As part of its ongoing expansion into the do-it-yourself (DIY) and small and medium enterprise (SME) sectors of the welding market, Afrox is steadily consolidating its Transarc® and Afrox Industrial® brands by adding new machines, consumables and distribution channels. African Fusion talks to Afrox´s Shaun Christian, and Patrick Kazadi.
Afrox Welding developed its current strategy about two years ago with a decision to broaden its high-end premium range and enter the DIY and light industrial market sectors. "The past two years have been a great success. Revenues across our welding brands are up and our new DIY sector sales have taken off," reports Christian.
Afrox has been known for its high-end premium product range for high integrity welding requirements at power stations, petrochemical plants and fabrication shops. "For this segment, we have the extensive Miller range of imported welding machines, along with a comprehensive consumables range, locally manufactured and imported," Christian continues, noting the success of the locally manufactured Vitemax electrode brand as "the best performing premium mild steel electrode on the market".
Market research by Afrox has revealed, however, that the DIY and small enterprise; and the medium enterprise and light industrial sectors of the welding market, combined, account for a significant portion of the welding market. "So it made perfect sense for us to enter these markets. Not as quick fix either. It is very easy to bring in 50 different machines and to sell them wherever you can. Instead, we are carefully looking at what makes the most sense, economically and with respect to the usefulness of each machine, and how to couple machines with the most suitable set of welding consumables," he says.
"In the DIY and small enterprise sectors, no one can justify spending R60 000 or more on a premium welding machine and not everyone can afford premium electrodes. So, with a view to supplying the strongest brands with the best possible quality and reliability, we are restructuring our Transarc product range as the best of the lower-cost solutions."
Christian suggests that small enterprises and DIY enthusiasts – or ´weekend warriors´ – need basic and less expensive equipment that is simple to set up, easy to use and reliable. "We have looked at these requirements and come up with some specific packaged solutions tailored to suit typical DIY tasks," he adds.
"All Afrox´s DIY and small enterprise solutions will be carried by the Transarc brand. Included in the range are: the Transarc MMA 140 and MMA 160 for shielded metal arc welding; the Transarc 180P PortaMIG, being sold along with a trolley, gas cylinder, the MIG gun and a flowmeter for around R9 000; and the Transarc TIG 160 and 200 packages. Also being introduced is a single phase plasma cutting machine, accessibly priced and simple to use, the Transarc Plasma Cut 40: "It will be able to cut steel up to about 10 mm thick, but is intended mostly for cutting lengths of palisade fencing, tube, angle iron, lip channels and beam sections. "All of the Transarc range work off single phase to allow them to be used in homes and small workshops," says Christian.
Along with each technology is an associated range of accessories; electrode holders, earth clamps, welding masks and gloves, etc; and consumables; MMA electrodes, MIG 3000 wire, on both 5,0 kg and 18 kg reels; and 5 kg packs of TIG welding rods.
The range was initially made available through Afrox´s Gas & Gear outlets across the country, but in the fourth quarter of 2012, Afrox secured a distribution agreement with Builders Warehouse to carry the full Transarc range. "There is a surprising amount of competition in this market," says Christian, "but even at the retail level, you have different quality levels. We are positioned at the upper end of the DIY market, so we are offering associated technical advice, via a toll free helpline, for any DIY or small enterprise customer. The helpline number is on every box, for anyone to call free and we have established a call centre, staffed with technically minded telesales people, specifically to deal with welding queries, Christian informs African Fusion. "We also intend to train Builders Warehouse´s staff and to arrange regular show days and welding demonstration sessions at the stores," he adds.
Also, to suit the demands of this market, Afrox is offering a one-year swap out guarantee for all machines in the Transarc range. "We are not making compromises on quality. We aim to be price relevant and competitive in each of the sectors we operate, but to do so, there will be a small price premium compared to similarly rated machines – and the quality is excellent," Christian claims.
In support of the small enterprise and DIY markets and, following extensive research and development, the Brits Welding Consumables Factory (WCF) team has developed a robust new consumable, the Transarc 6013 general purpose electrode. "This achieves a significant reduction in cost without compromising on the key performance fundamentals," says Patrick Kazadi, Afrox´s volume consumables product manager.
Research and development began in January 2012, and within six months, the factory´s technical department came up with a brand new product using a new formulation that conforms to AWS (American Welding Society) standards. "We identified a real need to remain competitive in our market and to gain a full understanding of current market dynamics, as well as to meet the needs of small local manufactures and fabricators who are under pressure to reduce costs. We felt that we needed to develop a good quality, low cost electrode and the factory team consequently consulted with the hard goods team to make this a reality," Kazadi adds.
The 6013 electrode project began with laboratory work where R&D was conducted into different version of the formulation using various raw materials. Sample electrodes were extruded and manufactured in the WCF laboratory on a smaller scale and then extensively tested to evaluate their chemical, mechanical and weldability characteristics, until the development team was satisfied with a particular batch.
"This product demonstrates very good weldability characteristics benchmarked against competitors in the similar price range. Its performance is at good levels and it conforms to all international standards. I have no doubt that this electrode will do well in the small enterprise and DIY markets for light fabrication and repair.&
"With the new Builders Warehouse distribution channel for all our Transarc products, we are expecting 2013 to be an excellent year," says Kazadi
The general industrial market and the medium enterprise sector are serviced, mostly, through Afrox´s Gas and Gear outlets and the Afrox Industrial® brand. "We have also added to this range to better meet the changing needs of local manufacturers," continues Christian. He cites the need for basic aluminium welding: "Aluminium welding has long been limited to the premium sector, but the increasing use of the material has led to demand for a TIG ac/dc machine, with high frequency (HF) start. This is a growing requirement from smaller jobbing shops and site contractors."
The Afrox Industrial TIG 185 ac/dc will fulfil this need in future: "It´s not a high-end machine for big industrial users such as the power station construction contractors. But it´s easy to use, cost effective and reliable," Christian assures African Fusion.
"Also, jobbing shops and training schools need multipurpose machines, so we have introduced the new 175 A, multiprocessor CC/CV MIG/TIG/stick machine to the Afrox industrial range. These are ideal for tacking, followed by light fabrication and are available through the Gas & Gear outlets."
"It is clear that, for us to reduce unemployment, create jobs and improve the economy, SMEs need to grow, and all of these developments are targeting support for entrepreneurs and the small and medium industry sectors," Christian points out.
"In addition, we have launched our VELOX campaign to give direct technical support to smaller businesses through our Afrox Gas & Gear outlets. Watch this space," he concludes.