Brink Towing Systems this month produced its 350 000th tow bar at its plant in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Pietermaritzburg-based company is a manufacturer and importer of towing solutions.
The Brink Group is a 100-year-old multinational company with manufacturing facilities in a number of countries, including France, the UK, Thailand and South Africa, as well as sales offices throughout the world. The head office is in the Netherlands.
The Pietermaritzburg plant produces tow bars for a number of vehicle manufacturers, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), as well as the aftermarket, with a number of accessories also available.
The local company’s main clients are Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa, Toyota Motors South Africa and Isuzu South Africa. Production currently reaches more than 110 000 tow bars a year.
Brink Towing Systems South Africa (SA) exports directly to the UK, says MD Mark Gutridge. “We also export indirectly though Ford, as our tow bars are fitted as standard to most of the vehicles exported to Europe.”
The 350 000th tow bar was for a Ranger pickup. The majority of Rangers exported around the world from South Africa are fitted with a Brink tow bar.
Each Ranger tow bar weighs 40 kg and includes about four metres of MIG welding, every centimetre of it completed robotically for maximum quality and consistency, explains Gutridge.
Once completed, a tow bar is zinc coated, e-coated and then powder-coated for long-term protection against the elements.
More than 305 000 Ranger tow bars have been produced at the facility, 10 500 t of steel being consumed in the process.
“All locally manufactured tow bars have 100% local content, but we import a few of the lower volume products from our head office,” says Gutridge.
Looking ahead, he notes that the company has continued its growth strategy with the recent procurement of a fourth twin-robotic welding system.
“Our five-year plan is to increase our production output, diversify our product range and increase direct exports.
“Our core competence is welded and painted steel assemblies, so we would look at other products that compliment our competencies.”
Steel, Empowerment Challenges
Gutridge says the buoyant steel price has been a challenge for Brink Towing Systems SA.
“The types of steel we use have increased in price by 10.3% since July last year. With the OEMs’ constant focus on cost reduction, it has been incredibly difficult to remain competitive.
“We have done a lot of work on direct exports to the other facilities in the group, but we have found that our raw material costs have made us uncompetitive.
“Finding alternate steel suppliers is becoming a priority, including importing steel.”
Brink Towing Systems SA currently purchases its steel from Macsteel, which sources it from local steel mill ArcelorMittal.
Gutridge adds that the company’s focus on staff engagement has meant that there have been no disruptions in production since the company started operations in 2006.
“We have continued to expand since we started operations with four people, to the current 74 employees.”
This increase in employment has, however, had an interesting knock-on effect, says Gutridge.
“This year we have employed a further seven people. This has, however, increased our broad-based black economic empowerment (BBBEE) spend requirement.
“A number of the BBBEE requirements relate to wage spend and, thus, the higher your company’s wage spend, the more you need to spend on BBBEE. This then means that the more people I employ, the higher my BBBEE spend needs to be, which has proven to be difficult.”
Gutridge says Brink Towing Systems SA is currently compliant under the new BBEEE codes but, given that the company is part of a multinational, selling a percentage of the company to a black shareholder is impossible.
“Our other major challenge is procurement, as there are limited supply options for the raw materials we use, making it difficult for us to improve our score.”