Since local tyre protection chain supplier and service company Tyre Chain Services (TCS) and the top international player in this field, Erlau-Rud of Germany, joined forces locally a little over a year ago to form TCS Rud (Pty) Ltd, the new entity has already doubled annual turnover and consolidated its dominance in this niche market.
Erlau-Rud has a 30 per cent stake in TCS Rud, the remainder being held by executive management, including a broad-based BEE component of 19,5 per cent.
Following the tie-up, the resources of TCS Rud, based in Fochville, North West Province, were beefed up across the board. This included building a warehouse to house 600 000 Euros (over R7,1-million) of stock and building larger and better-equipped workshops, which when completed at the end of this year will accommodate five more tyre protection chain fitter artisans, in addition to five qualified artisans and four apprentices already in the company’s employ.
More senior sales and marketing staff have also been brought on board since the new company was established and the training and qualification requirements of technical staff have been upgraded, making the company’s level of training in this field the best in Africa.
Prior to the tie-up TCS was already the major player in South Africa in the mining sector – which makes up the bulk of the market – with a 53 per cent share and held 15 per cent of the smaller slag reduction sector. “We have now increased our market share in these sectors to 62 and 26 per cent respectively”, says CEO John Horn.
In addition the greatly revitalised and expanded new company has grown its business in other parts of Southern Africa – encompassing Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique – by an impressive 120 per cent over the same period. “Before we linked up with Erlau-Rud our business outside South Africa was minimal, while Erlau-Rud, via a local distributor, basically only had a foothold in Botswana”, Horn comments.
“The link-up between the two companies is a classic recipe for success, as can be seen from the great strides we have already made so far”, he added.
The ingredients of this winning combination, he explained, comprise a top quality world-class range of products from Erlau-Rud and excellent relationships already established between TCS and its customers, based principally on it having provided a consistently reliable repair and-maintenance service.
“By bringing these two elements together – namely the good reputation and market leadership we already enjoyed on the ground and the proven excellence of Erlau-Rud tyre chains internationally – we are winning a tremendous amount of new business and at the same time strengthening our relationships with our established customers”, Horn states.
One of the clearest illustrations of this, in addition to the impressive business growth and market share gains already achieved to date, is the fact that several major customers, including Kumba Resources at Sishen iron-ore mine, Associated Manganese, Palabora Mining Company and Foskor, have gone over exclusively to Erlau-Rud products since the formation of TCS Rud on July 1, 2007.
Proof of the superior quality of the Erlau-Rud products is shown by the fact that they have been shown to outlast other brands of tyre chains in use locally. “For example, in open-pit iron-ore mining applications tyre chains on front-end loaders are lasting to between 8000 and 10 000 hours, compared with lifespans of between 5000 and 6000 hours previously.”
The greatly extended product range on offer, in addition to the improved quality of the products, resulting from the tie-up with its German partner has placed TCS Rud in an especially strong position to fully open up the local market for tyre chains. “With so many years in the business developing numerous specialised products to cater to all kinds of applications, Erlau-Rud has a product to suit each and every application.”
New hard-rock product developed
Horn and his colleagues, due to their familiarity with the conditions and requirements of the local market, are able to contribute significantly to the development of new products. “Even during our relatively short association with Erlau-Rud since the new local company was set up we have partnered them in this way, resulting in the development of the Fels Toro X19 chain, which is successfully in use in underground hard-rock applications, specifically on load-haul-dumpers in platinum mining”, he points out.
This product with its characteristics designed specifically to cope with the exceptionally abrasive underfoot conditions encountered in local underground hard-rock mining operations, has enabled the company to achieve outstanding success in further penetrating the market.
“Since introducing it we have been successful in getting the message across to many owners and users of LHD’s and other underground wheeled vehicles as to how much more life they can get out of their tyres and so achieve greater production efficiencies and cost savings”, Horn comments.
“The Fels Toro X19 is an altogether more cost-effective solution than the tyre chains that were available previously for this purpose, as it provides far better traction and longer tyre chain life. Previously only up to 3500 hours of tyre chain life was achieved with the range of products then available, but now we’re getting up to 5000 hours.”
Aimed principally at achieving maximum possible wear life, the Fels Toro X19 chain also features three hardness areas, 19 mm connecting rings with enlarged cavities and diamond-shaped wear links for better traction and protection of the tyre tread. In addition, it is exceptionally compact to suit the low clearance of most underground wheeled vehicles and has an extra-wide contact area for improved force distribution and longer connecting-ring wear life.
Underground service manual
To further encourage underground hard-rock mines to make greater use of tyre chains on their wheeled equipment, TCS Rud management and technical personnel have developed and produced an underground service manual, which has been adopted by Erlau-Rud for use internationally. “This is a huge feather in our cap and a further example of the mutually beneficial spin-offs of the partnership”, Horn remarks.
The focus of the manual is to provide customers with step-by-step guidelines and solutions for overcoming chain fitment problems and other potential obstacles to making tyre chains workable in the underground mining environment.
Training of TCS Rud’s service staff has been further upgraded and formalised since the local and international companies joined forces. “Our courses are, I believe, the only courses in our discipline that are ratified by the Department of Trade & Industry, making us the sole provider of fully professional services in our field in the local market”, Horn says.
“Our tyre protection chain fitters and senior service personnel serve a full three-year apprenticeship involving the prescribed on-the-job training, completing the necessary training courses and passing exams to qualify.”
Training of customers’ maintenance staff is also provided as part of the company’s comprehensive after-sales service. “This is mainly about informing them about the do’s and don’ts’ to ensure that they optimise on all the benefits of the product”
The company has service crews operating all over Southern Africa, with competent and reliable agents providing additional sales support and service backup for customers in the various countries beyond South Africa’s borders where the product is supplied.