From humble beginnings as a DC motor repairer, ArmCoil has today become a leading manufacturer of distribution transformers and mini substations for the mining sector. Sales and marketing manager MORNE BOSCH explains to GERARD PETER the reasons for the company’s ongoing success.
Formed in 2003, ArmCoil initially focused on DC motor repairs primarily for mining operations in the Northern Cape. Soon the company branched out into medium voltage motor repairs including AC motors, pump motors, mill motors and fan motors. The company then ventured into manufacturing medium voltage motors; however, this came to a halt in 2006 because of the high steel and labour prices.
Subsequently, ArmCoil started doing repairs to power and distribution transformers and substations in the utility and mining sectors. “Soon we started investing a bit more in transformer manufacturing and since then we have grown the business quite substantially and today, we manufacture customised transformers miniature substations, NECRTs and starting reactors for mining operations,” adds Bosch.
While a large contingent of its clientele is based in South Africa, ArmCoil has a strong African footprint with clients in Egypt, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Rwanda, to name a few. Among the recent milestones that the company has achieved is the remanufacturing of a large mobile substation for a platinum mining company in South Africa. Bosch explains that it took the company a year to produce the 6 MVA 33 kV substation.
“Another area where we have been successful is in the manufacture and sale of our mobile and robust miniature substations. We call them self-bunding substations and they are perfectly suited for remote mining operations. They can withstand vermin, water and dust ingress. Also, they don’t really need a concrete plinth because of their sturdy bases. In addition, these substations are modular in design so one can easily swap out parts,” Bosch states.
More recently, ArmCoil has entered the dump truck market, supplying traction motors and alternators. Currently, this part of the business is still small but Bosch is confident that the company has the capabilities to grow it. Bosch adds that a large part of the company’s success can be attributed to its in-house technical expertise.
“Firstly, we pride ourselves on having three ISO accreditations, namely quality; health and safety; and environmental. By having these ISOs we are constantly re-evaluating and reassessing our processes and procedures with the aim of delivering greater downstream benefits to our clients. We also have to adhere to a lot of additional technical specifications, such as SANS 2009 and SANS 2019, and this prompts us to find improved and efficient ways of manufacturing as well.
“Regardless of the product specifications we must consider when manufacturing, our starting point is ensuring that our designs meet our client’s specifications. We do however always consider areas for improvement beyond expectation and ensure we are able to solve any problems that may arise. As such, we invest a lot in R&D to ensure that we get it right.”
While in-house technical expertise is key to the company’s success, Bosch says that networking with industry experts is also essential. “For example, we have in past scenarios outsourced some of our technical engineering to a professor who helped us develop a new market innovation.”
Furthermore, ArmCoil is also strongly focused on ensuring the supply of quality and reliable products. According to Bosch, mining clients are not opposed to paying high prices for products that are reliable, robust and assist in minimising downtime. The fact that a large platinum mine has opted for ArmCoil transformers across all its operations is an excellent case in point.
“Based on historical work done for the company and R&D executed, we are their preferred manufacturer. Our transformers were chosen because of their reliability and endurance. We have already installed transformers at many sites and we have not had a single serious warranty problem so far,” explains Bosch.
Progress amid a global pandemic
Like many other companies, ArmCoil’s operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosch explains that the company’s operations were quickly halted, with most aspects of the business affected. “We were fortunate that we went into the lockdown period with a relatively secure order book. However, we had to reorganise our labour force and split our workers into shifts in order to ensure social distancing. Still, our efficiency dropped by 40%. Also, our purchasing came to a standstill because a lot of our suppliers were in lockdown as well,” he states.
That said, the lockdown period also gave ArmCoil the opportunity to review its processes and to look for ways to increase repair and manufacturing efficiency. In addition, Bosch states that it also gave the team time to catch up on R&D projects that were long overdue. “Also, there was a new SANS 2019 requirement that was released in 2020 and we used our time to update our designs. As such, we now offer both SANS 2009 and SANS 2019-compliant transformers,” he adds.
Another key component of ArmCoil’s vision is environmental awareness, which it filters down to its clients. The company has a zero oil spillage policy which is governed by its ISO accreditations. Furthermore, ArmCoil itself does not dispose of hazardous materials. Rather it outsources this function to accredited service providers. The company also continually speaks to its clients about the harmful effect that leaking transformers can have on the environment – a message that Bosch says is being taken seriously by the mining industry.
Having built the company on the back of the mining industry, Bosch is confident that ArmCoil will continue its growth trajectory as the African mining sector starts to gather momentum again. A key area of focus will be the supply of transformers and mini substations to those mining companies
who are looking for off-the-grid power solutions. “We started out in mining and this industry has kept our business strong. We are very optimistic that certain mining activities are going to perform well from the third quarter onwards; and so we are predicting significant growth for the mining industry and we believe that this means growth for our business going forward,” he concludes.