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Fluctuating steel prices affect local manufacturers

FLUCTUATING COMMODITY While importing steel is sometimes the most economic option, Universal Storage Systems remains committed to local procurement

A significant number of South African manufacturers have been forced to import steel over the past two years instead of buying it locally because local steel prices are high, says steel racking, shelving and mezzanine flooring manufacturer, supplier and installer Universal Storage Systems sales director Jan Breytenbach.

“The volatility of the South African steel price is the biggest challenge we currently face. For any company, importing steel is sometimes the most economic option. However, even though Universal Storage Systems looked outside the country for its steel, we remained committed to the possibility of buying steel locally,” he says.

The steel industry has also had to deal with industrial action and aggressive wage demands.

“However, during the four weeks in July last year, when our union-affiliated employees, who comprise most of our manufacturing team, were on strike, top management, including company CEO Eric Von Oppell and I, ran the business in a hands-on fashion to ensure that production continued.”

Breytenbach explains, however, that although the company remained functional, production did slow down during that period. “Through planning, hard work and going beyond our normal logistics offerings for clients, we were able to remain a reliable storage solutions supplier.”

To ensure that Universal Storage Systems survives challenging market conditions, it continuously aims to develop innovative solutions and find new uses and demands for steel, with the company always managing to expand its horizons in terms of offering different kinds of storage and warehousing solutions, he adds.

Universal Storage Systems logistics manager Charl Bekker tells Engineering News that, to this end, the company manufactures clad racking and offers clad-rack warehousing. He says this service is popular worldwide, as it offers optimal cubic area storage space, is relatively fast and cost effective to erect, and is cost effective to manage.

Bekker highlights the clad-rack warehouse that the company constructed for medicine warehouse facilities company UTi Pharma as “one of a kind”, adding that this construction was done in conjunction with materials handling consultant Fortna.

Industry Challenges
Breytenbach is optimistic about the outlook for steel, as prices are decreasing and there is currently “a somewhat more stable labour pool”.

However, he notes that the steel industry continues to face other challenges, such as unreliable power supply and slow economic growth, adding that the best way to mitigate these challenges is through innovation and resilience.

“Resilience is important, as it enables the industry to spring back into shape after any kind of challenge. And, just as steel has a tensile strength, so too should businesses have the ability to change, adapt and bend without breaking.”

Steel in Warehousing Solutions

Breytenbach says all Universal Storage Systems’ uprights and beams are made from pregalvanised steel and are all newly developed products designed for the clad-racking system.

“Further, our all-encompassing head office in Strijdompark, Johannesburg, includes an on-site factory, which manufactures all materials to meet South African Bureau of Standards and ISO 9001 quality standards.

The company also employs Storage Equipment Manufacturing Association- (Sema-) accredited designers, trained sales representatives and project managers who help with the successful completion of installations. It can also deliver ready-made materials to clients.

Sema is a British trade association committed to promoting and extending the safe design, installation and use of storage equipment manufactured and supplied by storage equipment companies.

Meanwhile, Universal Storage Systems’ branches in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Nelspruit enable it to service every region in South Africa.

“After 20 years as one of the leaders in South Africa’s racking and shelving industry, it is still clear that the most important foundation is establishing traditional values, which include investing in people and delivering the best-quality product, as well as the best-quality service,” says Von Oppell.