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Rand-Air remains sustainable and ahead of the curve with ‘positively disruptive’ business ethos

The local market leader in portable air compressors and generator rental, Rand-Air, was established 45 years ago – long before the concept of so-called ‘positive disruption’ became a trendy topic of wider business discussion in MBA classes around the country and internationally. However, in many aspects, Rand-Air has in fact been a quietly efficient and self-styled ‘positive disruptor’ in the equipment rental business for over four decades.

“In the past, we actually built up a reputation for being something of an innovator, in that we have always sought to exceed our customers’ expectations – no matter how tough the requirement, or the innovative solutions we had to come up with – in order to provide unmatched service excellence,” says Rand-Air General Manager Louwrens Erasmus.

The company has been striving for continuous improvement, in line with its ethos, more recently too – particularly in the face of the avalanche of information and resulting change driven by today‘s social media and general digital interconnectedness.

“When it comes to customer service, we realised the people who hire our equipment have instantaneous access to information about competitors too; and are therefore able to make comparisons very quickly and easily. We protect our reputation as a leader in our field very assiduously; and offer customer service which stands up to, and exceeds, any comparisons,” he continues.

For this reason, the company ethos of ‘exceeding customer expectations’ is not merely a smooth slogan, but is translated into action every single day, by staff throughout the company.

The management echelon of Rand-Air has for some time intentionally driven an ethos and practice of ‘internal’ improvement within the company. “We are grounded and given direction by the intention of what we are doing, and gain much inspiration from the energy and momentum this provides within the context of our daily responsibilities and our longer-term goals,” adds Rand-Air Sales Manager Kim Coetzee.

At the same time, there has been a concerted effort by the company to ensure that this ethos is embraced at all levels of the organisation, and not just by its management; as globally, this is not a new idea, and it has been found many times over that companies with a more innovative, free-thinking and motivated culture – and which are also more open to the introduction of (positively) disruptive changes – tend to thrive.

Rand-Air General Manager Louwrens Erasmus

“However on a day-to-day, practical level, it does mean disrupting conventional ‘9-to-5’ attitudes; for example, delivering service excellence to our customers often means working unconventional hours and going to exceptional lengths,” Coetzee continues, adding that by the same token – and sometimes even in quite small ways – if one is not an agent of change, there is a real risk of very quickly falling behind and becoming stagnant and outdated.

Furthermore, to make any level or degree of advancement work within a company requires highly functional communication between all levels of staff: everyone must be aligned and support new initiatives, even though these may, in the short-term, mean taking the more difficult route ‘less travelled’.

Coetzee explains that the first step is the determination to make hard changes in the company environment. “Development does not mean discarding everything that has gone before; but it does mean looking critically at all areas of the business. There are some areas that will be doing extremely well and others that may be lagging. It is in these latter areas where positive disruption is likely to be highly beneficial,” she adds.

Furthermore, in a move contrary to the severe cost-cutting of recent years in the corporate world – which has often seen people development suffering as a result – Rand-Air invests substantially and consistently in superior staff training. By doing this, the people working for the company remain fully motivated and engaged – which is ultimately not only to their benefit, but that of the business.

Erasmus emphasises that international companies such as Uber and Airbnb are certainly the classic industry disruptors, which brought about completely new approaches and sweeping change to their industries.

However, he adds that the cumulative effect of small enhancements effected continuously over time, have contributed substantially to the company’s overall success.

“We have seen that many consistent, small changes or refinements really add up – to something maybe not as dramatic – but equally profound,” he adds.

“In addition, in Rand-Air, what we have encouraged is a culture where employees are able to question the status quo without the fear of negative repercussions. Within this environment, innovation, creativity and individual thinking is highly respected and valued; although any proposed changes must be based on a sound business case,” he emphasises.

In the past, in general, rental equipment had a second-rate reputation. Rand-Air realised many years ago that it also had to adjust this pattern and negative stereotypical perception. Today, if one hires a compressor or generator from the Jet Park-based company, the equipment features both the appearance and performance of being newly-purchased.

By very effectively changing or disrupting traditionally negative perceptions, the distinctive ‘Rand-Air experience’ presents customers with a positive route to conserving capital and limiting the number of depreciating assets on their books.

