Company Profile: Uitenhage Super Steel

I had only spoken to Ginkel once. Ginkel had called up the SAISC for some technical advice on submerged arc welding of plate girders and he was put through to me. He explained to me that he had bought the machine from Dave Scott when Scott steel closed its fabrication shop.That of course got my mind going, back to my Speedy Welders days, when lots of people asked the same question, what on earth would a fabricator in Uitenhage want a submerged arc welding machine for?

So in October 2015 when visiting Port Elizabeth to do a lecture for 3rd year architect students at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), on multi-storey steel construction using steel framing, I allowed for an extra day during the visit to the area and made my way out to visit Uitenhage Super Steel (USS) and meet Ginkel and some of his team.

For those of you who have entertained me during a visit to your works, you will surely remember that for me, a visit to a noisy workshop is music to my ears! My visit to USS was that and plenty more! I asked Ginkel about his name and he explained to me that it came from van Ginkel, a name that his family had by tradition had passed down the generations to the first born son of the next generation.

The next obvious question was how did the business start? Ginkel explained that his father had an education and experience in agriculture, so quite naturally the business started manufacturing farming implements, which rapidly grew into farm sheds, the ‘portal frame market’, which industry they still to this day serve. Ginkel joined the business without any formal education in structural steel. They operated out of a 600m² covered area without the luxury of overhead travelling cranes, but with a WMW metal working machine. The original shop can still be seen. About 15 years ago, one of their biggest jobs, which put them on the structural steel fabricating map was a 5 000 m² citrus packing house. So an extension was done with a fairly modest sized crane with a low clear height. The business was growing steadily during the 2006/7 boom years leading up to the financial crash of 2008. Looking pretty with a full order book, the crash quickly changed that, the orders were all cancelled leaving them staring the year 2009 with no work and a well-trained team with nothing to do.

It was Warren Buffett who preached when it comes to investing, go against the flow, if the masses are in equities, get out. Ginkel must definitely have come from the same mind set.
Instead of retrenching all his staff (which I am sure you all know is a very expensive exercise) and not having the cash to carry out the retrenchment he went to his bank to borrow money to build a new factory bay. Apart from calling him crazy, his bank did decide to support him.

And so his team did everything required – levelling; foundations; fabricate and erect the steel structure; the cladding; the brickwork – the lot. By the time the shop was nearing completion fresh orders started to roll in and USS has never looked back. I was absolutely gob-smacked to visit his shop in a low key industrial area of Uitenhage and find a well-equipped modern workshop. Detailed drawings are produced using Tekla which when applicable talks directly to his NC machines. Yes, some of the machines are ‘entry level NC equipment’, but they are ideal for his size of shop and type of work. He bought some of them second hand from Scott Steel.

And yes, he did finish his plate girder contract using a single head submerged arc welding machine. But he was not satisfied with the productivity of the machine and has since invested in a state of the art plate girder fabrication line. All other finish welding is done using Mig/ Mag process. They do have a quality system in place and are ISO9000 certified, and it shows when you walk through their shops and see the overall high standard of marksmanship. USS has their own special way of making steel elements. The part mark is scribed onto a small piece of plate which is in turn welded to the element. That way the riggers will always know where to look for the mark. USS is a classic structural steel jobbing shop, he will tackle almost any work if he thinks he can make a profit, from industrial projects, commercial projects, through substation work but like many fabricators USS is quite nervous when it comes to shopping mall projects.

We wish Ginkel and his team continued success.