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150-year-old SMS group committed to Africa’s potential

17th November 2023

     

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After 65 years in South Africa, German plant construction and metals processing technology provider SMS group remains convinced of the potential of the African steel and metals market as it celebrates its 150th year in business. 

“Initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement create opportunities for our clients across the Southern African Develop-ment Community (SADC) and, thereby, for us as their technology partner. It is also noticeable how the South African government, through Minister of Trade and Industry Ebrahim Patel, is endeavouring to grow local industry,” says SMS group South Africa MD Pieter Bezuidenhout.

Having a South African presence enables SMS group to provide its clients with local expertise and regular on-site support. It also demonstrates the group’s support of and commitment to the local socio-political agenda, he adds.

A prime example of SMS group’s local commitment is Johannesburg-based METIX, which gained valuable access to new technologies – such as the rectangular furnace built for mining company First Quantum Minerals’ Kansanshi copper mine in Zambia – when it joined SMS group in 2011. 

Founded in 2003, METIX was a well-established, strong local brand which SMS group found difficult to compete against in the Southern African market, states METIX MD Wynand Moolman.

Since being acquired by SMS group, the company’s global reach has increased. 

Not only has its customer base and technology toolbox expanded but so has its financial backing and support to execute larger and more complex projects. Its greenfield project for high carbon ferro-manganese supplier Sakura Ferroalloys in Malaysia – executed on an engineering, procurement and construction basis – is considered one of the world’s best performing ferro- and silicomanganese production facilities.

“By understanding our clients’ needs and combining our original equipment manufacturer design with that from the SMS toolbox, we have developed specialised and patented equipment that is regarded as best performing and industry leading. Consequently, METIX has become the global supplier of choice for any new, upgrade and expansion project within the pyrometallurgical industry. This not only includes the traditional ferrous and non-ferrous sectors but also the forward-looking waste recycling and green metals sectors,” says Moolman. 

Not surprisingly, in 2018, METIX was selected as the Centre of Competence for submerged arc furnaces-related business within SMS group.

“We have grown in a sustainable and profitable manner, leveraging our strengths and global reach from the SMS group network,” highlights Moolman.

Stimulating Sustainability

The global group has ensured that it remains relevant in the metals industry by delivering future-orientated technology that addresses pertinent issues such as decarbonisation.

“The transformation of the steel industry towards carbon dioxide – (CO2) free production for climate-neutral and sustainable metals production is gaining momentum,” elaborates Bezuidenhout.

SMS group is already providing its technology to two major green steel projects: startup H2 Green Steel, in Sweden, and the engineering, delivery and construction of the first hydrogen-powered direct reduction plant at the Duisburg location of thyssenkrupp Steel, in Germany. 

The future reduction of their carbon footprints is a key topic for SMS group South Africa’s clients, notes Bezuidenhout.

“Automation and digitalisation are critical enablers for our clients to reach these #turningmetalsgreen objectives and we are already supplying digital tools in SADC to reduce CO2 emissions towards climate-neutral production.”

Many clients in the region are also keen to modernise their plants to reduce their conversion cost per ton of material produced, while simultaneously improving their product quality. 

“As SMS group South Africa, we ensure that our support and service to our SADC clients are regionally relevant, while simultaneously benefiting from immediate access to SMS group’s global team of experts,” emphasises Bezuidenhout.

Over its 150 years, SMS group attributes its sustainability to taking a long-term view. 

“Continuously creating value-adding innovative technologies for our clients is part of SMS group’s DNA,” advances Bezuidenhout.

In 1989, the group developed the world’s first thin slab casting and rolling plant at steel producer Nucor, in the US. This revolutionised flat steel production as it reduced capital expenditure and improved energy efficiency. 

This achievement was followed by SMS group changing its value proposition in the 1990s to provide mechanical, electrical and automation technology from a single source. By 2016, the group added digitisation to its portfolio and supplied the first learning steel plant, which uses artificial intelligence to self-optimise, to US steel company Big River Steel.

SMS group’s research and development department continuously explores new possibilities to deliver pioneering innovations such as blast furnace technology, continuous casting and seamless tube manufacturing. The group’s Innovation Hub is tasked with accelerating market maturity of new technologies. SMS group also continuously optimises its existing technologies, adds Bezuidenhout.

In 150 years, the success factors for SMS group have remained the same – entrepreneurial commitment, employee motivation, ongoing technical innovation, unconditional focus on customers’ requirements and an open outlook on the world. 

“These are all values that have shaped us from the very beginning and will continue to do so,” says SMS group owner and longstanding chairperson Dr Heinrich Weiss.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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