Rand-Air Sales Manager Kim Coetzee

“We conduct our rental business with a level of excellence that allows our customers the absolute peace of mind to concentrate solely on their core businesses,” asserts Coetzee.

“At Rand-Air, in 45 years of operation, we have always realised the importance of continuous improvement, as it has invariably allowed us to serve our customers more effectively. When they compare us to others in our field, we want to be known as the leading provider of mobile air and power, in which our customers can place their absolute trust,” asserts Erasmus.

“It is from this well-spring of trust that our service excellence, customer relationships – and the innovation and courage to make positively disruptive changes when required – have flowed – all of which have sustained our company,” he concludes.

Rand-Air’s training – investing in the ‘art of management’ to remain fresh and relevant

For any company to function successfully – and continue to be fresh and relevant in today’s ever-changing and challenging economic climate a range of skills such as those found in sales or in the technical disciplines are required. However, these will not be effective without effective management expertise to integrate and provide strategic direction and leadership – which is one of the scarcest skills in the corporate field today.

The art of management is a very particular asset and requires a wide range of capabilities. In addition, companies usually have very specific requirements of their management team, and therefore organically developing in-house potential and capability is often preferable to importing management expertise from outside.

Leading provider of portable air and power Rand-Air is part of the Atlas Copco Group, a company with a history dating back to 1873. Throughout its history, Atlas Copco has placed a strong emphasis on training, a strength that has seen it grow from manufacturing steam engines to the major industrial corporate it is today. The importance of training is also key to Rand-Air, which has long been known locally for its consistent investment in employee development and its people-centric ethos.

In late 2017, Rand-Air Sales Manager Kim Coetzee was selected to attend training at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) in 2018. The SSE’s FEM Executive Management Programme is part of an international development programme for managers at a range of leading Scandinavian companies.

“There were participants from six different companies, and ten different countries who attended the course over a period of four months. The course embraced a variety of active learning approaches, such as case studies, group work, experience-based learning, structured reflections and project assignments,” explains Coetzee.

With the rapid industrialisation of Europe at the turn of the last century, the Stockholm School of Economics was founded in 1909 to develop Sweden’s management echelon. The purpose of the SSE’s FEM programme is to develop and enhance general management and leadership skills from a multi-financial perspective and thereby enhance the participant’s ability to lead a team in a multi-national context.

To be selected for this course requires two key characteristics from participants: a track record of successful management experience and high motivation for continued development.

Coetzee explains that the FEM programme developed the following key areas:

  • Business environment and global outlook
  • Corporate and competitive strategy
  • Business model development
  • Financial strategy and financial analysis
  • Business control and performance management
  • Industrial marketing
  • Innovation and the network economy
  • Leadership and personal development
  • Virtual distance leadership

These themes are woven seamlessly into the program forming an ongoing process of growth through dialogue, structured learning reviews and reflection. The delivery is provided through a blended learning approach.

“During the course, we were involved in short remote sessions and webinars to complement and complete the delivery done in the face-to-face programme days,” she continues.

“Another very beneficial aspect of this training is the global network that was created as a result of our participation. We connected and formed contacts with participants from companies all over the world.”

“As a result, you get new ideas on how to implement different things in your own business, because you are exposed to other environments and other ways of doing things. It enhances and enriches you as a person – and enables you to think differently and approach things from a different perspective,” she enthuses.

“When I returned from the training, I was very excited and keen to try new things within Rand-Air. We conducted a workshop within the company, and selected people from our various branches and operational areas.

From there, we looked at ways in which we could do things differently and improve. As a result, we have developed project teams, which are duly incentivised. This provides an effective and ongoing mechanism within the company to foster innovation and drive creativity.”

She explains that there are certain requirements that have been identified where Rand-Air could improve their customers’ experience. The company also has a team working to develop a viable solution to this challenge, as exceeding customers’ expectations remains a key organisational imperative for the business.

“Training stimulates new ideas upon which the current and future industry growth is based. You have to find new ways of doing things if you want to grow and ensure sustainability. We are fortunate in that Rand-Air has always seen the benefit of continuous learning, development and looking for new and innovative ways in which to improve our customer service and remain fresh and relevant,” she concludes.

