“You can’t touch this” – Brelko stands firm

Technology is important because it creates the future. We’re able to be a part of the “next” and create things that don’t exist. So said American entrepreneur and musician, Stanley Kirk Burrell, stage name MC Hammer, who is best known for hit songs such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “2 Legit 2 Quit”.

This is exactly what sets conveyor belt cleaning equipment supplier, Brelko, apart from its peers– a drive to innovate. According to Brelko’s MD Kenny Padayachee, innovation and technology is in Brelko’s DNA as evidenced in its very first brochure which illustrates the company’s commitment to enhancing its product range.

Investment in Research & development (R&D) is crucial for enhancing the existing product range, developing new products and materials, and improving business efficiencies at plant level, amongst others.

The Johannesburg-based equipment manufacturer has set the standard for “superior” quality products and established a brand renowned across mining destinations around the world.

Padayachee took on the conveyor belt cleaning equipment business at age 24, growing it to become a leader in its segment. Thirty-seven years later the home-grown entity trades globally across six of the seven continents – Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia.

“Continuous investment in R&D ensures we remain ahead of the competition. As part of our R&D drive, we have several local and international patents to our name. The Brelko brand and its Keyskirt product-line is trade-marked in 74 countries.”

“The importance of patents, explains Padayachee, “apart from dissuading competitors from duplicating Brelko’s innovations, is that it sets the standard for best-in-class product-lines. As of 2024, Brelko has amassed 14 – a move that establishes the company as a serious solutions provider.”

While it is ‘easier’ to register a patent in South Africa, to do so in the US and Europe is a much more challenging task as the patent is put through rigorous testing before being awarded.

To promote the ethos of continuous improvement, which pervades the entire business, Brelko’s teams, led by the R&D division, meet every Friday for a three-hour session to tackle challenges and action how to best improve the business.

“Our Friday meetings have been hugely successful as it encourages teams to highlight areas of concern – be it on the factory floor, plant processes or equipment. No concern is too small – all issues are interrogated. Our field service teams share all product installation and customer concerns encountered onsite. As a solutions provider, challenges become the springboard for innovative solutions to enhancing our product line and processes. In fact, over the last eight years, we have achieved huge improvements in product innovation and have streamlined our business processes for increased efficiency, productivity, and lower cost of production.”

The Friday meetings include the R&D department, the Technical, Design, Graphics and Service divisions as well as management, including the MD and GM, Jay Pillay.

“We require buy-in from all segments of our business. It is essential to understand that we can innovate all we want but if, for example, the service division is unable to implement the innovations, that is a challenge.”

Revving up R&D

Developing cutting-edge products comes with hefty price tag and Brelko is not shy to invest across all spheres of its business – people, manufacturing, technology, and the environment.

According to Riaan Rynders: Brelko’s Technical and CADD Manager, who has been with the company for 23 years (2001-2024), R&D is at the heart of the business.

“Before we implement something new at Brelko, we devote time and resources on experimenting with options to address uncertainties and figure out how to develop an idea into something practical and feasible to achieve. Taking risks and experimenting helps us refine business practices to become more efficient and to develop higher quality products and innovate new and unique products to offer to the market. Moreover, if an existing product is no longer profitable or no longer holds value to our business or customers, we play with ideas to update and modernise the product line. Alternatively, we may also revisit products to improve their efficiency or make them more cost effective to produce without compromising on the product quality,” he explains.

Brelko has a hands-on approach with its customers; always ready to modify its products to meet a mine’s specific requirements.

Although the designs from an end-user may be found to be workable on paper, in reality, challenges may emerge during the product’s installation phase, which require the solutions-based company to adjust its equipment to ensure it is fit for purpose.

“Our field service team works closely with engineers and mining houses to ensure that our products work seamlessly onsite. Where possible, we modify and even redesign our equipment to meet client’s specific needs. Our goal is to exceed customer expectations to enhance our trust-base with our clients.”

According to Rynders, Brelko was one of the first companies to invest in an in-house 3D modelling capability.

“For years, Brelko was ahead of our industry in terms of its 3D CADD offerings. We provided design houses with 3D CADD detail for integration into their design elements. Today the technology is widely adopted across industry.”

Brelko’s innovation and technology mindset underpins all facets of business, including its focus on a cleaner environment, which means the equipment specialist is constantly evaluating options to lower its carbon footprint by reducing waste and embracing green opportunities.

The rising cost of raw materials, which Rynders says has gone up dramatically over the past few years, has been the company’s push for precision engineering, which has also helped in reducing raw material wastage.

“As a case in point, we recently redesigned the tooling process for our scraper blades, which aside from dramatically reducing the cost of production, has made the process more efficient and ensures that the moulds are leak-proof. Furthermore, the scraper blades require no cleaning and squaring of blades – a saving of time, energy, and material,” explains Rynders.

Brelko’s green initiatives extend to its power consumption with the company having recently incorporated solar and gas. Where previously its 550kW diesel generator was its sole power source, it now supplements this with clean power.

“The generator starts up with diesel, then migrates to gas. Prior to installing environmentally friendly power solutions, our diesel generator consumed 102 litres of diesel per hour, now when there is no sunlight, we use roughly 22 litres of diesel per hour, which is a huge financial saving and it benefits the environment.”

According to Rynders, R&D is an imperative, without which a business will quickly become stagnant and antiquated.

A Competitive Edge

Padayachee believes that Brelko’s fully fledged warehouse sets the company apart as it holds sufficient stock to allow for same day product availability to mines. The 6000 m2 warehouse has been expanded over the years and now has a stockholding of three months across all product lines.

“Time is money and mines expect to have replacement parts readily available to ensure production stoppages are minimised.

“Aside from having field service teams onsite at mining operations where it has major contracts, Brelko keeps stock on-hand at the various sites to ensure workflow at mines continues seamlessly.

“Very few companies in our field are able to offer service to the level that Brelko does.”

The company has 47 field service teams operating in nine provinces and believes that its highly skilled teams, well stocked warehouse, superior quality product range, one-stop shop offering, and experience built over its 37-year history, stands it in good stead.

“What separates us in this highly competitive industry, is our ability to produce world class products, in a Third World, African country.”

Modern Mining
By Nelendhre Moodley – JUNE 2024

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