Local manufacturers go the extra mile

November 2008 News

Competition, economic woes and the skills shortage have local manufacturers looking for innovative ways to improve quality, boost productivity and limit expenses.

Globalisation, the brain drain and intense competition for skills has local manufacturers under the gun. Especially in the security industry, cheap imports from the East, a lack of engineering expertise and the seemingly never-ending rise and fall of fly-by-nights has put local manufacturers under pressure to deliver more at a lower cost without sacrificing quality.

In a perfect world, customers would confirm the quality and applicability of products and then look at price, but it seems local buyers still regard security as a grudge purchase and opt for the cheapest option. Then they blame the wrong people when their products fail.

Instead of looking at products that perform over the long term, local buyers opt for the cheapest goods that have no backup service on offer, generalises Steve Martin from Martin Electronics. The result is that many local manufactures have closed their doors of late.

“You get customers ignoring the local market and buying the cheap imported stuff, and then expecting local companies to support them when their systems fail,” he continues, noting it is not simply a tendency to opt for the least expensive product available. “Some actually believe they are buying good stock from a reputable company that vanishes in a few months.

“There are no safeguards for local customers when importing security goods, no standards to ensure the products imported are of a certain quality. In other countries, such as the UK where the government makes an effort to look after its local businesses, there are certain standards imported products must adhere to as well as ad valorem taxes to protect local businesses from cheap imports.”

So while Martin Electronics has to ensure its products meet stringent standards before they can be sold in the UK, anyone can sell anything in South Africa. And that is not even considering the damage to the local market done by grey importers and frauds who import cheap goods branded as quality products.

Martin, while running a successful local manufacturing business, is also focusing on the international market. Why focus on local customers when there is a vast international market for quality products where the cheapest is not automatically seen as the best?

Of course, selling internationally is a different ball game. South African companies seem to expect very healthy profit margins as the norm and this is definitely not the case when you sell into Europe or the USA.

Of course, this is the negative side of local manufacturing. Companies are closing and cheap or rebranded imports do cause havoc, especially for the smaller players, but companies focused on quality production and cost cutting still make it in South Africa and the rest of the world.

Continual improvement

When it comes to quality, that is an area Radio Data Communications (RDC) can never afford to let slip. The company manufactures long-range radio transmitters and associated repeating and receiving equipment for the security industry. RDC’s Brent Andreka says the company upgraded its equipment last year to cater for improved quality products and to be able to handle an expected growth in demand.

He notes that even with a poor economic outlook and increased price pressures globally, RDC can never let its quality slip because there may be lives at stake if its products fail. So, even with streamlined and automated processes to support quality and reduce costs, the company looks for ways to implement tweaks and adjustments in a process of continual improvement.

One of the non-negotiables for RDC in its quality drive is a policy not to procure cheap, counterfeit or grey products and an unremitting commitment to extensive testing.

Looking ahead, Andreka says the coming year will see increased pressure on all manufacturers to reduce costs while also making new plans to deal with margins that will be under more stress than ever. RDC can not allow its standard of production to decline and he hopes the same applies in the rest of the local industry.

Despite the problems associated with local manufacturing, RDC has no plans to outsource to China or other cheaper regions of the world because it needs to ensure it retains 100% control over the final product and quality.

Improved control with flexibility

Impro Technologies is another DIY design and manufacture company that has recently launched an innovative new Ethernet controller. It may not seem that there is anything innovative about an Ethernet controller, but the new IXP400i offers offline capabilities as well as both an RS485 controller port for legacy integration (as well as an Ethernet port).

The controller is built on the ARM920T processor with Linux operating system, which allows for native Ethernet communications. The controller is actually a mini-PC, which means it can run independent of a server. All relevant data can be held on the device, which can make intelligent decisions without waiting for a server. Multiple devices can even bypass a central server and communicate independently with each other when required and then synchronise with a central server at set times to ensure all data us synchronised and backed up.

Barry East, marketing manager at Impro says the IXP400i also boasts dynamically allocated tag/transaction memory which can retain up to 300 000 tag holders, and up to 1 000 000 buffered transactions. A realtime clock (RTC) with a 3 V lithium backup battery providing five years of stand-by operation is also standard. And, as an intelligent device, the controller can also install firmware upgrades with a total downtime of only three seconds.

For companies not needing the full capabilities of the IXP400i, Impro has also released a scaled-down version, the IP-based IXP220 which is built on the ARM 7 platform. It sports a lower memory capacity and is limited to 10 000 tag holders and 100 000 buffered transactions.

Discovering gold

Another local innovation in a totally different industry has been launched by Saflec, a company that focuses on high-tech access control solutions as well as loss control systems, some of which are world leading.

In the mining and manufacturing markets, for example, theft of copper has been a problem for years as people have found very innovative ways to smuggle copper out of their work environments. In some cases, some employees in specific companies have walked out with as much as 20 kg of copper on their bodies – no mean feat. One of the ways thieves used to avoid discovery is to wear steel-tipped boots, which set off the metal detectors instead of the copper and the employees walked out with their stash of copper.

Saflec’s Gordon Curr says most traditional metal detectors are designed to be more sensitive around the person’s feet and less sensitive further above ground. Saflec has managed to get around this by developing technology that manages to ignore the steel tips on people’s boots and identify any copper on their person. This is similar to another of the company’s solutions that can identify small amounts of gold that someone may be hiding on their body.

Of course, the copper environment is different from gold in that copper is easy to find and dispose of and there are many other human factors hindering the discovery of copper theft. In fact, Curr says the loss value of copper theft in South Africa is higher than that of gold theft, and that’s not even counting the losses as a result of power and telecommunications blackouts that can result from these copper-related criminal activities.