Opening up on shut downs: Rand-Air takes the stress out of mine shutdown equipment hires

With the vast amounts of capital invested in them, the production pressures on major mines are immense and unscheduled production stoppages need to be avoided at all costs.

However, a mine’s major plant installations such as compressor and metallurgical facilities are pivotal to production. Breakdowns in these areas can be hugely expensive to recover from. Planned shutdowns provide a mine with the means to avoid unscheduled stoppages, as these allow for maintenance, repair and upgrading of plant and facilities, which, because they often work a 24/7 duty cycle,  cannot be taken out of service in the normal run of duty.

Rand-Air, during its 46 years of operation, has proven itself as a valued partner in the service of many mines during both planned and unplanned shutdowns.

“The keys to a successful scheduled shutdown are meticulous planning and effective communication,” says Rand-Air Internal Sales Consultant Adele Matthee, who speaks from vast experience as every year, for many years, Rand-Air has partnered with many of its mining customers to ensure their planned shutdowns are successful.

“With many of our mining customers, we have been involved in their planned shutdowns for many years and have a very good knowledge of the type and quantity of hire equipment they will typically need,” says Matthee. Many of Rand-Air’s mining customers have the foresight to start planning a shutdown months in advance. “This is immensely valuable for us at Rand-Air as we can plan to have all necessary equipment ready at the due date,” she continues.

Often with planned shutdowns, specialist contractors are brought onto site to carry certain specific contracts. However, to avoid the unwieldy situation of contractors hiring and rehiring equipment, mines tend to place a single order for hire equipment which they then put at the disposal of the contractors concerned.

However, even with planned shutdowns, the parameters involved can change from one year to the next. In the light of this, Matthee explains that experience has taught Rand-Air staff what salient questions to ask mine engineers who are planning a shutdown.

Having really good knowledge of a mine’s operations is very valuable when preparing for a shutdown, explains Matthee. One needs to know practicalities such as how hire machinery will connect to a mine’s reticulation systems or whether a mine will be able to use electric machines or not.

Rand-Air has a long-standing reputation for supplying high-performance, reliable equipment. This factor is critical during mining shutdowns as servicing or repairing a machine in the middle of one of these events would be prohibitively disruptive for the customer. “Even if it means servicing a machine prematurely, we would rather do this than risk interrupting a shutdown,” she continues.

With both planned and unplanned shutdowns, the volumes of air that a mine requires can exceed what Rand-Air can supply from its own fleet. However, Rand-Air has other trusted suppliers from whom it can hire additional compressors to make up the volume required.

Once the necessary hire equipment has been sourced, the next challenge is to transport it, often from various distant locations, to the mine itself. “Here, once again, we have years of experience of working with certain trusted logistics companies who we know will deliver safely and on time.” In this respect, Rand-Air’s knowledge of specific mines safety and permitting requirements is of great assistance. “Many mines are sticklers for safety and so truck drivers carrying out Rand-Air’s deliveries need to be equipped with the correct PPE and paperwork before they will be permitted to drive on to a mine,” she continues.

Once the machines are on site, should a mine hire more than a certain number of machines, Rand-Air will place a full-time technician on site as well as a containerised mini-depot stocked with all the spares that the technician is likely to need. Usually shutdown projects work around the clock to ensure rapid completion. When this is the case, Rand-Air will ensure that technical support is also available on a 24-hour basis.

Unplanned shutdowns place entirely different demands on Rand-Air. Matthee explains that the first notice Rand-Air often receives is a phone call asking for immediate help.

As Rand-Air hires out portable compressors, the largest being a 1,500 cfm model, this means sourcing and delivering many compressors to make up the volume on these occasions.

When Rand-Air receives an unplanned shutdown call, Matthee immediately consults with Rand-Air’s logistics section to establish what equipment is available within the company. “We have a computerised system operating throughout Rand-Air which we call our ‘fleet board’, which tracks the bookings and the availability of all our equipment. This is essential as we do not want to be taking a compressor, for example, from one of our depots for a certain hire when it has been booked for another,” she says.

