SMC has been making its presence known in the South African market since 2015. Motion Control editor Kim Roberts paid a visit to incoming general manager, Peter Findlay, to find out more about the company’s progress.
Kim Roberts [KR]: How does SMC SA fit into SMC’s global vision and strategy?
Peter Findlay [PF]: SMC entered the South African market directly in 2015 as a subsidiary of SMC UK, and in turn as a subsidiary of SMC Corporation Japan, a Fortune Global 500 company. Globally, SMC Corporation has always built impressive and long-standing relationships with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), whether they be in the automotive, food, beverage and packaging equipment, resources and mining, manufacturing or even in more specialised semi-conductor industries.
South Africa has an incredibly strong and deeply localised automotive industry, with all the OEMs and their multi-tier suppliers present. This industry contributes massively to our GDP and is also fully integrated into global supply chains and manufacturing planning. This drove SMC Corporation’s decision to establish a full subsidiary in South Africa, working closely with strategic local distribution partners, to support global projects, planning and specification of SMC products right here in South Africa. Many key sourcing decisions are being made here and we contribute both insight and support to those decisions.
We’ve had tremendous technical training and system support from both SMC UK and Japan in setting up systems, supply chains and our local operation. A planned hand-over process is ongoing as we transition into a self-sufficient entity with our South African customer relationships as primary focus. Our MD, Kevin O’Carroll remains based in the UK providing us with extensive experience and resource efficiency, but our operational perspective is all here in South Africa. I come from the automotive Tier 1 manufacturing industry with Toyota, VWSA and Ford South Africa as OEM customers. My goal is to translate and expand that experience into our sales and support teams at automotive customers, but further also into South Africa’s extensive food and packaging and resource processing industries.
We have shown remarkably strong sales growth since 2015 and are now focused on customer and product consolidation within South Africa. This involves understanding the market and ensuring our resources are best placed to serve our demanding customers, both from a leadtime and technical consultation perspective. We are now largely operationally self-sufficient but will always serve an important ambassadorial and representative role for SMC within South Africa.
Southern Africa is booming, with massive investments and here too we plan to use well established South African insight to boost SMC’s global support and servicing of OEM lines and equipment within Africa. These may be manufactured anywhere in the world, built with SMC products already integrated by those line builders. It is our duty and pleasure to support SMC’s global agreements and product supply.
KR: What are your key target markets?
PF: The automotive industry is always going to be key within the South African context, despite being in a manufacturing slump. A big positive in the motor industry is the clarity now available regarding Government’s Automotive incentive programme, the SA Automotive Masterplan. This plan drives local content and sourcing down the supply chain. This has created a renewed confidence in the industry, which we’re already seeing translate into quotations and new investments. SMC has also established multiple global supply agreements in the food, beverage and packaging industries and these serve us well in servicing end users and line builders across southern Africa.
I am always fascinated by the level of innovation and expertise I see in our own home-grown design and manufacturing customer base. These are truly world-class products requiring only the best SMC world-class pneumatic, electric and motion control products.
KR: Are you launching any special products or initiatives this year?
PF: We offer truly innovative product lines to mitigate static build-up in applications where friction is problematic. These products provide clear, measurable results that directly improve handling and processing efficiency, with excellent success at our customers.
Most of our new product focus is on reduced size – a smaller efficient installation footprint – and energy efficiency, through lower product pressure requirements and air usage, facilitating lower main line supply pressures in factories.
An ongoing focus is air preparation, where we are educating the local market around the importance of clean, dry air. We offer specialised driers and air preparation products that offer clear maintenance and reliability benefits.
In line with the global trend towards electrical alternatives, to complement our pneumatic solutions we offer a full range of high-tech IO-Link, Ethernet-IP, Ethercat and Profinet controllers and an extensive range of actuators to suit.
Locally, SMC South Africa manufactures specialised and custom cylinders and positioners and control valve bank assemblies. We also design and manufacture complete turnkey control panels to suit customer specifics. There is great added value for customers in these products when quick, easy commissioning is required. We believe strongly in local manufacturing as it enhances our own technical competency.
A huge positive we offer is price stability, having kept pricing consistent over the last four years, despite our fluctuating exchange rate. SMC has a fully integrated global stock management system, with innovative inventory and price management. This gives us access to uniform pricing worldwide and an efficient way of quoting within a global project perspective. We can translate that globally negotiated pricing directly to our product in South Africa, and customers are reaping the rewards.
SMC’s drive globally is to be specified at our customers, thereby making our brand the first and natural choice on all projects. Locally we go to great lengths to ensure the right SMC product makes it onto our customers line design, long before the line is commissioned. This translates into excellent service availability of our own product and by implication the customers production line. Although this OEM business is important to us, it is in regular day to day service where our strongest customer relationships are developed.
KR: How is SMC aligning itself with IIoT?
PF: Connectivity is key to monitoring and optimising processes. Some of our products are by no means new in the market but the ways that their feedback can now be integrated into the system control hierarchy has improved. We also understand that very few customers can make a full Greenfields switch in one go. The capital investment and learning curve would be intense, and often unsustainable. To facilitate their evolution, SMC Spain, as our global training equipment provider, has invested heavily in training systems that demonstrate compatibility and allow a structured conversion process, from existing legacy products to IIoT capable products.
Training is at our core. We have a complete MerSETA accredited training department. We train in-house staff, customers and external trainees in pneumatics, hydraulics and electromechanical applications. We also offer standard or customised training courses at customers’ premises, as freeing up key customer personnel to travel may be a challenge. The courses can also be technically scaled to suit the full scope from lineside operator to system design. Our training equipment is world class and our extensive global R&D structures are also at the cutting edge of developing and rolling out new products with open communication architectures.
If the focus is only on gathering data or IIoT for the sake of it, we will miss many of its benefits. Our Kaizen-based, continuous improvement philosophy forces us into practical solutionist offerings with measurable results at an economical investment cost. We want to show our customers how the transition can be made in a manageable, sustainable way.
KR: What have the challenges been and how have you dealt with them?
PF: In the South African context, our challenges are poor economic growth and the resultant lack of purchasing and investment confidence. Our approach is therefore increased understanding of our market and supporting the key decisions our customers are making.
KR: What have your achievements been?
PF: Our achievements include galvanising the SMC brand and showing South Africa who SMC is globally. This has grown our sales dramatically and now we are truly the face of SMC in South Africa. In several cases, we have taken SMC from a completely unknown name to a supplier of specified products, directly to our key customers, who are supplying into the global arena. Consolidating relationships is ongoing. We are in the country to stay and our plans for southern Africa are clear.
KR: Going forward what are your plans for the next five years?
PF: Market share and technical excellence are key. We have an excellent grasp of the market and have built up strong relationships.
Our goal is to continually enhance our already impressive technical competence, as this is what differentiates us in the market. We will continue the development of our sales engineers and are working continuously on operational efficiencies. I hope to use the skills, systems and efficiencies of the automotive industry and translate SMC’s global excellence into southern Africa.
Our customers and the economy may be running lean at the moment, but our South African survival spirit cannot be stifled for too long. We see only success ahead for SMC Corporation South Africa.
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