Whether it’s in the development of more technologically advance earthmoving equipment or its comprehensive aftermarket support offerings, Bell Equipment’s business DNA is driven by customer demand.
DUNCAN MASHIKA, MD of Bell Equipment Sales South Africa tells GERARD PETER that this was ever more important to ensuring that its customers were able to operate optimally during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Bell Equipment has over 60 years’ experience in the manufacture, distribution and support of earthmoving equipment to mining operations across the African region including the supply of articulated dump trucks (ADTs), crawler dozers and excavators.
Bell is renowned as an ADT specialist, offering market leading models such as its B45E truck. The B45E runs on average of 18 hours in a 24-hour cycle, seven days a week with a fuel consumption of between 28 and 30 litres per hour and is already utilised extensively in South African mining operations.
In addition, Bell offers a range of aftermarket services such as bespoke operator training programmes, maintenance contracts and its Fleetm@tic fleet management system. Registered as an essential services provider, Bell was able to service its clients during South Africa’s hard COVID-19 lockdown.
However, Mashika points out that the company had to make some notable adjustments to ensure that it continued to provide equipment and support to its mining companies.
“Firstly, we needed to determine what we needed to have available for our clients,” he starts.
“Our biggest focus was ensuring that our field service mechanics were available to be deployed to our client’s plants as well as ensuring that parts were also available for them to carry out the tasks they were expected to do.”
Bell had to ensure that strict COVID-19 safety regulations were followed when deploying its mechanics to mines.
“We were all dealing with something new so we had to adhere to South African as well as international regulations. However, as time went on, we also put in place our own health and safety measures based on our own observations to ensure that staff and customers are safe,” adds Mashika.
As a result, Bell had to carry out repairs and services with limited technical staff. Furthermore, the company had to adjust its parts and logistics network quite significantly because the supply chain was under more stress than normal.
“Also, our pick-up points became areas where large numbers gathered. As such, we had to stagger deliveries in order to ensure social distancing,” explains Mashika. Meanwhile, technical support staff were able to support clients remotely.
Now, while operating during the coronavirus pandemic did pose challenges, Mashika believes that the lessons learnt will set the platform for a new way of working going forward.
“At times like these, there are some lessons that we cannot ignore. As such, we were learning new things and unlearning other things that we always believed were the best way to work.
“As the lockdown has been easing, we have still been able to ramp up our operations despite working from home and this shows that staff levels can still be maintained.”
Affordability and reliability are key factors
As stated earlier, new product developments and service offerings are very much determined by customer demands, with aftermarket services being a key priority.
“In our industry, it is understood that the sales team sells the first unit of equipment but the rest are actually sold by our aftermarket capabilities,” states Mashika.
To that end, Bell gears a lot of its focus towards ensuring that clients get the most out of their fleets by reducing downtime by implementing preventative maintenance measures. It does this through extensive training of its clients.
The company’s training focuses on two areas. The first is operator training to ensure that they understand the capabilities of the equipment so that mines can maximise on productivity as well as prevent any damage to the equipment. The other focus is on technical training and this is ongoing as new product ranges are introduced.
Now, while Bell is at the forefront of driving automation and more technologically advanced earthmoving equipment, this is by no means the sole driver for expansion in South Africa and rest of the continent.
“We closely monitor technological advances including automation and remote controlled equipment. As a global player, we recognise that our clients adopt technology at different speeds. As such, we need to understand the African market, its needs and requirements before we can implement various technology solutions,” adds Mashika.
Currently, in addition to supplying to ADT’s and excavators with hi-tech capabilities, Bell also offers Fleetm@tic, its in-house monitoring system that can be used across a fleet and allows companies to keep track of its fleet 24/7.
A mining company can access the system remotely at any time gaining access to information such as a machine’s health data and also identify future potential equipment failures and remedy them before they happen. Fleetm@tic has proven to be extremely useful in remote mining sites where clients are not always onsite.
Another service offering that Mashika says is popular among clients is pre-owned equipment. “In tough economic climates, pre-owned equipment is a viable solution for those companies that do not necessarily need new equipment in their operations.
“Furthermore, Bell has access to equipment that has been sold in the European market and while they are owned for the same period of time, they have notched up less operating hours than they would have in African operations.
“So although, the equipment may be three to five years old, it still has plenty of operational life left. So our local clients can still get the same level reliability at an affordable price,” he concludes.