Imagine spending hundreds of thousands of US dollars to import rollforming machinery from the Far East, only to discover upon its arrival, that the machine does not work and cannot be fixed.
Many businesses, daunted by the high cost of metalforming equipment, decide to buy from the Far East. Their reasons are twofold: prices are often far lower than their American or European counterparts, and local engineers often do not have the experience for advanced machines such as high speed lines with in-line punching configurations.
Once burnt, twice shy
Greg Fuchsloch, CEO of Metalforming Technologies South Africa, has been in the metalforming industry for 18 years and has seen local entrepreneurs forced to shut their doors after buying insufficient machinery from the Far East.
“One client only realised after the machinery was installed that it couldn’t run the material he had bought at a value of R2 million,” says Fuchsloch. “The only way to rectify the problem was to either buy a new machine or buy new material. It simply would not rollform the material that the client intended profiling.”
According to Fuchsloch, if the price seems too good to be true, there is something to be concerned about.
So, is it possible to procure good quality equipment from the Far East? Fuchsloch believes it is. “It’s possible to find well-made machinery at lower prices, but you need to know exactly what you are looking for and where to go. Take the time to do plenty of research and visit each machine builder personally, even if it means visiting upward of forty manufacturers.”
Choosing the right equipment
Fuchsloch shares five tips on what to watch out for when sourcing a good deal on imported equipment:
1) Can replacement parts be found in South Africa?
Before purchasing any machinery, look carefully at each component and ensure replacement parts can be sourced locally. Some parts and components in the machines are critical in their design, and it is not worth taking a chance with cheaper, poorly designed alternatives. Look specifically at PLCs, electric switches, electric motors, drives and hydraulic components. Ensure the product list is detailed and steer towards brand name components. They may cost a little more initially, but the machines will stay in good working order for longer.
“While you’re at it, double check that all of the components used are authentic,” says Fuchsloch. “In many cases, known brand components are not supported in theFar East.”
2) Get a service agreement and warranties
Take special care when looking at the service agreement. Some manufacturers offer a one year warranty on paper but will refuse to replace the part when it breaks, suggesting the component broke through operator error. The supplier must agree to fly out a technician within a few days and at their own expense, or work with an approved local company who is able to service or repair the equipment.
“A local company recently bought four machines at a very cheap price from the Far East,” says Fuchsloch. “Three roofing panel machines and an insulated panel machine, none of which were in working order when they arrived.
“The client thought it was a small problem and brought in an engineering company to look at the machine. They were unable to fix it and so turned to me to see if I could help. After looking at the machines I determined that they were so poorly designed that the components could not even be used separately.
“The only option was to dump the machines and start over. The client wasn’t happy with my findings and showed me the door. Unfortunately his business didn’t survive this very expensive lesson.” Be sure to inspect the machines in theFar Eastbefore shipment.
3) What is the delivery date, and what are the repercussions for late delivery?
Have precautions in place for possible problems such as late delivery. Ensure that the company you are dealing with is proficient in English and able to communicate your requirements and any possible future problems you may experience.
“Alternatively use a local company who deals in machinery, who knows the lay of the land and has done this many times before,” says Fuchsloch. “You might pay a little more up front, but it will save you a ton of heartache, lost production time and money in the end if you buy from a reputable company.”
4) Is the supplier also the manufacturer?
Not all Far East manufacturers have an export licence and so they use a local middle man to manufacture the machinery. It’s hard to tell which one you’re working with, especially when the massive factory floor is filled with many machines you assume are made on the premises or at least by the same company. The agent often doesn’t have the technical expertise to answer your questions or adequately understand your requirements.
Visit the factory yourself; there is no way around it. Make sure you see the factory and not just the showroom, warehouse or someone else’s factory. And take a translator with you – some bigger companies have staff who can speak English, but most of the technical staff cannot.
5) Get a technical manual in English
Finally, Fuchsloch recommends getting a technical manual written in English. “It often happens that I get a frantic call from buyers who can’t use their machines because they haven’t been supplied with a manual and can’t figure out how to get it working,” he concludes.
Good deals are out there
Despite the obvious obstacles, Fuchsloch does believe that it is possible to find a good deal if you’re prepared to put in extra time and money to research what you are getting, or work with an established and approved company with years of experience.
Metalforming Technologies SA has offices both in South Africa and in China. For more information please visit http://www.metalformingtechsa.com/
Africa’s Top 10 Tech Start-Ups Selected For #Africa4Future Accelerator Programme
Airbus and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) have announced the top 10 African tech start-ups that will take part in the latest Airbus Bizlab #Africa4Future accelerator programme. They were selected after an open public pitch event in front of experts, potential investors, the media and other stakeholders in Kenya’s capital city.
#Africa4Future is a joint business accelerator initiative of Airbus and GIZ’s Make-IT in Africa initiative together with the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a non-profit seed fund and pan-African organisation that brings together startups, entrepreneurs and the tech community, and Innocircle, the South African-based innovation consultancy.
The top 10 start-ups were selected from 314 entries representing 19 African countries that were received when the challenge was opened last October. These were assessed by a panel of Airbus and other independent experts.
The programme aims to encourage and support entrepreneurship in Africa. The continent’s young and increasingly techno-savvy population is likely to be the driving force behind Africa’s socio-economic development. The competition identifies Africa’s own pool of talented entrepreneurs using innovative aerospace based solutions to tackle the continent’s most pressing challenges such as transportation, agriculture and healthcare.
