South-Africa based Proconics was established in 1995 after petrochemical giant Sasol decided to shift its focus exclusively towards producing liquefied fuel rather than executing detailed design on its projects. After a management buyout of one of these project arms, Proconics was born and through acquisition, organic growth and a wealth of hands-on experience working with some of the biggest brands in the business, the company has developed the capability to execute electrical and instrumentation engineering design projects of a diverse scale and nature.
Today, Proconics operates as an entirely separate entity to Sasol, serving the South African market and beyond on single-disciplinary projects in the field of instrumentation, control systems and electrical renewal with a team of about 200 employees.
“Proconics is a bit of an unusual company in this market,” says Melvin Jones, managing director of Proconics. “Most companies that focus on this subject matter are a lot smaller than we are. And typically the ones that do [projects] at the magnitude that we do, are large, multi-national, multi-disciplinary engineering houses.”
However, this specialisation and comparatively compact company size has enabled the company to truly hone in its offerings over last few years, earning Proconics an enviable reputation as a trustworthy organisation that delivers its projects with the utmost accuracy and time sensitivity in mind, often times even better than some of the big 10,000 strong conglomerates.
“If you deliver a project, even a couple of hours late on some of these critical path project schedules, you can be causing damage that is far greater than the value of the project you’re executing,” explains Jones. “For example, when [a company like] Sasol engages with you, they are looking for a very special kind of trust relationship and a special kind of rigour to make sure that it meets their quality and schedule requirements. We’ve shown ourselves able to do that in the last 18 years. That puts us in the strong position we are in.”
Proconics specialises in rejuvenating existing operating facilities, or in industry jargon, “brownfields engineering” projects.
This was born out of working with some of Sasol’s aged-yet-operating facilities, some of which were almost 50 years old, and needing to find a way to upgrade and improve on the infrastructure while ensuring the least amount of downtime to the operations as possible.
“In a facility that’s 20 plus years old, documents, drawings and so forth have typically fallen by the wayside. When you go in and do a project in a brownfields environment, the first thing you have to do is a forensics audit to see what’s already there, then reverse engineer to understand what the design intent was originally,” says Jones.
A specialised team then has to strategize a solution that can not only interface with what’s already in place, but can also make room for any modern technology that might need to integrate into it.
Jones says the company’s biggest differentiator is being able to guarantee to the client that when he turns his key, the machinery is going to work at the very second he’s expecting it to work; Proconics’ “over and above checks and balances” built into the design process enable the company to offer a high level of confidence to the customer.
“In many industries this would be total overkill and make us totally uncompetitive. But when downtime is so costly, this kind of process is appropriate,” remarks Jones.
Jones says Proconics delivers on over 500 projects a year, and that number is certainly set to grow.
Proconics has a permanent presence servicing Sasol’s Secunda plant, the largest coal-to-liquified petroleum producing facility in the world. Replacing such a facility is not capitally effective, with Jones estimating the facilities’ replacement value in the tens of billions of dollars. Everyday Proconics delivers projects that modernise and extend the facilities life, and ensure that it will still be operational by 2050 and beyond, continuing to service the fuel needs of the South African market.
This year, the company will be finishing the final part of a six year project on major air separation units to replace legacy safety systems with a modern emergency shutdown system. Proconics also recently replaced 17 UPS systems on a local steam and generation plant, all of which has been met with much positive feedback from the customer, says Jones.
On an international front, in 2011 Proconics worked on a project with ORYX GTL and helped them address a number of instrumentation and electrical failures that were affecting their uptime. “We successfully delivered the project and that facility is operating much better now. It’s something we’re really proud of.”
“Over the last few years, we’ve really modernised the image of the company and taken a hard look at what sets us apart,” says Jones.
Outside of the company’s meticulous attention to detail to ensure clients suffer zero downtime – thus establishing vital trust relationships time and time again – the other element Jones believes gives the company its competitive edge is its internal mantra: “Brilliance excites us. Being brilliant, every moment of every day.”
It’s a positive outlook embodied by each employee at Proconics and a standard of delivery that, hopefully, comes through every one of the projects the company delivers, says Jones.
Although a majority of Proconics’ business is currently in the South African market, the company has been expanding its unique offerings into the rest of the continent and beyond Africa’s borders.
Riding on the success of its Qatar project, Proconics opened a new office in 2012 and now has a permanent presence in Doha servicing the Qatari market. The company also opened a new office in Perth last year to capitalise on the growing opportunities in the gas and liquid markets in the Australian and Middle Eastern regions.
“We’re starting to look at this unique relationship we have with Sasol and we firmly believe this business model we have managed to build for hazardous area, critical-type operations can work in other places around the world as well,” says Jones.
As such, this has put the company on a path that continues to embrace Proconics’ unique relationship with Sasol, as well as springboard off of it through a two-gear strategy.
“One side is to fiercely protect our relationship and grow with Sasol,” explains Jones. “We’ve grown out of it and are very proud of the work we’ve done. But secondly, it’s about taking these lessons we’ve learned and applying them to other parts of South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world. That’s really what we’re looking to do.”