Initially leveraging its positive references from South Africa-based mining majors, vibrating screen specialist Kwatani has built an export footprint of 40 countries in just the past eight years.
With a solid presence around Africa, the company now has representation in north and south America, and has recently shipped its first machine into the Canadian market.
“Internationalising our markets is high on our agenda,” says Kwatani CEO Kim Schoepflin.
“Our success to date is based on our world class design, engineering and manufacturing standards. These ensure that we compete cost effectively with the best technology the industry can offer.”
Schoepflin acknowledges that the South African cost base is an important contributor to the company’s global competitiveness. Almost all the inputs to its customised products – from skills to materials – are sourced within a few kilometres of its Gauteng headquarters, to the benefit of the local economy.
However, she emphasizes that efficient machine performance, continuous production tonnage and reliability is what grows a sustainable customer network.
“There can be no compromise in quality when building exports on local content, and this requires years of investment and innovation,” she says.
In addition to its B-BBEE Level 1 status, Kwatani’s high local content assists South African mines in meeting the Mining Charter’s requirement for local procurement. This includes the skills and expertise behind its quality manufacturing process. It is also one of only a few local manufacturers with ISO certification.
“This is what has allowed us to grow our network of customers and partners abroad,” says Schoepflin.
“Our technology and intellectual property are also local, supported by our in-house R&D department and laboratory and our metallurgical and mechanical research collaboration with various universities.”
This gives Kwatani the cutting edge knowledge to develop and share its engineering knowledge, which it does through industry and scientific forums involving the professional community.
“Our experience with online platforms over the years means that the COVID-19 pandemic will not slow down our international efforts,” she says. “Online platforms give us new ways to share our knowledge, such as using webinars to publicise our research.”
Recognised last year by the SA Capital Equipment Export Council for its export achievements, Kwatani works both with mines directly and through project houses.
With these customers often based in other countries, there has been regular use of remote communication platforms – even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Many of our customers – especially the project houses – are global in their reach, so we frequently work across borders,” Schoepflin says. “We might deal with a customer in Canada who is working on a project in West Africa, or a company based in South Africa developing a project in the Americas.”
Despite the distance from export projects, the same detailed attention has to be paid upfront to understanding the metallurgical side of the customer’s application. Kwatani custom-engineers its solutions based on site-specific flowcharts from the operation.
Once the screening parameters are defined, the company’s mechanical engineers design the customised unit to deliver the required efficiencies, tonnages and other specifications.
Schoepflin notes that exporting is not just about placing a machine in another country, highlighting the wide range of demands placed on the export supply chain.
“Exporting successfully is a demanding test of any company’s quality systems and its attention to detail,” she says.
“For a start, manufacturing schedules must be closely observed, to meet the fixed departure dates for shipping. After manufacture, all components must be systematically packaged and flawlessly labelled. You really only have one chance to get everything right.”
This is especially important when mine sites are remote, as these locations add considerable time and cost to any redelivery. Mistakes can also have impacts on customers’ production deadlines.
Kwatani’s capability to meet expectations has been well demonstrated, she says, and was recently proven again with the successful delivery of six vibrating screens to West Africa.
In terms of supporting its products in countries it exports to, Kwatani priorities its service and technical representation in those areas.
“We prefer to have partners representing us in the regions we serve,” she says. “They need the right level of technical capacity, and where necessary the facilities to deal with spares and machine refurbishments,” she says. They also have an important role in dealing with on-the-ground interactions with Kwatani customers.
“For instance, a retro-fit project will begin with a desk-top analysis but at some point an expert will be required to visit the site to measure up the existing infrastructure,” she says. “Our partners in a region can assist us with these duties.”
She says Kwatani’s growing global network is positioning the company well for export growth, and is excited by a number of big projects in the pipeline.