“This is a big year for Brelko,” says Kenny Padayachee, managing director of Brelko, with a conspiratorial waggling of his eyebrows. “we’re twenty this year, and we’re involved in a number of developments which will push Brelko forward. We’re involved in the Assmang BKM project, and are preparing to do the first installation. We’ve also been busy with PPL North for Anglo Platinum, where our belt cleaners and a number of spillage control systems are being installed.”
The real assets
Projects aside, there is more brewing at Brelko’s Johannesburg offices than meets the eye. This becomes apparent as Kenny takes us on a tour of the facilities. He seems to be a man who likes a tale, getting his hands dirty with the details and is more interested in people than systems.
He mentions Daniel Kekana, an employee who has been with Kenny almost as long as he’s been involved with Brelko. “Daniel is a unique case, because surprisingly, he can’t read or write,” says Kenny. “But show him any technical design, any blueprint, and he can build it exactly.
“Because people deal with people, isn’t it?” he asks rhetorically. “No one wants to be a number.”
One of the things Brelko has had to deal with is increased interest from foreign companies. “Many of my competitors are being bought out and assimilated into these conglomerates,” says Kenny.
“it’s a shame, because these companies offer quality products, and South Africans add such a unique slant to the business. We have, by carefully protecting our interests with patents and marketing, managed to stay independent.
“This is my business. I won’t have anyone tell me how to handle my market or treat my people,” he adds with some seriousness.
Brelko supplies a range of spillage control items for the conveyor industry, focusing on a modular approach that has seen acclaimed success to the point that Brelko has offices in the US and the UK, with a distributor in Australia and agents in various other countries.
“We’ve always been keen on modularization,” explains Kenny. “Once our clients have bought an entire system, a belt scraper system, for example, maintenance and repair becomes as simple as sliding out one of the scrapers and replacing it with a new design.
“The other benefit is that you are able to adjust to suit design challenges in new projects. Ask any project manager: all engineers exaggerate,” he says, laughing, “because they always say there’s enough space. There’s never enough space. But with our products that’s not a problem, because you can upgrade or downgrade to suit.”
One of these upgrades is a new line of belt scrapers. “We’ve created a belt scraper with a much more robust, solid design. With the E255 unit, we’re able to tackle larger, faster applications, approaching belt speeds of 6 m/s and widths from 1,200mm.
“The reason is that we’ve reduced the number of parts the scraper consists of” says Kenny. “Before, we had nine parts that made up one of these scrapers. We’ve reduced this to three, which makes for a steadier design.”
The E255 scraper is pre-tensioned, which restricts forward movement and reduces required pressure on the belt. Keeping with the modular principle, the scraper used the patented V-base structure, allowing each module to slide out with ease and deflect from minor obstruction.
Polyurethane is a primary ingredient of Brelko’s line of products, but the preparation of the material has fallen behind the times.
“For ten years, we have implemented an antiquated system called the ‘bucket and chuck it’, here at our bakery,” he says, using the informal name for their polyurethane plant. A number of workers are industriously cleaning the moulds of excess skin and mixing more polyurethane. “You heat and mix the polyurethane until it is in a syrupy liquid form, then pour it into one of the moulds we’ve designed.
“in about half an hour, the polyurethane is set. We clean off the ‘flash’ of the poly and stick it in an oven overnight. Once done, we date it and put it on a shelf for seven days. At the moment, we can mix about 125kg worth of items a day. The problem is, with the variety of products we supply in the material, combined with the fact that we need seven days for the polyurethane to cure, we’re basically running a week and a half behind schedule, despite working 24/7.”
In with the new
To counter this, Brelko has ordered a new polyurethane dispensing machine from Polytech, which will kick production up a notch. “It’s taken three years because the machine needed to be custom-designed. Now, we’ll be able to produce 100kg of polyurethane an hour.
“We can also guarantee consistency and quality in the mixture, thanks to a programmable machine.”
When asked to highlight the aspect closest to his heart, we’re surprised to find that it isn’t the new projects, machines or products that he wants to address, but the ambivalent attitude foreign investors have towards South African companies.
“I would like to see South Africans set themselves up to be sustainable. I don’t like seeing people coming in, purchasing a materials handling company, then milking it while it’s fat and abandoning it when the going gets tough. If we can sustain our businesses against international interests, we would really develop an amazing industry,” says Kenny in conclusion.