The combination of a very long-standing relationship with a pulp and paper mill customer and Rand-Air Durban’s excellent teamwork ensured that the company was top-of-mind when it came to the customer’s power contingency planning earlier this year.
Rudy De Vry, Area Manager for Rand-Air in KwaZulu-Natal explains that the customer has been associated with Rand-Air for many years, and is one of the biggest suppliers in the South African pulp and paper industry.
“This was a significant hire in terms of its duration, which was from July 2019 to mid-May 2020,” De Vry advises.
“The equipment on hire comprised 5 PTS 1600 oil-free diesel compressors and a DAU, desiccant air dryer, which provides 100% oil-free, clean and dry air that complies with ISO 8573-1 Class 0 certification,” De Vry explains, adding that ‘Class 0’ means zero risk of contamination or damage to equipment.
“Class 0 certified compressors are so highly compliant and safe that – apart from being very suitable for use in a pulp and paper mill environment – they also meet the stringent operational requirements of the pharmaceutical and food industries, both of which have strict adherence to zero-contamination standards,” he points out.
Liesel Johnson, Rand-Air sales representative in Durban, who was part of the team instrumental in securing the hire, explains how the equipment was used: “The compressors and air dryer went into a business unit within the ‘heartbeat’ of the mill. This section – which is home to the boiler house and compressor room – contains massive centrifugal compressors, and is the hub of the mill for power and support, feeding all the other business units.”
De Vry adds: “One of the customer’s stand-by compressors required repairs, which meant that the mill did not have any redundancy capacity. We therefore supplied the compressors and driers as a stand-by contingency measure, in the event of the installed compressors tripping. Rand-Air was furthermore able to supply the equipment immediately:
“Through the timely hire of our contingency equipment, the mill was able to continue production uninterrupted, until they were able to source and install another back-up compressor,” Johnson observes, adding: “We at Rand Air understand our customer’s industry and how important stand-by air can be operationally, and we are able to assist in the fastest time possible.”
Being able to supply certified, Class 0 oil-free air gives Rand-Air a huge competitive edge, complemented by its renowned customer-centric approach, says Johnson.
“We have in addition made a point of familiarising ourselves with all the different business units within the mill – not only the office staff – but also those on the shop floor and in operations. This approach has led to an immense sense of trust developing over the years, allowing us to get it right first time when a request is received. In this way, we are able to go straight to the source of the problem and assist.”
Rand-Air’s salespeople are also fully versed in the technical aspects of the equipment hired – which is key to developing trust with their customers, as – along with Rand-Air’s technical team of qualified technicians – they can provide competent after-hire support and advice.
De Vry emphasises that each hire is successful only through the individuals that make up the team: “From the salesperson, right through to the technical team commissioning the equipment – every participant makes up a successful team,” he says. “This teamwork ensured that – notwithstanding the challenges presented by CV-19 and the national lockdown – the equipment was hired and installed on time, fulfilling this customer’s requirements on every level.”
The long-standing relationship with Rand-Air will ensure that the mill will undoubtedly hire equipment in the future, should the need arise.
“Through our long-standing relationship and our customer-centric approach, Rand-Air always strives to be first in mind and top choice for this pulp and paper mill’s air and power rental requirements,” concludes de Vry.
As the established leader in the local portable air compressor and generator rental market, Rand-Air forms part of the global Atlas Copco Group. Through the regular training and development of its people and investment in the latest technology, Rand-Air maintains a sound track record of customer service excellence and exceeding customers’ expectations.
Both Atlas Copco and Rand-Air in South Africa are led by women and – with the national focus in August being on Women’s Month – the two leaders offer insights into qualities which have led them each to their current high-level positions in the equipment rental and industrial sector:
Wendy Buffa-Pace is Vice President and Managing Director of Atlas Copco Group SA; while Kim Coetzee is General Manager of Rand-Air. As such, they are both testament to the growing influence of women within senior positions, in what are typically considered male-dominated sectors of industry.
While each woman has risen to her present position via a different route, there are many synergies when it comes to business practices.
Buffa-Pace believes that throughout her career, by viewing every challenge as an opportunity, she was able to ‘read’ the business landscape and keep an eye open for opportunities. “I see most situations as an opportunity to learn something new and in which to find creative ways to add something different to the mix. I think having a sound mind and balanced outlook has afforded me the chance to not only see but take opportunities as they were presented,” she says.
Coetzee echoes this sentiment and states that a positive attitude and looking beyond her role – with a holistic overview – has helped her reach her present position. “I really believe that being positive and passionate within your role opens doors to extensive opportunities. Therefore, I am not limited by a title,” she adds.
