ENGINEERING: John Thompson Celebrates 75 Years
Recent Western Cape Business News
IT is John Thompson’s good fortune that it finds itself at the forefront of world-class production of steam with its renowned boilers, making it the largest and most modern heavy engineering manufacturing facility in the Western Cape.
Its range of products covers fire tube boilers which can produce steam up to 25 bar using coal and up to 40 bar using oil or gas. In industrial water tube boilers up to 200 tons of steam per hour can be produced at 85 bar and in utility boilers, using water tube technology.
Interestingly, although the sale of new build boilers still remain the mainstay of the business, revenue from its provision of maintenance and efficiency improvement services has become equally important.
Theo Lotter, divisional director of John Thompson, explains the company realised a couple of years ago that more emphasis had to be placed on the retention and development of skills. It foresaw, because of changing market conditions, that it should focus closer on the potential that the service market holds.
This move has paid off handsomely and is one of the reasons that the company in its last financial year (ending March 2010) showed its best ever financial performance.
The continuing success of the company flows from its vision to strategise and forecast market needs, especially so in terms of the cost of fuel, its availability and the quality of fuel.
Right now, the use of electricity in boilers has become risky, both in terms of cost and questions about availability, for example. The cost of oil too has risen sharply. Therefor the coal-fired boiler remains the most viable option for steam demands greater than 1 000kg/hr and basically the only option for demands greater than 3 000kg/hr.
With its new range of coal fired boilers the company has managed to achieve savings and reduced levels of emissions considered impossible a few years ago. Often, especially on larger boilers, pay-back periods of as little as one year are achieved where coal rather than, say oil is used.
But conditions are in continuous flux, and the above scenario may well change over time again. Lotter stresses that the company vision will enable it to timely adjust for changes in market requirements.
“For instance, in the way forward, much emphasis will be placed on re-newable resources. The environment is increasingly becoming uppermost in clients’ minds and we are already developing solutions. Our belief is that the ‘clean solution will be the winning solution’ and we are adjusting our operations accordingly”, Lotter says.
He notes that there is an increasing demand for its products and services from both the public and private sectors. John Thompson boilers already have a big footprint in both sectors.
In the public sector, especially so for hospitals and prisons, the government is spending seriously on upgrading and improving steam availability, for example.
The private sector too, especially food and beverages and the mining sectors, has shown a return of confidence, resulting in the local market growing.
This all is very helpful, because John Thompson is increasingly being tasked to be a service provider. Maintenance on older boilers is increasing and there is a strong move to outsourcing, Lotter says.
Currently working 24 hour shifts, the company seems all steamed up to stay on course for some time to come. Lotter stresses that the support and enthusiasm of its some 2 000 employees (parent company ACTOM has around
6 000) are crucial to this.
To effectively execute on its service delivery the company has factory trained technicians based in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Witbank and Port Elizabeth to provide a national network of service for all aspects of boiler combustion - electrical, coal, oil, gas and mixed fuel. In addition, an international service is available to customers throughout Africa, the Middle East and South America.
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