As a global aerospace accelerator, Airbus BizLab is ideally suited to help African startups transform innovative ideas into viable and valuable businesses. In doing so, it increases the aerospace industry’s engagement with hardware and software innovators and entrepreneurs in Africa while helping to nurture the establishment of competitive entrepreneurial ecosystems on the continent.
The Nairobi event kicks off an intensive 6-month business incubation and accelerator programme involving technical, commercial and mentorship activities in France, Germany and South Africa. This includes workshops and coaching sessions with Airbus experts, GIZ’s Make-IT in Africa, MEST and Innocircle coaches.
The programme will culminate with Demo Day events at the biennial Paris International Airshow and a special event in Germany from 19-26 June, when finalists will launch their products, define their collaboration with Airbus and announce their investment commitments in front of representatives from across the aerospace industry.
1. Astral Aerial (Kenya) – using drones for humanitarian cargo transport, surveillance and emergency response.
2. Cote d’Ivoire drone (Ivory Coast) – locally-manufactured drones for various applications.
3. Elemental Numerics (South Africa) – applies computational fluid dynamics techniques to the design of machines and components, ranging from aircraft to heart valves.
4. Lentera Limited (Kenya) – applying remote sensors to monitor and transmit environmental data to enable more efficient and smarter farming.
5. Maisha ICT Tech PLC (Ethiopia) – deploying locally built drones for delivering medicines, blood and healthcare items to remote and rural areas.
6. MamaBird (Malawi) – provides a platform to help Governments, NGOs and other organisations deliver vital life-saving supplies to remote communities.
7. Map Action (Mali) – a solution offering real-time online urban mapping to identify problems affecting water supplies, hygiene and sanitation.
8. MobiTech Water Solutions (Kenya) – an online real-time water monitoring solution that allows businesses, homes and water-service providers to manage their available water using an app-based dashboard and instant messaging.
9. Track Your Build (Nigeria) – a novel infrastructure management tool for construction and operations.
10.WiPo Wireless Power (South Africa) – offers reliable and convenient wireless power chargers for businesses, conference centres, airports, restaurants and other venues for the charging of mobile devices, laptops and drones.
Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up Success
Top Sectors For SMEs In 2019
“As such, SMEs in the construction, communications and electrical fields are all likely to benefit from supply and sub-contracting agreements over the coming years.”
While the South African economy has been underperforming for a number of years, the first positive signs of turnaround started to become visible by the second quarter of 2018, and by the end of the third quarter, data supplied by Statistics South Africa showed that the economy had indeed grown by 2.2 percent, compared to the previous quarter. This uptick is expected to have a positive effect on business confidence in 2019.
This is according to Jeremy Lang, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who says that certain business sectors have already seen an increase in opportunities for small businesses and start-ups.
“While these sectors will not be without challenges, the following four industries are likely to offer the best opportunities for small and medium enterprise (SME) owners to grow their enterprises in the coming year.”
The World Travel and Tourism report 2018, revealed that the direct contribution of the travel and tourism sector to South Africa’s GDP has been projected to rise from R136bn in 2016 to R197.9bn by 2028 – set to make up a total of 3.3 percent of the country’s total GDP, says Lang.
“Although this sector experienced some setbacks in 2018, such as the drought in the Western Cape and stricter visa regulations for children entering the country, both the water restrictions and visa regulations have been relaxed and the sector is once again poised for growth,” he says.
Statistics South Africa has credited this industry with being the biggest driver of growth in the country’s GDP, having expanded by 7.5 percent in September 2018, says Lang. “To bolster this, Government has made a concerted effort to stimulate small business growth in this area with initiatives such as the Black Industrialist Programme and the SA Automotive Masterplan.”
He adds that businesses in the manufacturing sphere could therefore likely see significant opportunities in the form of outsourcing contracts and new partnerships with large corporates.
“The debate around land expropriation has occupied most of the discussions surrounding the agricultural sector in 2018, with some questioning growth prospects of this sector. However, this industry has a lot of growth ahead of it, as demonstrated by its 6.5 percent growth over the last three months of 2018,” explains Lang.
“Further to this, the industry is also already taking significant advantage of seven climatic regions in South Africa, with the export of a wide variety of high quality fruit and vegetables increasing substantially,” he points out. The recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease that has resulted in the suspension of the country’s FMD-free status will however significantly impact meat exporters.
In terms of opportunities for SMEs, he says that these may most likely be found in the rural and underdeveloped regions, where the need for resources like efficient transport, state-of-the-art cold storage, better irrigation and private power generation will be key to making agriculture projects more productive and competitive in the export market.
Data and information technology
Connectivity and information technology infrastructure are both crucial to business and employment growth in South Africa, says Lang.
“With many municipalities and the Western Cape government committing to providing all of its residents with free data as part of a plan to expand public Wi-Fi network access, it is clear that this is also becoming a high priority on a state level.”
It has also been reported that South Africa is awaiting the arrival of three international data centres, and large players in the communications sphere, including Vodacom, Telkom and Vumatel, are making huge strides in drastically growing the country’s fibre optic backbone, he adds. “As such, SMEs in the construction, communications and electrical fields are all likely to benefit from supply and sub-contracting agreements over the coming years.”
In conclusion, Lang says that as South Africa’s economic growth has started to turn around, business owners should keep their ears to the ground as 2019 is highly likely to be a year of opportunity.
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