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Home » Dalucon reaches 30-year mark in servicing the industry

Dalucon reaches 30-year mark in servicing the industry

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By Benjamin Brits

From humble beginnings in 1991, and beating the odds stacked against founder Aldo Martinelli, this family business has transformed into one of South Africa’s leading thermal insulation panelling and product suppliers.

Dalucon Refrigeration Products (DRP) was born out of a single garage that wasn’t being used at the back of a factory in the North of Pretoria. As demand for their product grew, an additional double garage was added to the production space. About three years after establishment, an opportunity arose to take over the entire factory space that included a warehouse and detached offices, that was taken up. The focus at the time of starting DRP was on undercounter fridges for bars and nightclubs, and later ice machines were added.

Photos by ©Dalucon Refrigeration Products

The business was run from that location for around four years before moving their operations to Silvertondale in the East of Pretoria. Here the business continued for about three years before moving to an industrial area in Centurion (which is positioned roughly midway between Pretoria and Johannesburg), and only a stone’s throw away from where the current premises stands today. Over time, DRP purchased the adjacent stand and second factory, not thinking they would ever again run out of space, already being surprised at the growth achieved over the 20-year period up to then.

The current production area between the two stands is roughly 21 000m2 and the products now offered have also been developed into new categories, namely:

  • Cold and freezer rooms
  • Insulated panelling
  • Insulated roofing panels
  • Insulated truck bodies
  • Insulated doors
  • Telecommunications shelters
  • Clean rooms
  • Mortuary equipment
  • Specialised products

“Initially, the business focus changed because making undercounter fridges became too time-consuming. You need special production lines and a whole lot of different components. A decision was taken to streamline by rather concentrating on the insulated panel itself. As the heart of the business, the panels are so versatile and can be used in many different spheres. Especially now with the Covid pandemic, there is a realisation that insulated panels can be used for clean rooms, highly infectious areas, and isolation in contaminated areas. We have moved around from cold rooms and freezer rooms, to trucks, to mortuaries, to humidifying rooms, clean rooms, and high-density areas in food processing and packaging – so as you can see the opportunities for insulated panels is very wide, and growing,” says Marco Martinelli, managing director of Dalucon.

Photos by ©Dalucon Refrigeration Products

DRPs expanding product range today stemmed primarily through a combination of organic growth – being able to offer extended solutions to their clients, and the company’s good track record in terms of quality. Martinelli notes that a client will always need something to add to their facility that can be constructed from insulated panels. This ranges from cold and freezer rooms to service and packing areas, or even change rooms and disinfection booths.

“What we’ve learnt over time is that because of this product’s versatility, we can offer it to our clients as a perfect solution for most additions they need, and therefore propose it where suitable. Other than traditional uses this product is associated with, we’ve started using it in other applications such as toilets and showers. Versatility is not the only benefit – it’s very quick to work with, and you’re cutting down on brickwork and ‘fixed structures’. A recent independent report shows that comparatively you save up to 50% of the time of traditional brickwork that requires curing, screed or plastering time, and treatment or painting time. All of these are not required with panel structures – all you really need to work with is a flat surface. Further, panelling allows you to incorporate electrical conduits and pipework within the product, where chasing for example could delay you by another week,” Martinelli adds.

Manufacturing locally

It is no secret that in many aspects, re-investment and refurbishment, particularly in medical facilities, has been neglected over many years and the Covid pandemic has compounded the situation, catching both the public and private sector off guard. For local manufacturers, this has provided many opportunities to fill the gaps that have been created.

Local content also offers the ability to fast-track projects. When considering something like mortuary cabinets – to make this locally takes around three weeks, whereas the import route may take more than three months, and with the disruption in global supply chains, this may be even longer.

“Unfortunately, and even given its critical value, our country over time has moved away from local manufacturing. We used to produce almost everything here, but slowly, this benefit to the economy has shifted towards imports. When you go to any airport, you see all these massive warehouses – these are essentially getting erected to handle all the imported goods coming into the country. Local manufacturing has become ‘a dying trade’ in this country. Nothing has been invested to promote the sector – there are too few tradespeople, there are hardly any apprentices, and skills development is in disarray because this is perceived to take up too much time and money. Labour is another major factor that has become a contentious issue in the country for businesses generally,” stresses Martinelli.

