HomeInterviewsWerner Baller: A bulk materials handling visionary

Werner Baller: A bulk materials handling visionary

Werner Baller, founder and recently retired CEO of Weba Chute Systems & Solutions, played a pivotal role in revolutionizing the bulk materials handling sector more than 30 years ago – specifically with regards to chutes and transfer points through the introduction of the Weba chute transfer system.

Yet despite the global success this product has delivered over the decades, he still believes the industry under-values the importance this equipment fulfils in ensuring streamlined and optimised production.

AUTHOR: Editor of Mining Review Africa, Laura Cornish

Germany-born Baller has lived in South Africa for over 50 years and as a ceramic engineer by profession, coincidentally acquired Weba Chute Systems in the early 1980s when it was formerly known as M&J Engineering and specialised in coal mining equipment.

The evolution of the company, to what it is today, was thanks to the combination of Baller’s engineering skills and growing relationships in the mining sector that led to the realisation that bulk materials handling transfer points often lead to downtime when he was approached to help a client solve a transfer point challenge overnight.

After conducting a comprehensive study into the negative and cost-incurring aspects of conventional chute design thereafter, Baller set about designing a transfer chute which would eliminate these problems.

This quite naturally led to the creation of the Weba Chute System, which was patented in 1991 and has since then saved countless hours of downtime over its 4 500 operating unit footprint.

“Up until that point, few companies had invested time or money into better engineering transfer points to enhance their overall materials handling system.”

Yet despite the success of the Weba Chute System, Baller emphasises that the industry does still not place enough value in their transfer systems and still opt for “cheaper” chutes that do not take individual application requirements into consideration and as a result suffer continuous breakdowns and require more maintenance.

“Our chute is superior and is designed and engineered according to each application’s requirements. In so doing, our customers eliminate 50 – 60% of their bulk materials handling challenges.”

Considering Weba Chute Systems has never lost a single client since supplying its first chute, and has units operating in the field for over 15 years without major maintenance requirements – Baller emphasises that his system speaks for itself.

Werner Baller, founder and recently retired CEO of Weba Chute Systems & Solutions

As further proof of his confidence in his product – he reiterates that “as always, we fully guarantee the performance of our products. I am that confident in our product and its ability to effectively control product flow between two points and provide greater financial gains to our customers.”

With its approach to chute and transfer point design and engineering, and an extensive number of full-time employees, including engineers, designers, planners, draftsmen, procurement and management professionals along with Weba’s in-house manufacturing staff and site maintenance personnel, the company serves hundreds of clients in more than 10 countries around the world and so is intimately connected with its client base.

As a result, Baller believes the company has encountered every imaginable challenge associated with this sector of the market over the decades.

“Our knowledge, technology and approach mean there is no problem our systems are not able to improve.”

Mark Baller, MD of Weba Chute Systems & Solutions

And while various companies have attempted to follow in Baller’s footsteps – he notes that at least 70% of the knowledge required in designing the perfect transfer point is experience and practical knowledge.

This cannot be studied or learnt from a book,” he highlights.

 Regardless of the success the company has achieved with its technology, Baller continues to question the value the industry places in purchasing a well-engineered and designed transfer point system.

“Considering South Africa alone offers a chute installation footprint of over 20 000 units, our market share is small, and should be at least 10 or 20 times bigger than it is.”

What’s next for Weba Chute Systems?

Baller may have retired but will retain an active interest in the company and its future. His son and MD of the company, Mark Baller shares his father’s vision to grow the company’s footprint further by highlighting the positive affects a Weba Chute System investment can deliver.

While Mark’s responsibility will focus on the strategic growth and direction of the company, Baller is confident that the company’s team of engineers is fully qualified and positioned to maintain the delivery of “the perfect transfer point system”.