And then again, if Rand-Air does not have the fleet available at that specific time, Matthee and her colleagues have the experience and know from which suppliers they can cross-hire reliable, quality equipment. In this instance, Rand-Air takes on the role of the project manager. “For our customers, it means that they can make one phone call and know that, for a shutdown, they can source all their hire equipment from one reliable supplier,” she says.

“Over time, the role of project consultant is one we are increasingly taking on,” Matthee explains.

As mentioned, continuous effective communication during the planning and execution of a shutdown contract is essential for success. Matthee explains that Rand-Air has developed a system which allows everyone involved from both the supplier and the customer sides to be fully apprised of exactly what is happening at any given time. If for example a compressor is being sourced from a distant site, the customer will know when the truck has been dispatched to fetch it, when the compressor is being loaded, when the truck is once again on the road and what the estimated time of arrival is. “This affords the customer peace of mind so they can concentrate on their core activities,” she says.

An advantage that Rand-Air has is that, for many years, the company has had a consistently low staff turnover. When a mine contracts with Rand-Air to supply equipment for a shutdown, it will benefit from the accumulated expertise of Rand-Air’s highly experienced staff.

“For us at Rand-Air, mine shutdowns, while they are challenging, are also very exciting as they give us the opportunity to show what our company is capable of,” explains Matthee.

“The achievement of finding 50,000 cfm of compressed air for a customer at short notice and getting it safely to site on time is a satisfying and rewarding experience both for ourselves and, ultimately, for our customers,” she concludes.

Rand-Air compressor assists the CSIR to ‘view its airs’ in wind tunnel tests

“Although this type of hire is not a first for us, at Rand-Air, we are always pleased to be able to be of service to an esteemed organisation such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),” says Rand-Air Sales Representative Marinda Enslin. Earlier this year, over a period of five weeks, the CSIR in Pretoria hired a Rand-Air compressor to provide an auxiliary airflow for its Medium Speed Wind Tunnel (MSWT).

The MSWT is one of seven CSIR wind tunnels frequently used to provide an engineering test, measurement and evaluation foundation to the aerodynamic design efforts of mainly the South African aeronautical industry. The CSIR wind tunnels include a closed circuit sub-sonic tunnel, a transonic tunnel, a trisonic tunnel and a large test section open-circuit low-speed tunnel.

“The wind tunnels are generally used to measure airframe aerodynamic performance in a controlled ‘simulated flight’ environment. The object tested in this environment can be anything on which the movement of air exerts forces. This can be anything from a supermarket trolley in the Cape winds to a supersonic missile produced by the South Africa defence industry – though the latter in a different wind tunnel obviously,” explains the CSIR’s Works Engineer DPSS: Aeronautic Systems, Louis van Wyk.

Data collected at the facilities is used for airframe characterisation, and to populate complex modelling and simulation environments for broader mission simulation predictions, doctrine development and training.

Testing in the MSWT where the Rand-Air compressor was used is state-of-the-art. All operations are proceduralised, so as to make the projects cost-effective for the clients using the facility; which is typically used by large industries such as aeronautics and defence.

However, it is important that all aspects of these tests function optimally.

“In this respect, Rand-Air was able to contribute to the success of the testing by providing a state-of-the-art Atlas Copco PNS1250 portable 24-bar oil-free compressor which delivered air reliably as and when our customer needed it,” Enslin continues.

The specific wind tunnel test required an auxiliary airflow, supplied through a 2” hose into the wind tunnel test section, with the following specifications:  oil-free air, with an FAD (free air delivery) of 1200 cfm at 24 bar pressure.

“Although this is at the upper limit of the general capacity of portable compressors, it was within the capability of Rand-Air’s PNS1250 portable diesel oil-free high pressure compressor,” explains Enslin.

As the compressor needed to stand outside the building housing the wind tunnel, Rand-Air provided the CSIR team with extended high-pressure hoses to make the connection.  “After that the CSIR team took over as they knew exactly what they were doing and were fully familiar with the workings of this compressor,” Enslin adds.

