Bringing local manufacturing into the 21st century

By: Kelly-Ann Prinsloo – writer

Vaal Sanitaryware has been in the manufacturing game for many years but, as the market challenges grow, so too does the company

Vaal Sanitaryware has been a giant of the South African plumbing industry for many years. Based in the former Vaal Triangle area of Johannesburg, the manufacturing stalwart started off as a tableware manufacturing business and progressed from there to where it is today.

Rob Winter, managing director of Vaal, explained that the company has always been passionate about local manufacturing. “The traditional manufacturing methods are still prominent in the industry, where we use bench-casting, plaster moulds. And that probably constitutes about 65-70% of the actual volume of products,” Winter said.

As Vaal moved into the future, the company began to use high-pressure casting to create the plumbing fixtures they are known for. Both methods are currently used in the factory.

Vaal’s raw materials are predominantly supplied by locals. The company has access to a mine out of Gauteng’s East Rand, and one of the West Rand – the mines supply the clay the company uses. “It’s not necessarily important that our suppliers are local,” Winter said. “It’s not just about being local – you need to be local but have an appropriate source. And what we’re finding now is that we might have to extend the range of our suppliers, purely because of the technical aspect of our local suppliers. We need to blend slightly differently and some of the characteristics we’re looking for aren’t available with the local materials.”

Winter added that there is such a thing as a ‘perfect material’ but for the company to make use of that, they would have to import it from Italy or Japan etc. and it simply isn’t feasible.

Cost plays a big role in whether or not Vaal imports materials. “With the rand being the way that it is, it’s much more expensive to import materials,” Winter said. “It’s cheaper to buy local but there is a compromise – our local clays are not quite of the standard you would get if you imported, but you’re off-setting it with a cost benefit.”

The local manufacturing sector has suffered of late, whether from dumping of cheap foreign goods, the non-compliance to SABS standards of imported products, or the waning economy. These challenges have, according to Winter, resulted in a lot of pressure being placed on the manufacturing sector in South Africa. “What we’re finding is that the pricing of product in the market is being challenged dramatically. There’s no leeway in terms of pricing in the market. And, as a consequence, your manufacturing behind that has to be exceptionally lean. So there’s a lot of pressure.”

Read the full feature in Plumbing Africa Januray 2016, page 60.

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