The efficacy of the Saflec copper discovery solution has been proven with the recent gaol sentence for a wayward security guard.

Innovation through service

Of course, innovation does not always mean designing new products or technologies that extend the scope of one’s equipment, it also includes innovating the processes and procedures employed to make better use of existing security equipment and technologies. CURA has taken this approach to innovation, and while not a manufacturer of goods, has developed solutions that take traditional security to the next level.

Within the video arena CURA Digital Manufacturing has developed and manufactured the first and currently only video based shrinkage, surveillance and security management systems worldwide. Oliver Darvall and Jan Schoeman founded CURA with one aim in mind – to supply the security, surveillance and retail environments within South Africa and Africa with a system developed to address the challenges that companies face within South Africa and Africa. According to Schoeman the socio-economic difficulties faced within Africa creates challenges that differ substantially from those experienced in other First World and eastern countries, making it impossible to supply a solution to South African clientele if the technology does not take these challenges into consideration.

Although many imported video recorders allow for the integration of point-of-sale registers, CURA pioneered the technology in 2002. Since then it has been busy adding various other interfaces and perfecting the shrinkage management system. The system now allows for all primary retail system interfaces such as PoS registers, scales, cash counting machines and time and attendance systems. The output is a daily one page shrinkage report that not only identifies the worst cashiers, and scale operators but also gives the hard pressed retailer an indication of shrinkage within specific line items, cash and other loss areas. This ability to analyse and report on shrinkage has proven to be invaluable to retailers that do not have the ability to perform stocktakes within a seven day trade week. With some retailers recording savings of up to R340 000 per month, has seen the brand being recognised as a product that ensures a guaranteed return on investment to their clients.

The video-based Security and Surveillance Management system of CURA includes specialised technology for detection and reaction to various security threats and ensures any client an alternative to guarding with a guaranteed 24/7 off-site monitoring capability. CURA was and still is the system of choice for integrators such as Security Management Solutions and Secuscan Security Systems. It is through CURA’s capability to manage and control purposeful built detectors, reaction devices and video that Security Management Solution has chosen this local development and manufacturing concern’s technology and is currently the largest video-based off-site monitoring company with more than 1500 sites being monitored on the CURA backbone.

The secret of CURA’s success lies in its capability to supply integrators with a back-end solution that integrates seamlessly with the services that they offer to their clients. Within the shrinkage arena this includes a complete management solution for video auditing, where reviewers are capable of logging each transaction and/or the video where theft or pilfering has occurred, through CURA’s Video Auditing Management and Control Centre software. The software is currently used in the largest video auditing centre in South Africa and allows for all video evidence to be logged and stored within these environments. Within the security and surveillance environments, CURA also boasts the largest Off-Site Control Room Management System in South Africa. The software controls all devices, cameras and the logging of incidents for the 1500 sites currently monitored within Security Management Solution’s control room.

Focus on quality and productivity

Centurion is a South African success story. The company has grown from a small concern in 1986 and now manufactures a host of access automation equipment in its factory in Gauteng and employs 300 people countrywide and exports to over 40 countries worldwide. The company is under the same cost, margin and quality pressures as any local manufacturer and has decided to approach the problem in a more inclusive manner.

Marketing director Richard Roman explains that Centurion has adopted the Workplace Challenge, a programme driven and supported by the DTI and Productivity SA. The idea behind the programme is to transform a business into a productive, world-class manufacturer.

The Workplace Challenge programme focuses on productivity improvement and competitiveness by providing companies with access to best operating practices and world-class competitiveness measures. Roman says the idea is to embed the company’s goals and strategies throughout the organisation. This will ensure staff will gain an understanding of the business, its functioning and their role, while improving communications across all departments.

The programme works by dividing the company up into mini-businesses, each with a specific function. Executive management sets the baseline, global business strategy, after which each mini-business aligns itself with the company strategy. Each mini-business, including management meets for 8 minutes each day to discuss strengths, weaknesses, problems, goals and anything needed, with the team’s status and measures easily viewable on a visual display made of charts and graphic representations of various goal areas – the Workplace Challenge tools.

These best practice tools assist the mini-businesses in dealing with various mechanisms to improve their performance and help them attain the goals of the company. For example, to start with they are led through the following productivity-enhancing systems:

* The seven wastes: Over production, waiting, transportation, processing, inventory, motion and rework.

* The fives process: Sort, set in order, shine, standardise and self discipline.

* The three evils of maintenance: Improper cleanup, lubrication and operation.

* The PDCA cycle: Plan, do, check, act.

The graphical displays are used as an easy way to measure the progress of the company. Roman says measurement is critical in the Workplace Challenge. “How can a company become world class if each of its individual working units is not measuring how they are doing and comparing their results against previous performance.”

More information is available at www.workplacechallenge.co.za.

According to Roman, “perhaps the biggest change taking place at Centurion is the realisation that change must and can occur to remain competitive in a global market-place. The concepts of quality, cost, delivery, morale, good communication, innovation, empowerment, accountability, productivity improvement, waste-reduction and the like, are moving from being nebulous management jargon, to measurable realities.”

Additionally, morale is improving as staff realise that their ideas are being listened to, and their innovations are implemented by management.

As seems to be the norm in South Africa, local manufacturers are adapting to the market conditions and the tightening economy and making sure they can offer improved quality products and beneficial services while controlling costs and boosting productivity. These companies are planning to succeed even through the economic rollercoaster the world seems to be on now, which puts them in a great position to thrive on the upturn.


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