on a new and exciting path
The expansion that is presently underway at Steelbank has been planned over a long period. Steelbank management decided to increase capacity comprehensively, a decision which is bound to take the company forward and address the conditions necessary to create real improvement – the kind that generates actual competitive advantage.

In March 2014 the company moved 40 kilometres south from its 4 300 m² facility in Linbro Park to a purpose built 12 000 m² facility in Alrode, Gauteng.

“This is only the first phase of our expansion programme in the Gauteng area,” quipped Group MD Leon Freese, who has been with the company since 1981.

What Steelbank is about
Steelbank’s head office is situated in Pinetown, KwaZulu Natal. Roy Meaker purchased an existing steel company in 1978 and immediately set out to change the status of the company, a task that he has done very successfully if you judge it by the size of the company now – and the recent investments it has made. Meaker remained as chairman of the Group until 1997 when his son, Lloyd Meaker, took over the position.

Pinetown has expanded over the years and it now occupies an 8 000 m² facility in Trotter Road. The processing department is aided by 13 machines, 150 staff and at this stage, is working seven days a week on a double shift basis.


Steelbank Gauteng’s MD Robin Gray with Group MD Leon Freese


The new slitting line comes with a shuttle for quick change over

Additionally, the company has increased its capabilities this year with new equipment being installed, and it now also offers tube processing services. All tube, which comprises both mild steel and stainless steel tubing, is imported. This is the first time that Steelbank have moved out of flat sheet processing since 1997, and according to management, it is has made some significant inroads into this market.

In 2000 the company opened up a branch in Cape Town, which is run by Russel Dennis. This branch expanded when it moved into a 2 000 m² facility in Parow in 2012. Plans are in the pipeline to add processing equipment in the future for both stainless steel and mild steel.

Prior to 2007, Steelbank did not have a significant presence in the Gauteng market and surrounding areas. However, that all changed when the company purchased Metpar (Pty) Ltd., which had operations in Gauteng and Cape Town.

“This was done in order to cover areas that Steelbank was already servicing from the Durban operation, on an increased level, but logistically became more difficult to service as the turnover increased. We immediately set out to expand the operation in Gauteng, and we merged the Cape Town branch with the existing Steelbank operation. Both these activities proved very successful,” explained Leon Freese.


Material being slit in the new Steelbank 12 000 m² facility in Alrode, Gauteng


Packaging is important to Steelbank. A new material handling magnet has been installed

Metpar was established in 1980 by Robin Gray and the late Henry Oosthuizen, as a specialist processed steel supplier to the second tier automotive industry. The company subsequently branched out into other areas that required processed flat steel products. Gray has remained on with Steelbank and is now MD of the Gauteng branch.

Steelbank also has a sales branch in Port Elizabeth, which is headed up by Andy Cheeseman.

New direction
Three years ago Steelbank ventured into a new direction by opening a new company in Cape Town specifically to stock and trade stainless steel and aluminium. After a shaky start, the operation prospered to such an extent that the company has now expanded its stainless steel footprint into the Gauteng area through the acquisition of Pro Trading cc in May 2014. The company has changed the name to Steelbank Stainless to reflect the primary focus of the business, which is stockists and suppliers of imported and local stainless steel materials. This includes sheet, flats, round bar, angles, rectangles and square and round tubing. Processing of coil is available as well. The client base is general engineering companies, and this operation is headed by Jürgen Freese.

The company’s primary focus is on flat steel products and components processed from coil. Their slitting, cut to length and guillotining processing capabilities are based on mild steel with a tensile strength of up to 510Mpa. The client list includes, but is not restricted to, those companies adding value to the automotive parts, domestic appliances, structural applications, security gates, furniture, air conditioning, roof trusses, garage doors and general engineering.

Although Steelbank has now added new services through its recent acquisition and stainless steel tubing division, mild steel processing is what the company is all about. Stock range includes all commercial quality items, but also includes graded items such as cold rolled drawing and forming, hot rolled steel sheet (forming grades, pickled and oiled), electrogalvanised steel sheet, galvanised (hot dipped galvanised steel), colour coated steel sheet (used in building applications e.g. garage doors, domestic appliances, road signs, doors and general engineering), aluminium zinc coated steel (used in roof sheeting, steel roof trusses, electrical switchboard cabinets, structural sections, domestic appliances, refrigeration, air conditioner air ducting, light fittings, computer casings and electronic boxes), aluminised steel (used in bakery trays, automotive exhaust systems, automotive heat shields, chimney ducts, construction profiles, heating boilers, air conditioners and tanks) and tin plate.


A new cut-to-length / blanking line has been supplied by Reef Engineering


Blanks being cut on the new Reef Engineering line

Depending on the type of material, slitting is offered from 0,3 up to 8 mm, blanking up to 3 mm thickness, cut-to-length up to 4 mm thickness and up to 1 850 mm width. Materials are either supplied by ArcelorMittal or imported from Europe, the East, South America and elsewhere. Management has spent substantial time and travelled to find the correct sourcing of steel from around the world focusing on quality and continuous availability.

New Alrode facility
“The decision to move to Alrode was initially prompted by a space constraint but it soon became necessary by the ever-increasing demand for our services and our desire to expand,” explained Robin Gray.

“A suitable site was found but the buildings did not suit our operation and there was no chance that we could make alterations. Phase one of our expansion involved demolishing an existing building on the 57 000 m² site and erecting a 12 000 m² facility, which is designed to optimise the company’s existing manufacturing equipment and bays. The new layout will significantly improve work-flow, worker security, and industry demands for higher levels of service.”

“Once the building was complete the logistics in relocating the equipment from Linbro Park and adding three additional lines took some planning. Our existing slitting line was constrained by space but now it is being used to its full length,” continued Gray.


Coils that have arrived at the Steelbank Gauteng facility


Processed coil ready for shipment

“Another important factor is the area that we now have available for coil delivered, and processed coil and components. We are not falling all over the materials and the loading, off loading and packaging aspects have increased our efficiencies tremendously.”

“This first phase will be followed up shortly with a duplicate 12 000 m² building, and phase three will involve erecting a 9 000 m² building. These projects should be completed within the next five years.”

New equipment
“In our planning we made provision for an equipment capex expansion to increase our capabilities. Added now to the existing slitting line, one cut-to-length line, one blanking line and two slitting/blanking lines, are a new slitting line which can slit material from 0,3 up to 4 mm, a new Reef Engineering cut-to-length/blanking line that blanks components up to 3 mm thickness and 850 mm width, and a cut-to-length line with capabilities for mild steel up to 4 mm thickness and 1 600 mm width,” explained Leon Freese.

“With the addition of the new equipment we have now increased our capabilities by 50%, and these will increase even more once phase two and three are completed.”


The existing slitting line that was moved from Linbro Park

“Our team in Gauteng, from construction to operations, has done an outstanding job relocating and expanding the capabilities of the company, and we are grateful that the move went relatively smoothly with a minimal loss of production and not letting our clients down,” said Freese.

The Gauteng branch employs 100 staff. Overall, the group applies an effective quality control system and has certification for ISO 9001, ISO/TS 16949 and ISO 14001. The Quality Management System is assessed by SABS and meets the requirements of SABS/ISO 9001, as well as the automotive industry requirement of ISO/TS 16949.

For further details contact Steelbank Gauteng on TEL: 011 201 5900, the head office on TEL: 031 701 4821, Cape Town on TEL: 021 934 4251, Port Elizabeth TEL: 041 583 2484 and Stainless Steel and Aluminium on TEL: 021 934 4251 (Cape Town) and TEL: 011 397 5246 (Gauteng) or visit