The new locally manufactured 70 kW 4 x 4 Skerpioen tractor loader backhoe (TLB) will provide businesses in Africa with an affordable, low-tech solution that is robust enough to withstand the harsh operating environment synonymous with the continent.
After developing the machine for the past two years, South African heavy-duty equipment manufacturer, supplier and importer Wuhlf Equipment launched the TLB in October.
The company, which has outsourced the manufacturing of its other equipment, such as the Meerkat 4 x 4 forklift, to China, has been looking to manufacture its locally developed machines in South Africa for the past three years.
The 70 kW Skerpioen TLB will be manufactured at Wuhlf’s facility in Wallmansthal, Pretoria, to which the company moved from Montana six months ago, doubling its workshop space. Wuhlf director Johan Grobler says there is potential to again double the workshop’s capacity at the new premises.
Taking four weeks to manufacture one unit, he advises that this process can be sped up as some processes can be done in parallel to produce one unit a week by the end of January, when the company ramps up to full production.
Owing to its articulation, Wuhlf expects the TLB to outdo others on the market, as these are based on tractor designs; a fixed frame with front-wheel steering. The articulated TLB has a much smaller turning circle, which makes it a better loader.
Grobler explains that the 70 kW Skerpioen TLB’s backhoe is based on that of Wuhlf’s previous TLB concept and the front end on its ZA20 Buffel front end loader; therefore, both ends have been properly tested.
Offering a launch price of R520 000, excluding value-added tax, the company has already had three of its existing customers, which are involved in agriculture and quarrying, express interest in the 70 kW Skerpioen.
“The quality of the machine is excellent and the price is uncomparable, as we offer a 40% discount, compared with the cost of equivalent TLBs on the market,” Grobler explains.
Wuhlf foresees demand in South Africa initially, but does not expect the market to be strong for the conceivable future. As Grobler aims to eventually produce 30 to 40 units a month, the company will need to look at supplying the rest of the African market to meet this production target and will focus on this goal from next year.
Besides TLBs, the company supplies front-end loaders, mulchers, forklifts and attachments.
Started in 2005 by Wuhlf has supplied more than 2 000 pieces of equipment over the years. They are still supplying parts for some of its original models, even though they have been discontinued as early as 2007.
Wuhlf grew very quickly up until 2008, when the global economy took a turn for the worse. To remain sustainable, Wuhlf restructured, growing by 15% a year thereafter.
Now boasting a stable workforce of 30 people, Grobler notes, Wuhlf has had to navigate tough economic conditions for the past two years and is grateful for the business it does have, and the fact that the company remained profitable.
The company mostly services the agriculture sector, with 80% of its sales a mixture of referrals and existing customers. Grobler highlights that Wuhlf sells quite a few units to the fertiliser industry, which is a very corrosive environment for electronics.
Wuhlf’s market share, he says, has increased significantly in the agriculture sector, owing to its exceptional after-sales services.
“We can assist a customer in finding a fault on a ten-year-old machine over the telephone and our turnaround time is fast. In most cases, we can identify a problem and send the new part to a customer and have their machine repaired within two or three days, even if they are based outside of South Africa.” The company, however, does have field service personnel and service agents, offering field services if required.
Wuhlf has equipment operating in Sierra Leon, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana, despite supplying equipment solely from its Pretoria office.
Grobler points out that Wuhlf’s equipment is easy to repair, owing to the simplicity of its design and the use of universal parts, but adds that diff, engine or gearbox parts need to be bought from Wuhlf. However, because the company manufactures the TLB they have these parts in stock. This ensures a quicker turnaround with regard to their supply, reducing equipment downtime during repair and maintenance. Wuhlf also aims to ensure that it constantly trains its staff to guarantee their skills are up to date to provide the company’s clients with the best possible service in terms of all aspects of its business.