Condra Cranes is one of just two companies currently building cranes in South Africa. This statistic is indicative of the local market. Nevertheless, managing director Marc Kleiner is looking forward to 2018 and beyond, motivated by the people he meets and a desire to build cranes. “Bulk Handling Today” caught up with Marc at their Germiston premises.
The company is building cranes and hoists for local and international markets in South Africa, but business in the country could be a lot better. Marc says two of the challenges local manufacturers face are high steel costs and a poor business environment.
Locally-produced steel is more expensive than imported steel from Europe, for example. But it’s not much good buying-in as import duties result in the steel landing at a high price. The net result is that imported products are cheaper than locally-produced products. “Therefore, producing locally is a challenge,” Marc points out.
“Steel in Europe is 40% cheaper, but importing means you have to pay a price inflated by duties, and these heavy import duties aren’t an option. Importing the finished product from China and Turkey is cheap and Europe is also competitive. The market is very competitive,” he adds.
Budgets are tight
When you’ve got a competitive market and a slow economy, price becomes decisive. “People are buying cheaper and cheaper,” Marc tells us.
He sees a lot of evidence of tight budgets. “People haven’t got money. Small businesses are closing and many reputable companies are late on payments. It’s a cascading effect because they are not getting paid on time, so their suppliers don’t get paid on time. People are living hand-to-mouth.
“We used to run our business on calculated risk, now we are risking it.”
The solution for Condra is diversification and skills. The company has been manufacturing cranes for over 50 years, is a leader in the local market (they installed an 83-metre high lift on the world’s tallest steel headgear in 2011) and offers unmatched engineering and design skills.
Locally, Condra has contracts with Exxaro for a 50-tonne crane, and a project for Mopani Copper Mines in Zambia. The company is also working in the Congo on new mines and rehabilitation projects.
Spreading their wings
“There are good margins to be had in Africa, but the risk is high,” Marc comments.
Internationally Condra Cranes has operations in Chile and Bulgaria. Bulgaria has just received its first order, for four cranes. In Russia, a 50 and 100 tonne crane, and a couple of 10 tonne cranes are in the pipeline.
“We have two registered companies in Chile which are ticking along and are looking to grow our international footprint as a company,” he adds.
Cranes are designed and manufactured up to and including heavy duty Class 4, and to the standards of ISO, Gost and other internationally-recognised quality control bodies.
Gost is a series of technical standards maintained by the Euro-Asian Council for Standardization, Metrology and Certification (EASC). It is the equivalent of ISO 9001 in the Russian Federation.
You cannot escape the harsh realities of the local economy, and Marc is frustrated with local conditions.
“We are not driven as a country and I can sense it in the population. We are just not ‘op-en-wakker’. Condra is now 51 years old and still growing, but I can seriously feel the pressure of an unenthused economy.”
He comments that it’s not only a local malaise. “This is a worldwide phenomenon, although the pressure locally is higher than anywhere else. I get the sense that more and more mines are closing and mining is not as lucrative as it once was.”
He is also frustrated when local industry is hamstrung by politics, and low labour productivity. Marc quotes the following statistic. “In 1900, people worked 3 600 hours a year. Today that figure is less than a third at 1 430.”
Technology and better working conditions account for some of the decline in working hours (weekends for example) but we could be more productive. Marc believes we need to find a purpose and work out what motivates us. His motivation comes from the people he meets.
“I have met some really driven people who have got me motivated. We have a young, dynamic, driven team in Bulgaria and it’s exciting to see the first order. Busy people inspire me.”
Marc is busy and enthused. “I want to create something. Cranes are exciting because they embrace a multitude of engineering professions – structural, electrical, mechanical, civil.”
Among others, one of Condra’s recent projects is using electronics in cranes to track usage and movement. “We are developing some new electronics to fit into the cranes such as new brake sensors, logic circuits and data loggers.”
The company recently completed a project for Eskom, which included data loggers that record each time a crane is used. Capacity and lifts are also monitored. “Each drive has its own card which tends to improve accountability,” Marc says.
He travels extensively, and while local conditions hamper his enthusiasm, local and international projects, innovations and meeting smart people give Marc hope.
He concludes, “You have to do something, you can’t just sit and wait.”
Condra Cranes & Hoists
Tel: (011) 776-6000