Valves supplier and manufacturer AR Controls is positioning itself during the lull of the prevailing commodity slump, to ride out the downturn and take advantage of the next mining surpercycle, predicted by the company to start in 2018.
AR Controls MD Julien van Niekerk says the company is undergoing a period of internal and external restructuring, which includes moving to larger headquarters in Vanderbijlpark, south of Johannesburg. The restructuring, which started in 2016, should be completed by the end of 2018.
“Human resources [is] one key area that we are investing in heavily. During 2017, we have projected personnel growth of 60% in our sales department, 50% in our engineering department, 33% in the finance and administrative departments, and at least 50% in our drafting office,” he says.
The copper, gold and uranium industries are of particular interest to AR Controls because of the corrosive slurry that is produced by the mining of these ores, says Van Niekerk, pointing out that Africa, as well as Australia and South America, are rich in these minerals.
“The main goal is to get our company structure to a place where we can effectively take advantage of the upturn in commodity prices in these territories. This type of structure follows strategy, which follows planning, and thus requires time,” Van Niekerk explains.
However, the company is aware that time is of the essence when supplying valves to clients and subsequently keeps a “super stockholding” of valves, actuators and controls to facilitate short delivery times. Van Niekerk says AR Controls houses one of the largest knife gate valves and quarter turn valve stockholdings on the African continent.
“With our stockholding, we can aggressively service our customers’ requirements, offering a steady flow of valves, actuators and controls to new and existing customers.”
Many of the customers which AR Controls supplies, particularly those in remote, difficult- to-reach areas, benefit from short turnaround times for the repair of systems, as it increases plant availability and decreases production losses through plant stoppages.
“We can service our clients at any stage of plant development and, owing to our stockholding, do not depend on the lead times of our suppliers,” Van Niekerk highlights.
The most popular valves supplied by the company are cast stainless steel, urethane-lined and severe-service knife gate valves, as well as high- performance and concentric butterfly valves, general and severe service ball valves, and nonreturn valves.
One area of internal restructuring that is receiving aggressive capital expenditure is product development and acquisition, with AR Controls actively seeking to introduce new and innovative products, and adopting the latest technologies and manufacturing methods available to industry. This is further complemented by new product offerings through its long-term valve manufacturing supplier and US-based valve giant DeZurik APCO Hilton.
AR Controls introduced the DeZurik KUL ductile iron urethane-lined knife gate valve to the African market in 2014 and says it has enjoyed unprecedented success with this product, creating its own standardisation at most copper and gold processing plants throughout Africa. All the internals of the KUL, apart from the urethane lining, as well as the upper works and actuation, are standardised from the stalwart DeZurik KGC cast stainless knife gate valve.
Van Niekerk says the KUL valve can handle pressures of up to 17.2 bar and be fitted to old systems using the standardised KGC valve.
The DeZurik KUL is a cost- effective valve, he adds, noting that it is in use at mines across West, East, Central and Southern Africa and in other territories such as South America, where copper and gold deposits are being mined aggressively.
However, for mines that require a more robust valve that can handle corrosive slurries at higher pressures, Van Niekerk recommends the DeZurik KSV. Capable of handling erosive and corrosive slurry pumping pressures of up to 100 bar, the KSV valve is being used at high-altitude locations that require piping systems to pump slurry up or down mountains.
AR Controls has successfully supplied and maintained large installed bases of the DeZurik KSV severe-service knife gate valve on the African copper belt in demanding tailings applications. The valve can work in fluctuating temperatures, with some international mines operating at well below freezing point, Van Niekerk adds.
AR Controls started exporting valves throughout Africa in 1999, growing its market share and footprint steadily ever since.
However, Van Niekerk explains that the company experienced rapid growth from 2010 onwards, owing to large companies developing new assets across Africa to accommodate the rapid growth of the commodity industry at the time.
“Commodity prices soared . . . and, by 2010, AR Controls was already a well-established name in the African export market, with our infrastructure meaning we were well-positioned to meet our customers’ growing demand for valves and automation.”
He points out that, because the company’s products were already industry standard, most mining companies continued to standardise the use of AR Controls valves throughout this commodity boom. The company has become a “household name among mining giants” during the nearly 20 years that it has been active in the export industry, Van Niekerk adds.
However, AR Controls not only supplies valves, actuation and controls, but also offers services such as audited plant surveys to improve a customer’s valve efficiencies to increase plant availability. It offers consulting engineering services relating to pumping systems requiring valves and automation through its engineering department.
The company also has a refurbishing service for its original- equipment manufacturer valves that have reached their end of life, restoring them to their original standard for further use at customers’ operations. All refurbished valves have an 18-month warranty (from date of purchase or 12 months from the date of installation), as does any new valve, Van Niekerk adds.
“Our customers have bought into the AR Controls package, including superior products, technical expertise, stockholding and service and after-sales care. “We prefer to see ourselves as our customers’ partners. We don’t sell to our customers, our customers buy from us,” he concludes.