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Commencement of production in January at South Africa's first wind tower factory will come from the new division of a firm that has a celebrated history of providing energy infrastructure to Africa's largest economy

Written by: Joel Levy

Produced by: William Lloyd

On the website for DCD Group’s brand-new Wind Tower division, a clock counts down to the opening of its 23,000 sqm, R300 million factory in the Coega Development Zone, Port Elizabeth.
This state-of-the-art facility, the first wind tower in South Africa, will commence production in January, 2014. With equipment currently being installed, it marks the latest phase of the country’s major drive into renewable energy.

Renewable drive

DCD Wind Towers represents an expansion of DCD Group's core power generation capabilities. The group has been heavily involved in the development of South Africa's infrastructure, in particular with regard to power generation, having manufactured components for all 22 of the country's power stations between the 1960s and 1990s.

With renewable energy now taking centre stage, the group has seized the opportunity to again play a major role in this latest development.

The government has set an ambitious target of generating 18 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy by 2030, of which wind energy will make up a sizeable portion at about 30 percent.

The factory's location in the Eastern Cape is a logical decision and one geared towards efficiency, with most of the sites for the new wind farms planned for the region's coastline and the finished product on a large scale.

The factory is set to produce 110 turbine towers per annum, ranging in size up to 120 metres long, with a diameter of nearly five metres and individual sections weighing up to 80 tons.

General Manager Gerrit Viviers commented: "Because two-thirds of the wind farms will go up in the Eastern Cape, and to transport these towers to other parts of the country is very expensive, it's crucial that the factory is as close as possible to the different sites."

Manufacturing includes intensive and highly-skilled processes like Sub-Arc Welding, involving numerous safety and quality controls, and culminates in installation of internal components like lifts and ladders and the application of paint. Once a project is complete, the tower is stored on site, before being collected and transported by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Lean and green

Viviers, who holds a degree in industrial mechanical engineering, joined the wind towers division in June this year, having spent the past 13 years in an operational environment focused on consolidating sites and improving lean strategies in factories.

It is an invaluable expertise that he has applied to the design of the new factory and will continue to do so when operations commence.

"We have tried to set up a factory that is as near as possible to perfect in terms of layout and once we are up and running we will use lean tools to increase our output across various disciplines to establish a continuous improvement culture," he explained. "We will focus on improving our constraints as we go along.

"The factory has a very lean structure; we will have a small number of production departments, quality, engineering and contracts, financial and a human resources department. The Sales and Marketing Department will be supported by the DCD Group, rather than having our own section for this."

A technology partnership with well-established energy company Vestas has further assisted in achieving the optimum factory design and in selecting the best and most modern equipment for the job. Of the R300 million total, a large R120 million has been invested into this area.

Viviers said: "We have a U-shape layout which minimises handling and unnecessary movement."

With its first orders coming from the aforementioned technology partner Vestas and another major industry player in the German firm Nordex, DCD's newest division has positioned itself squarely at the sharp-end of the market.

Future expansion

While its commitment to providing clean energy is commendable, DCD's wind power projects will assist not only in providing green power for the national grid, but also in bringing much-needed skills development and job opportunities to the region.

Viviers said: "The construction of the facility will create about 600 jobs, and once the factory is up and running at full capacity, it will permanently employ around 200 people. "We will start up with about 65 employees in January and we will get out of our learning curve and increase capacity going forward, we will end up with about 200 at full capacity."

Although it is extremely early days for this new company, there is no shortage of ambition and the General Manager is already looking to future expansion of operations.

"in the coming years, we want to increase the capacity of this factory to allow us to construct in excess of 200 towers per annum. We would want to run the factory at the level and be in a position to export into other countries if the demand is there," he said.

DCD intends to continue partnering with the government to ensure that local manufacturers have the opportunity to participate in assembling turbines and manufacture other components. With government approval of further suppliers to the renewable energy programme imminent, order for towers are sure to increase immediately. Indeed, the company has already given supply quotations to more than 10 additional clients.

Viviers said: "We already have Vestas and Nodex as clients, but there are a lot of players in the market in South Africa and we are keen to deal with all of them. For us, as a factory and a business, we will certainly try and look at exporting to other countries provided we can stay competitive.

This story was published in African Business Review digital magazine for November and Energy digitals' digital magazine for November.

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