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On October 4, 2013 in Newcastle, with technical support from Afrox and SAIW, DCD held a group-wide skills competition called Skills Top Guns to identify the best welder and the best fork lift driver from each of the Group’s eight business units. African Fusion attends and visits the host company, DCD Venco.

Rob King (left) and Willem Maré (right)
Rob King (left) and Willem Maré (right)
pose with two of DCD's top welders, DCD
Venco's Zekhele Xolani Hlabe and EBH
Durban's Terence Rose, who came third

The DCD group's Skills Top Guns competition, was hosted by DCD Venco at the Majuba FET College at Newcastle in order to encourage improvements and competition among artisans. "Today is partly a celebration," says Rob King, DCD's group CEO. "We have 14 of the Group's best welders and five of the best forklift drivers competing from eight different DCD business units. We have people from Newcastle, Durban, Cape Town, Walvis Bay and Port Elizabeth. Our new Wind Towers people are represented, Rolling Stock employees from Boksburg are here; and welders from Protected Mobility in Isando and Heavy Engineering in Vereeniging. And doesn't this group just reflect the people of the new South Africa?" he says pointing towards the competitors on the stage.

The competitors are all DCD employees operating in the different segments: defence, marine, mining and energy, rail transportation and renewable energy. "Each competitor has already been selected as being the best in their business unit. Today is about seeing who is the best of the best," adds King. "I am heartened to see the internal rivalry and the support that each business unit champion is receiving, but you can't claim the prize before even getting into the contest. There can be only one winner," he comments.

The prizes? DCD has sponsored a R5 000 prize for the winners, followed by R3 000 and R2 000 respectively for second and third places. Afrox, together with SAIW will sponsor R24 000 worth of additional welder training for the winner. "Also, because welding is such a prominent skill within the Group, the winning business unit of this contest will earn the right to host next years competition," he adds.

A welding competitor
A welding competitor completes a
flux-cored (FCAW) butt weld in the
2G position

The rationale for the event emerged out of discussions on the need to improve localisation for South African manufacturers. "As most of you are aware, the Government is talking about a huge infrastructure spend over the next 15 years, in energy – thermal and renewable – as well as rail and roads, and we see this as an opportunity for creating a local manufacturing environment that currently does not exist. We talk too much about what we don't have and too little about what we can do.

"In terms of local content, I don't think we can argue that everything should be manufactured locally, but we should be arguing about how much we can do locally. At DCD, we are campaigning for local content to be set at realistic levels. We believe that, for every local infrastructure project, minimum local content thresholds should be set," he says, adding that overseas bidders need to realise that there is "not only an expectation but also an obligation to support local manufacturing".

"This is important. It puts us in a stronger position to meet and support our own infrastructure needs, and it allows us to upskill and employ more of our local people," argues King. " Although South Africa are short of skills, the country has some 'ageing skills' that can easily be used to create the new skills we need.

"In our infrastructure discussions involving overseas bidders, we are always challenged as to whether we have the skills necessary to meet the 30 or 40 or 60% local content requirements. First of all, the overseas people who are asking these questions are talking up their own national interests. And we need to respond as 'SA Incorporated'. The French, Koreans, Chinese, or Russians all have capacity in their own countries that they would like to use to build our infrastructure. So they argue that they have the skills and we do not. But I see it somewhat differently. Given enough time, clear local content thresholds and guidelines about exactly what is expected of us, we are more than capable of developing the skills we need to meet high local content requirements. We can train people, but our people also need experience. They need access to the jobs that they have been trained to do. They need to hone their skills, and this is impossible unless local manufacturing is supported by our Government," King points out.

A DCD Venco welder
A DCD Venco welder working on a bin for
a Bell tipper truck. "the work ethic here is
phenominal," Says Maré, general manager
of DCD Venco

"It is easy for me to say what should be happening, so lets talk about what DCD is doing," he continues. DCD spends on average about R24-million on skills development, which is about 60% more than required to satisfy the Skills Development Act and our BBBEE scorecard. We are putting our money where our mouth is! We are investing at these high levels because we know that training and skills will impact our economy in the long term," King explains.

