As the hunt for resources sharpens its focus onto the African market, stronger economic conditions are leading many European-based firms to set up shop on the continent. Within the seals industry this is no different as one industry giant is proving in South Africa.
Formed as the result of an alliance between Burgmann Industries and Eagle Industry, EagleBurgmann started life as a new entity in 2004. Eagle Industry roots lie in the Mechanical Seal Division of Japan’s NOK Corporation, while Feodor Burgmann was founded in the German city of Dresden in 1884 to supply ‘technical articles’ after the company’s founder invented the first machine-braided, self-lubricating stuffing box packing solution.
The history of EagleBurgmann Seals South Africa dates back to before the 2004 alliance to 1984, where it started life as a sales and service centre, before being transformed into a fully-fledged manufacturing facility.
“The South African subsidiary follows the global traditions and ethos of the parent company, but with a touch of African flair,” remarks Eagle Burgmann Seals managing director Paul van Wyk.
Today, the South Africa entity employs more than 100 people, has offices across the country and operates throughout Africa in conjunction with numerous partner agencies.
Much like its international parent company, EagleBurgmann South Africa has been involved in various social and educational projects across Africa.
“There is a particular focus on Angola at the moment with smaller investments taking place in Congo,” notes van Wyk. “South Africa is also a key focus for us and we are currently working on a number of projects for refineries and power generation in the country.”
Alongside its community project, the company offers technical training on its highly-specialised products and often holds onsite training sessions with its customers to demonstrate the fitting of seals, seal inspection and high-level engineering calculations and trouble shooting.
“We also have various service centres across South Africa focused on the repair and installation of seals onsite, and our service teams regularly visits key account clients throughout Africa to help resolve site problems and repair seals,” says van Wyk. “We have performed numerous expansion joint-site installations in Botswana and Mozambique with large installation crews to meet the normally tight customer shutdown schedules,” he adds.
In the past 20 years EagleBurgmann has undergone a number of significant operational changes, states van Wyk.
“The biggest changes occurred mainly in the oil and refinery industries where customers have progressively moved away from gland packing to mechanical seals,” he explains. “This was a critical development, especially in regions where there is a high emphasis on environmental issues.
“More recent trends show the industry in general moving towards cartridge type seals that offer large benefits in eliminating installation problems and improving Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).”
Alongside these major changes to the business, van Wyk cites other newer developments that have slowly been accepted into the company’s mainstream industry model, including the use of gas seals in all applications and the more recent introduction of the award-winning cutting edge technology of diamond seal faces.
Van Wyk says that the introduction of diamond seal faces, with its microcrystalline diamond coating, has revolutionised the company’s operations and the industry as a whole; to date, the product has won the company three international awards.
“DiamondFaces are indispensable in applications where seals have to withstand dry running, mixed friction and abrasive media,” he notes. “A diamond coating of 8 micrometres makes the seal faces extremely hard and wear resistant, while other outstanding features include excellent heat conductivity, maximum chemical resistance and low friction.”
With its vibrant and innovative history it is perhaps no surprise the company found itself in a relatively comfortable position during the recent financial crisis.
By embarking on an efficiency drive a few months prior to the economic downturn, the company was able to buffer the early effects of the crisis and was able to shift its emphasis towards the protection of its cash flow.
“A large amount of effort was placed on stock holding, which in turn had a positive effect for our customers,” says van Wyk. “The stock focus allowed EagleBurgmann South Africa to better predict stock usage thus eliminating stock outs.
“Additional added value was that sales people were required to understand our customers business better to accurately identify stock usage, which in turn led to closer relationships between EagleBurgmann and its customers; in all it’s been a win-win situation for all participants,” he adds.
A continent-wide focus
With its forward-looking approach, the South African entity has embraced 10 years of change within a country that has become the financial and technological powerhouse of Africa.
“South Africa is the perfect springboard into African states and South Africans are being warmly welcomed into almost all African states—something that was certainly not the case 15 to 20 years ago,” says van Wyk.
“The worldwide demand for oil and gas has led to the resurgence in African projects to exploit these natural resources, and while some countries are more exciting than others due to civil unrest or corruption, Africa has generally settled down and is a much safer place to do business than it was some 20 years ago.
“Opportunities abound for companies willing to invest into the current opportunities and we have prioritised growth into Africa as one of our growth strategies,” he remarks.
EagleBurgmann Seals South Africa now has some form of representation in all of Sub-Saharan Africa, but is continuing to look for local sales people to represent the company across this diverse continent.
“Our three-year plan is to establish service centres in major oil centres across the continent and our long-term goal is to developing these into separate entities,” says van Wyk. “Internally there are numerous projects on improving efficiency within the organisation and large capital investments have taken place that have been planned for the following three years to upgrade the manufacturing and service areas into world-class facilities.”
Along with its territorial expansions plans across the continent, van Wyk says the company is continuing to place a large amount of its emphasis on providing safe working environments for its employees as well as minimising the impact of its manufacturing facilities on the environment.
“Our focus is to better understand the customer’s needs through a formalised sales process as we look to provide added value. Put simply, we want to continually improve our performance by servicing our customers with leak-proof sealing solutions,” he concludes.