Both are relatively new to their roles, encountering similar environments when they were each appointed. Coetzee says that her new role created excitement and enthusiasm and she was eager to embrace it: “As a go-getter, I was eager to take on the responsibilities – when, three months in, the CV-19 pandemic took hold in South Africa and everything basically ground to a halt!”
Buffa-Pace agrees: “It was as a well-known quote goes, a case of ‘the best laid plans of mice and men’ going awry. No sooner was I set to shoulder the role and make a positive impact, than Covid-19 arrived. That said, this is where the ability to draw on the resources of an agile team came to the fore,” she adds.
To this point, both women see close collaboration with their respective teams as crucial to developing an agile mind set and getting through a challenging period such as 2020, with work teams able to ‘pivot’ at short notice, adapting as needed and yet remaining simultaneously cohesive.
Nevertheless, both women emphasise that being an example to their teams is vital to coping with the changing landscape. Coetzee says: “While people have skills, you cannot teach intangibles like passion and this is where my team shines.
“All my experience has led to where I am right now: I am exactly where I want to be.”
Both women recognise that while there have been times that their individual journey has not been a direct route – and that there have been occasions where a different decision could have been made – there is absolutely no room for regret.
“While we all make mistakes now and again, ultimately, any decision I have made has served as part of the journey and led me to where I am now. As you gain acumen, you increase sound judgment and may make different decisions in the same circumstance the next time it occurs — if it does,” Buffa-Pace adds.
While the perception is that there are few women in senior roles in their sectors, both women report that the landscape is definitely changing in this regard.
“Rand-Air has always been female-dominated, even though the industry has traditionally been male-dominated. However, over the past decade, I am encouraged to see some change has occurred in the wider industry,” Coetzee points out.
Buffa-Pace concurs, adding: “I can say that I am privileged to be part of a progressive, global organisation which focuses on diversity across the board. It is not good enough to simply have women making up numbers, but to have women progressing in their careers and achieving in senior positions.”
Both feel that mostly – while there are always exceptions – women tend to be more realistic, but are not always as confident as their male counterparts in ‘selling’ themselves in the work environment. “We need to change this outlook and this mindset; we need to uplift each other – and ourselves – and gain confidence in our skills and self-worth,” Coetzee advises.
Both leaders believe that businesses generally could adopt strategies which create opportunities for women to venture into areas that would have traditionally been outside of their scope of knowledge or interest.
Buffa-Pace adds: “In my case, Atlas Copco created opportunities for me to learn how the business functions. I had the chance to be exposed to all areas of the company; and, over time, to gain the deep understanding thereof, which has helped me to attain my current position.”
Coetzee observes that the presence of women in senior roles creates a sense of desire within fellow women and a drive to achieve something similar; adding that, while women want to see other women succeed, within industry overall, the possibility of male inclusion within female-orientated forums could educate men to develop a more holistic understanding of women in the workplace – and in so doing, eradicate some gender bias.
Buffa-Pace adds that while she acknowledges that men need to be educated about women, it also behoves society to educate girls and women about the qualities they place importance on in male role models – to prepare the ground for, and assess, what they are prepared to accept in terms of societal roles and behaviours later in life.
“Men and women need leadership skills, and women bring diversity to the table,” Buffa-Pace says.
That being said, both women agree that the viewpoint which espouses that each gender is equipped with a different set of qualities and skills specific to that gender is not accurate; and that in fact, there is a blurring between the two genders in terms of attributes. “We all have a little bit of everything, and this is what creates the rich diversity which both genders bring to any situation,” Buffa-Pace comments.
Speaking to the need for women to support other women in the workplace, Buffa-Pace comments that throughout her career she has only ever encountered supportive women who have helped her. She points out that it is a matter of how one perceives the actions of other women when countered or criticised – not taking anything personally, but rather in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. “Think: ‘this person sees potential in me,’ rather than feel that you are being put down – and step up to the plate!” she urges.
Within the business world, there is sometimes the perception that women may appear abrasive and are sometimes perceived as aggressive. Buffa-Pace comments, “It is really a case of addressing issues as they arise, of ‘having the conversation’ – facing and not veering away from an issue. It is also the manner in which one addresses a situation, of developing a skill in which to address a sensitive issue without creating a defensive response. People will respond depending on how they are addressed.”
Coetzee suggests that as the landscape is changing, so are perceptions around gender differences and says, “As long as people in the business world are talking from the same level of maturity, there is no reason for aggression.”