Turning attention back to the Skills Top Guns competition, King says that, through initiatives like these, DCD believes it can confidently benchmarks our skills against those from overseas. "We can meet and beat internationally accepted manufacturing quality requirements," he believes, "And this competition provides an opportunity to reflect on where we are in terms of skills, so that we can quickly move to where we need to be."

Reinforcing the international standards required, the welding competition was adapted from the WorldSkills welding competition and its SAIW-organised local equivalent, the national Young Welder of the Year competition. One of the judges was SAIW's Etienne Nell, the local organiser of the national competition, while Houston Isaacs, this year's national winner and South Africa's WorldSkills representative, was assisting and advising the welding competitors.

Each top gun competitor had to produce three test plates, which were all subjected to ultrasonic testing (UT): a manual metal arc (MMA) 3G (vertical up) full penetration butt weld; a gas metal arc (GMAW) 2F fillet weld with a 16 mm leg length; and a flux-cored (FCAW) butt welds in the 2G position.

The winners? DCD Venco's welder, X Hlabe and forklift driver, A Ramlal made it a clean sweep for the home business unit. DCD Marine's, D October and EBH Durban's T Rose took second and third in the welding event respectively, with Protected Mobility's A Ratshibaya and DCD Marine's MS Mlanjeni filling the remaining places for forklift competence.

DCD Venco and the 'old-school' work ethic

DCD Venco operates from a 25 ha facility Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal, has 22 000 m2 under roof capacity to fabricate components of up to 50 t. The company was established in 1973 as a specialist provider of engineering solutions to Iscor. Today the company specialises in the fabrication, manufacture and refurbishment of medium to heavy duty steel components, such as the bins for Bell tipper trucks; the support structures and bridge for the ThyssenKrupp drum reclaimers at Medupi; and 72 leg supports for 18 Leibherr gantry cranes for Coega harbour's container loading stations.

DCD Venco is currently completing the
support structure and bridge for the
ThyssenKrupp drum reclaimers
for Medupi

"Although we don't create our own intellectual property (IP), we are able to build complex components for any OEM. We are one of the few fabricators that can supply steel components from drag line buckets and bucket wheels to wind tower components," Maré tells African Fusion.

DCD Venco certifications, include: ISO 9001, ISO 3834, OSHAS 18001 and ISO 14001. "We achieve quality thanks to a strong work ethic among our 380 strong workforce, who are regularly encouraged to enhance their skills internally," he continues. "DCD Venco dedicates 5% of its salary budget to internal skills development. Investing heavily in skills development not only improves productivity and customer satisfaction, it also boosts staff morale and creates the prospect of a better future for every single employee at DCD Venco. We service some of the world's largest OEMs on high profile projects. We, therefore, have to ensure that product quality and associated turnaround times are always to the customer's satisfaction."

Using Baan and SigmaNest programs, the company is able to accurately trace each individual component back to the cast or serial number of the steel it was manufactured from. "This helps us to track back should any fault occur on a specific component, and to put in place revised procedures to prevent a recurrence," adds Mare.

"The work ethic here is phenomenal," says Willem Maré, general manager of DCD Venco on the morning of the Skills Top Guns competition. "We have self-motivated young welders who do not need supervisors or inspectors. They work like the old school guys. They challenge each other, boasting about the quality of their work," he says.

"We at Venco took on this challenge because we take our people very seriously. Any company can buy welding equipment and manufacturing systems, but at the end of the day, it is people who make a business. And this is what we are proving here today.

"Our success also comes from nurturing and developing the potential of local residents – many of whom go on to become valued employees. One of our primary corporate social responsibility initiatives is the full education sponsorship of 60 Grade 10 to Grade 12 pupils, across six disadvantaged schools in the area.

"Venco has spent R3,9-million on skills development this year alone. We do this because, as a company and member of the community, we believe that we should all do our fair share," he concludes.

Congratulations are surely due, given the Skills Top Guns results.

Posted in: DCD Venco
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