Temperature Measurement


Temperature controls provides a warm feeling (besides degrees C)

December 2000 Temperature Measurement

If your company is involved in temperature measurement or control then Temperature Controls probably needs no introduction, although it may surprise you to know that it has been in business since 1952, approaching half a century of dedicated service to South African industry.

Temperature Controls was founded by one John Chamberlain Royce and he became involved in heater element and temperature sensor manufacture as well as representation of a select group of overseas manufacturers. One of these was the UK company Ether (later to become Pye-Ether) which was a leading exponent of electronic temperature measurement and control in the fifties and sixties era technology which was set to replace the electromechanical devices of that time. Pye-Ether was to have a major influence on the development of Temperature Controls through its MD at that time, one Ken Brown. He realised that the days of Pye-Ether as an independent company were limited following take-over approaches by the Philips Group. He accepted an invitation by Royce to come out to South Africa in 1971, with his family, and to take up the position of Sales Director at Temperature Controls, where his son Andy soon joined him as an understudy.

This was auspicious timing for the local company as a few months later Royce suddenly passed away and ownership of Temperature Controls was transferred into the hands of the Brown and Friend families, a situation which exists to this day. When Ken Brown took over control in the seventies one of his first moves was to rationalise the manufacturing activities, selling off the heating element and switchgear side of the business, and focussing the local manufacture on temperature sensors, including thermocouples and RTDs. Today the company operates with Les Friend as Managing Director and Andy Brown (one of Ken's three sons) as Sales Director, the two combining the other important tasks of technical, financial, personnel and marketing responsibilities in a shared capacity. Other members of the Brown family also support the business in a more indirect way, Philip (Andy's brother) having been the company's US representative since 1993.

With the pending absorption of Pye-Ether into the Philips organisation which already had full representation in South Africa, Temperature Controls took a proactive decision to look for an alternative source of temperature controllers. After investigating a number of possibilities the decision was taken in 1974 to go with the Japanese company RKC. While RKC is today virtually a household name in the temperature control business, it must be remembered that it was then a much smaller and less well-known entity. What impressed the local company was the quality of the product and the price at which it was available, and the taking on of the agency was something that was never regretted.

Today, of course, RKC is one of the world's leading suppliers of temperature controllers, and the company has a dominant share of the Far East market and major business in Africa through Temperature Controls. The value of the long-standing relationship with this country and the business generated over the years was demonstrated recently whereby many of the controllers from RKC are still being offered at 1999 prices despite the steep decline of the rand against the yen.

Temperature Controls is far from being just a representative of leading international companies. For many years it remained as a manufacturer of temperature sensors just so that it could supply these along with the RKC range of controllers. However, the production of reliable temperature sensors, thermocouples in particular, is an art which is based on knowledge and experience and it does not lend itself to today's high volume production technology. In the case of general electronic component manufacture, large volume automated production in the Far East and elsewhere made South African industry non-competitive, and led to its virtual demise, but the manufacture of thermocouples and RTDs (being skilled-labour intensive) has flourished. It has been part of the company's core business since the early sixties. The growth since 1982 is best illustrated by the fact that Temperature Controls this year actually expanded its production capacity at Cape Town, adding a new line and bringing it on par with the volume of product being produced at the main facility in Randburg. There are now 30 skilled people dedicated to the production of sensors, electronics and other ancillary equipment. These sensors, with or without controllers, have found their way as far north as the Middle East, with Iraqi industry likely to be added to the list of satisfied customers soon. Providing internationally accepted levels of quality and reliability, the locally produced sensors are highly sought after, as they are highly cost-competitive.

To complement its own range of temperature sensors Temperature Controls has added a number of other suppliers to its portfolio, which notably include Baumer Electric. Amongst a wide range of products Baumer offers a range of capacitive, high temperature, proximity sensors that can handle process temperatures of up to 250ºC. These Baumer sensors are especially suitable for measurement in aggressive environments through use of a stainless steel and chemical-resistant Teflon construction.

The name Temperature Controls is today something of a misnomer, but is proudly retained as a result of the company's in-depth expertise in this area. 'Control' is in itself a generic ability and the knowledge from expertise in one industrial area is equally applicable in others. Over the years Andy and his team have increasingly been required by customers to provide a more complete solution to the control problems of process plants, and this has been addressed through establishing relationships with a growing number of leading international manufacturers. In addition to temperature control, the company today offers solutions in terms of sensors, control and ancillary equipment in fields as diverse as conductivity, pH, level, pressure and vibration.

As regards sales, the company itself deals directly with the smaller business, but some two thirds of its turnover is generated through third party sales, including those to systems integrators and project engineers. In terms of its commitment to quality Temperature Controls is certified to ISO 9001, and all of its sensors are tested using precision temperature baths which are regularly calibrated by accredited laboratories. Although addressing the needs of industry in general, Temperature Controls has been particularly successful in the heavy metals sector, mining and the power generation industry.

Besides its total support of industry throughout South Africa and Africa, with service centres located in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, Temperature Controls has established itself in the export market with both sensors and temperature transmitters. This business has been developed over the last decade and major markets include Australia and Singapore. From Singapore transmitters from the local company have found their way into the rest of the Far East including Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Believe it or not these transmitters are also being used by the electrical power industry in Mongolia. More recent export successes have been achieved in North America (to ANSI standards) and new opportunities are being pursued on the South American continent.

Temperature Controls is the epitome of the solid privately owned South African business and its mix of in-house manufacture and representation of world-leading companies has proved to be a winning formula. The Directors are justly proud of the fact that their growth has been directly on the back of sales, not expectations of a fickle share market, and growth has been sustainable. As temperature is by far the most widely used and measured parameter in process control, the business has been able to weather the economic squeeze of the early nineties and has the enviable record of not having to retrench employees. Typical of the smaller (family-type) business they really do believe that people are their real asset. With a long-standing policy of promoting equal opportunity and of training their own people the staff complement already well reflects the demographics of South Africa, a fact that bodes well for the future. As for the years ahead the company hopes to continue with the historical trend which has seen significant growth in turnover, with the number of employees increasing from just 30 during the '70s to some 100 today.



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