A Rand-Air technician was available for immediate call-out during the rental period of the wind tunnel test. “A technician visited the test site once a week to inspect and service the rental compressor,” she adds.

“Ultimately, the compressor performed exactly according to its specifications, and successfully – and reliably – delivered the flow required for the tests.  At the CSIR, we were fully satisfied with its performance, and the service we received from Rand-Air,” he comments.

“We appreciated the opportunity to be able to contribute in some small measure to South Africa’s excellent scientific research efforts, which serve to keep South Africa at the forefront of international knowledge development,” Enslin concludes.

A really ‘refined’ solution: Rand-Air Durban supplies Class-0 oil-free air to oil refinery shutdowns

While Durban is one of South Africa’s major industrial hubs, it is also home to some of South Africa’s major oil refineries. The fuel and oil from these refineries keep much of South Africa and its economy on the move and flowing smoothly every day.

A refinery is a very large and highly complex operation which has been designed to run most of the time with a minimum of supervision. However, usually every two years, oil refineries need to be shut down for a period of intensive maintenance, replacement or repair. Naturally, this disruption to fuel supplies has to be very carefully planned and timed.

This is according to Rudi de Vry, Rand-Air’s Area Manager in Durban.

“During oil refinery shutdowns, thousands of subcontractors are hired to carry out the many maintenance procedures which are required. These subcontractors need to be supplied with temporary compressed air and power – as well as with other equipment – in order to carry out their allotted tasks. This is where Rand-Air comes in,” de Vry explains.

Over its 46 years of operation, Rand-Air has become the preferred rental equipment partner to South African oil refineries, including those in Durban.

“We have built up these relationships over many years, on the back of service which invariably goes beyond what the customer expects of us,” he says.

The Durban branch has recently completed just such a project, partnering with South Africa’s largest oil refinery during a shutdown which extended from 15 May until 15 July this year.

During the shutdown, the refinery needs dozens of equipment items. All of these have to be sourced and if necessary transported to Durban. The equipment then has to be checked by our technicians to make sure that it is as reliable as they it can possibly be, and then dispatched to the refinery site.

De Vry observes that with a small but highly motivated and efficient team in Durban, for Rand-Air during the refinery shutdown it was a case of ‘all hands on deck’, and extended working hours.

“Fortunately, we have an excellent, committed team here in Durban on both the sales and the service side. They always have a positive attitude and work well together as their aim to achieve a common goal,” he adds.

Recently, the Durban branch was pleased to be able to rent out one of the larger oil-free compressors in Rand-Air’s range to the same customer.

“Ironically, even though it was for an oil refinery, the customer required Class 0 oil-free air to keep its systems operational during a maintenance shutdown!

We have furthermore found that being able to supply Class 0 oil-free air – which is absolutely free of contaminants – has created a very nice niche for us with the various refineries in the region. These refineries therefore regularly hire our oil-free compressors. In this particular instance, the refinery concerned rented the PTS 1600 for a period of two weeks. When the compressor was returned to us, the customer feedback we received was very positive,” de Vry remarks.

Renting equipment to any refinery has to be done with considerable care, due to the nature of the business, and safety regulations are therefore stringent.

“When it comes to refineries, safety is their number one concern,” emphasises de Vry.

Rand-Air’s Durban team works closely with the refinery to meet their safety obligations. “Before our equipment is delivered to a refinery site, there are a number of procedures we need to carry out on the units to ensure that our standards are aligned with those of our customer. This involves close consultation with the refinery’s safety officials,” he explains.

Rand-Air supplies temporary compressed air and power to Oil Refinery shutdowns.

“If, for example, a refinery needs to have a compressor pressure-tested, we fully understand why this is needed and what the legal implications are. Once the equipment is on site, Rand-Air technicians continue to monitor it to ensure it delivers faultless performance,” he comments.

“Our refinery customers really do appreciate the effort we put into keeping them safe.”

Of course, during a refinery shutdown, even though we might be very busy, we still continue with our normal day-to-day rentals, which are to a wide variety of industries.

At present, we are looking forward to the rest of the year because there are some exciting opportunities coming our way. And, in spite of the tough economy, the Durban branch has been performing exceptionally well,” he concludes.

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