Brelko Beats The Odds
Johannesburg-based conveyor belt cleaning equipment manufacturer Brelko’s strategy for continuous innovation, and a belief echoing US politician Anna Eshoo that innovation is the calling card of the future, sees the firm in the test phase of innovative developments on its belt tracking inline unit.
In a fiercely competitive market, which on the back of depressed economic conditions is experiencing an unprecedented entry of newcomers, firms are expanding their product offerings to net as many customers as possible. However Brelko’s key differentiator is developing innovative products, which MD Kenny Padayachee says is what sets the company apart and establishes the platform for growth even in tough operating conditions.
Brelko supplies robust conveyor belt cleaning equipment used in the most arduous aspects of the mining process, such as the crushing and milling processes.
“Our products are used primarily in crushing of hard rock and the more severe the application, the better aligned it is to the Brelko product range.”
Brelko’s belt tracking inline unit has been designed to include an adjustable carrier which is able to handle different belt widths and adjustable angles. “The patented system allows for angle adjustment between 0° and 45° and the ability to flatten the belt tracking inline unit to 0° – this fosters ease of product packing ahead of transport to global destinations,” explains Padayachee.
The belt tracking inline unit, which has been three years in the making, is being tested (for the past nine months) at a coal mine in Gauteng.
While the product has been well received by the coal mine, Brelko plans on further testing ahead of rollout in April 2020.
According to Padayachee, for personnel ordering replacement parts, the belt tracking inline unit innovation takes the guess work out of determining the correct product angle to order.
Furthermore, the innovation allows for improved logistics, given that it allows for ease of packing and stacking on containers scheduled for global destinations, says Padayachee.
The innovation follows on the heels of Brelko’s acquisition of a robotic arm last year, which ensures that “each and every weld is done perfectly with no room for human error”.
In line with developing products that meet future trends of conveyor belt cleaning including products that require less maintenance, are smaller in size and contain interchangeable longer-lasting parts, the company recently moved from producing rubberised equipment to polyurethane, which has seen it manufacture products that outperform standardised products.
According to Padayachee, Brelko’s focus on innovation is bearing fruit as the company strengthens its reputation as a solutions provider for the entire conveyor belt cleaning system.
“Our focus is on helping the customer achieve improved efficiencies and production output, so when a client requires a product replacement on the conveyor system, we offer a complete conveyor belt overhaul to ensure efficiencies. In this way we are able to provide a complete solutions package to the client.”
As a result of this, Brelko has been able to net new customers and grow despite depressed market conditions.
Growing a global footprint
The South African manufacturer has an extensive footprint across Africa which accounts for roughly 25% of business, a global footprint accounting for 25% of business (the US, Europe, UK, Middle East and Australia) and a South African footprint, which accounts for 50% of business.
Armed with its niche market premium product the equipment manufacturer continues to make headway into new market segments, including the South American market, in particular Chile and Mexico where it continues to entrench its presence.
Brelko recently supplied a range of heavy-duty conveyor belt cleaning equipment, including belt tracking units, belt scrapers and belt return ploughs for the Cananea copper mine located in the north-west of Mexico, in Sonora. Cananea represents one of the largest copper reserves in Mexico and in the world, with estimated reserves of 4.52 billion tonnes of ore.
“We recently appointed a master distributor to promote and support Brelko products in the Chile region and we have revamped our US strategy, investing heavily in upskilling personnel, identifying the ‘right partner’, increasing stockholding to include 65t of stock and moving into new premises located in Boulder, Colorado,” says Padayachee.
He explains that “cracking a new market” effectively takes three years of investment; this is apart from scoping the area, understanding the local culture and establishing key local partnerships.
Further to this, Brelko’s courtship of the Saudi Arabian market saw it initially win a contract with Maaden, a Saudi Arabian mineral company, for the supply of 50 units of conveyor cleaning equipment, including skirting and conveyor cleaners for its phosphate plant (in 2017), and a second contract for the supply of 80 units of conveyor belt-related equipment, last year. Given Maaden’s diversified commodity offering of gold, base metals and aluminum, Brelko is looking forward to extending its focus to supply products to the miner’s other commodity offerings.
Leveraging off foreign currency has diversified Brelko’s earning power, away from the rand to the dollar and euro-based currencies, says Padayachee.
Preparing for the future
“Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” – Bobby Unser (former American automobile racer).
“We are a SANAS-approved B-BBEE Level 1-accredited company and are equipped with ISO 9001:2015, ISO 14001:2015 and ISO 45001:2018 certification. We are also members of the South African Institute of Materials Handling and Conveyor Manufacturers Association of South Africa,” says Padayachee.
In preparing for the future, Brelko is investing in excess of R50-million in expanding its manufacturing facilities in Booysens, south of Johannesburg.
The new 4 000m² building, currently under construction, comes complete with 365m² of garage space for Brelko’s trucks. Scheduled for completion in April next year, the new development is in preparation for the market upturn, which Padayachee anticipates will be in the next three to five years, by which time Brelko will have increased production by a further 50%.