Both Atlas Copco and Rand-Air encourage and support staff skills development and training. Coetzee describes her participation in a couple of initiatives for women: “I am part of a global gender diversity networking group which offers support and networking for women in similar positions, who can share experiences and talk about their challenges. I am very fortunate in that I have Wendy here in South Africa to bounce ideas off,” Coetzee comments.
She also points out, “There are programmes that focus on learning in the workplace and many of our team are busy completing their degrees.” Buffa-Pace adds: “Atlas Copco has also conducted networking and diversity programmes over a number of years, in a variety of forms, specifically for women. At the outset, we ran a programme called the Pleiades Network, and Kim was part of that. I can say with pride that the vast majority of participants went on to hold a variety of senior positions, and I put this down to having the right attitude. So a good attitude is vital: that would be my one piece of advice to young women starting out in business,” she says.
“My one piece of advice would be ‘don’t be so hard on yourself, and believe that whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve!” Coetzee concludes.
Rand-Air is the recognised leader when it comes to the provision of portable air and power in the local rental market. Based on an entrenched ethos of exceeding customers’ expectations and through the regular training and development of its people, the company services a wide variety of sectors including the renewable energy industry.
Located in a remote part of the Eastern Cape province, there is a wind farm project that forms part of a 700 MW wind capacity renewable tender and – when completed and running at full capacity – will generate more than 460 GWh of clean electricity, annually.
The project involves the erection of 46 wind turbines in one of the remotest and most inaccessible areas of this traditionally windy province.
As wind turbines are so immense, they must be manufactured in sections or modules and then assembled close to the project site.
The assembler/erector contractor on the project, responsible for assembling the different components of the massive turbines, generally works at night, when the site is cleared of riggers and the wind shear factor is lower.
“Delivery of these massive turbine components is handled by abnormal load vehicles; and, in the absence of defined roads or any infrastructure, the underfoot terrain on-site is often unpredictable and hazardous,” says Liesel Johnson, sales consultant at Rand-Air responsible for this contract.
“In addition, given that the project is in a territory widely known as a snake-infested habitat, this operation required an adequate, reliable, and efficient light source to illuminate the work area.”
Through its Durban branch, Rand-Air supplied 12 QLV lighting towers, as well as portable power for the on-site offices, in the form of four 60 KVA generators, complete with distribution (DB) boards.
Johnson outlines how the relationship with the contractor and Rand-Air developed: “Parts of the Eastern Cape are incredibly remote and inaccessible, and the wind farm project is located approximately a six-hour drive from Durban. Following up on a referral received, the consultation phase was therefore via email and telephonic contact, before the contract was agreed upon and the equipment supplied.”
The safety standard on wind farms is extremely high, and Johnson emphasises that Rand-Air more than complied with all requirements in this regard: “The customer was very impressed that Rand-Air is fully ISO-certified; and also by how seriously we take safety, conducting intense and in-depth safety inductions with the entire turbine assembly crew – and our own Rand-Air technicians. The customer was also very satisfied with our team’s technical qualifications and competency levels,” she adds.
Johnson says that part of Rand-Air’s standard protocol is to check and double-check every item of equipment that leaves its premises before being despatched to a customer.
“In this way, we are confident that all our equipment is fully compliant and in perfect working order to fulfil not only our contractual obligations, but our customer’s requirements – with little to no chance of anything unexpectedly going wrong,” she explains.
Negotiating an equipment rental contract on a project of this magnitude – without the benefit of face-to-face engagement – is testimony to the quality of Rand-Air’s training, which has equipped Johnson with the industry sector knowledge and technical skills to offer the correct solution, without even meeting the internationally-based customer in person.
“Also counting in our favour was the availability of our equipment, and the speed with which we could meet the customer’s criteria and find a solution, averting any downtime,” she adds.
Johnson maintains that maintaining a transparent line of communication was instrumental in Rand-Air securing the contract, ensuring the customer was kept updated and informed every step of the way.
“The incredible remoteness of the project entailed really understanding the customer’s challenges and requirements; and I explained that, while we pride ourselves on the value-added service of offering 24/7 technical support, the location of the project and distance from Durban would however mean between 24 and 36 hours’ turnaround time if a technician was required on-site. I also assured the customer that nevertheless, there would be regular checks conducted by a technician and I would also travel to site regularly,” she advises.
Johnson believes that a thorough understanding of the customer’s requirements, coupled with her in-depth product knowledge, stood Rand-Air in good stead.