Photos by ©Dalucon Refrigeration Products

DRP, given the various challenges in local manufacturing still employs over 100 people and were fortunate to grow their business through the severity of the pandemic period compared to 2019 where the company had to move their machinery and conducted revamp work at their factory that included substantial civils, building and electrical supply changes. This resulting in rather choosing to turn work away than take on projects they knew they could not handle.

Moving equipment and machinery around, as you may know, is not a small task. Moving 30 tons is a process that takes many days and the move involved 3 machines. Breaking down a unit, moving it and then re-assembly and calibration was required prior to moving onto the next machine and so on. The factory changes also included the installation of a new fourth machine that took a year to arrive from Italy.

A further challenge for local manufacturers to negotiate is of course the power supply issues in the country that have been persisting for many years – this is probably the biggest threat for the sector overall because more local manufacturing is not actually possible under this condition. Generators are an option, but realistically not a solution as they are much more costly to run, and this leads to costs that have to be transferred.

“Additionally, local manufacturers find themselves always having to prepare for the worst-case scenarios because things do go wrong and ‘crisis management’ may be required. Miscommunication, broken telephone scenarios or even reading a drawing wrong are realities we have experienced over our time and this does happen when working with people. Fortunately, in this regard, local manufacturing, and with our personal involvement being at the factory, we have always found a quick resolution. Yes, it may mean an extra few days to deliver, but a quality product will always maintain your reputation,” says Martinelli.

Although it is difficult to compete in an arena where other companies have the upper hand in years of experience, where some international players have over 80 years under the belt, the product DRP produces is said to be competitive to what European and American companies manufacture through the investment in the same types of equipment deployed at those international facilities.

Mentionable milestones

Above the obvious achievements of purchasing and expanding their factories over the years, DRP announced this year, in celebrating their 30th anniversary, that they have brought to market the country’s only machine that can produce the longest panel section without any joints at 16.5 meters. What this essentially offers is a vertical-standing panel of this length.

From the mere handful of panels produced when the business was founded, DRP today can produce over 38 000m² of panelling a month if required. Which is another notable achievement.

“Milestones for us over the years would naturally include an accumulation of small things but particularly thinking back, I would have to say our first major milestone was buying our first production machine. Our most recent milestone being that we are the first company in this field in the last 30 years to make such significant investment in our new machinery. Being a family-owned business, we also don’t need any external approvals. If it is within our means, the investment is financially viable, and we foresee longevity we pull the trigger and implement these sorts of additions within a matter of weeks rather than months of discussions and red tape. Our continual re-investment from our first machine to most recent is what we consider achieving something,” Martinelli adds.

DRP’s strategy has allowed exponential growth and through their continual investment placed them in a position to bring pricing down in working by volumes. This is something that not many companies can compete with locally. Additionally, with imported goods options there is the ever-fluctuating exchange rate to contend with that they continually are able to bypass.

Future plans

Photos by ©Dalucon Refrigeration Products

DRP’s future will include review and consolidation of their current form in terms of their equipment where they will continue to invest and maintain to produce optimal efficiency in their production. They plan to further invest in new machinery to cut down on production time.

“We would also like to really expand more into the African countries, however with Covid these plans have had to be stalled somewhat because of the very restrictive nature in place. We have done work in Zambia and are eyeing Kenya, and we have further dabbled in Nigeria. Ideally, our short-term plans would include opening a branch or office in Kenya as the next logical step as we would be able to serve the surrounding regions that are experiencing large growth,” Martinelli notes.

Further down the path of the business, thoughts lean towards possibly listing on the stock exchange for the purpose of expanding and becoming a truly African company, rather than a South African company.

Long term, another industry that is appealing to DRP is the aerospace sector. “The beauty of what we do is that there is always something new cropping up, from products like customisable mobile medical units to space travel and cryogenic storage where our products can be advanced and used. The South African speciality is innovation, and we don’t allow ourselves to be boxed in no matter what challenges are thrown our way. We never give up. With our proud Italian family heritage and flair, coupled to the South African approach to problem solving, we will continue to produce products that stand the test of time,” concludes Martinelli.

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