“When we look at lighting, along with operational criteria, we also consider emissions standards, measured in lux, and on this project, the criterion was 200 lux per unit. Rand-Air was able to supply LED lighting to meet the standard, which worked in our favour to be awarded the hire contract,” she says and adds: “My absolute faith and trust our products and technology meant I had no hesitation regarding my equipment recommendations and which products to suggest.”
She adds that the solid trust which has developed between Rand-Air and the contractor is also a team effort all-round: “While I am the direct contact within the Eastern Cape region, I could not have successfully concluded this contract without a supportive team having my back. The result was that a profound level of trust and an excellent relationship has developed with the customer,” she points out.
Johnson says that the hire has been in place since February, and has been extended indefinitely owing to the CV-19 pandemic, with an unspecified completion date as a result.
In summary, this rental has fulfilled every requirement that the customer specified, and the contract remains ongoing.
“Rand-Air will be there until the wind farm is up and running, giving the customer the benefit of our technology and service excellence – whichever way the wind blows,” she concludes.
As the established leader in the local portable air compressor and generator rental market, Rand-Air maintains an excellent reputation, based on its ethos of exceeding customers’ expectations and through the regular training and development of its people.
Henry Fourie, Business Development Manager at Rand-Air, explains that when it comes to rentals, the company provides TUV-certified oil-free, diesel or electric air solutions; as well as power and lighting solutions, and more recently, pumps.
“Although we have full access to the entire equipment range of our international parent company Atlas Copco, as part of Atlas Copco Power Technique in the Speciality Rental Division, our focus is on serving specific vertical target and also niche market sectors,” Fourie says.
Rand-Air therefore hires to specialist contractors within the oil and gas, mining and manufacturing industries; as well as the food and beverage, and some construction projects.
“We are very excited to announce a new pump range from Atlas Copco Power Technique, which is very well suited for use in the agricultural sector,” Fourie advises.
“There are two types of pumps in the new range: the Weda electrical submersible pump, which features low to medium heads. The other type of pump is the PAS/VAR diesel-driven variety,” he explains.
“The impellers on the pumps are coated and highly durable, making them able to withstand corrosive materials, to a point. They also offer good high and low flows, with high heads which enable easy evacuation of material up an incline. This makes them very appropriate for use in agricultural and chemical applications.”
Fourie adds that Rand-Air’s customers will most likely require pumps ranging from 20 kW to 75 kW; and that multi-stage pumps can also be provided.
“These diesel-driven pumps are ideal for the agricultural and construction sectors, in areas where power is not available if, for example, there is a requirement to pump water into sludge or storage dams. These hard-wearing, robust pumps can be taken to site, off-loaded with a crane truck and the customer can start pumping immediately.”
With excellent solids handling, the pumps can be used in a variety of applications. “In the past, pumps would typically break down and need to be replaced or repaired, meaning that there was downtime in agricultural operations.
Fourie points out that, particularly in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic-induced national lockdown and concerns around food security, any downtime can have disastrous implications for agricultural production.
“If, for example, a farmer cannot get water to irrigate a field, this could potentially impact his crop yield very negatively.
“Our new range of pumps is an excellent value-add to the agricultural sector, and we can supply the equipment on-demand, at any time,” Fourie points out, emphasising that the benefits of easy access to these products is immense, regardless of the size of the farm.
“In the scenario where a pump has gone in for repairs, we can hire out a durable temporary replacement pump that can run 24/7, ensuring that crops are not impacted or lost. Designed for continuous operation, these robust pumps can run uninterrupted as long as there is fuel in the system,” he says.
In conjunction with Atlas Copco’s Power Technique business division, Rand-Air will be hiring the new range of pumps locally.
Also of relevance to the agricultural sector is Rand-Air’s diesel generator range, available from 20 KVA up to 1.1 MVA for a single unit; and up to 4 MVA when in parallel, according to Fourie.
He points out that in both the wine and citrus industries during harvest, packing houses require uninterrupted, additional power to ensure smooth production.
“They are limited by the amount of grid-based power available, and if they need to expand their supply to run more production or packing lines, we can add on a generator to their existing mains supply to meet their demand.”
He adds that the same applies to the refrigeration facilities: “With cold storage units, if there is a power outage, the produce will deteriorate. We can literally plug in a generator and save a consignment, ensuring the safety of the produce. This is therefore an excellent contingency option for the agricultural sector,” he says.
“Notwithstanding the recent national lockdown, we have been busy. Given our service excellence and innovative technology – and additions such as the pumps we now offer – Rand-Air is strategically well-positioned to serve our customers as the market demand increases – including in the agricultural sector.”