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Alfa Laval

A leader in heat transfer

Written by Ian Armitage & Produced by Tom Lloyd

Multinational engineering group Alfa Laval is a real giant in its fields. It is the world leader in heat transfer, centrifugal separation and fluid handling and was founded in Sweden by Gustav de Laval in 1883. It has had a presence in South Africa since 1920.
A leader in heat transfer
Multinational engineering group Alfa Laval is a real giant in its fields. It is the world leader in heat transfer, centrifugal separation and fluid handling and was founded in Sweden by Gustav de Laval in 1883. It has had a presence in South Africa since 1920. “South Africa was one of the first export markets and, in 1920, Alfa Laval Separator Company was founded in Durban by Algot Lindholm,” says current Managing Director, Rolf Ekholm.

“The main driver in those days was the milk separator which Gustav de Laval invented. A fun anecdote is that on many occasions Mr Lindholm gave farmers a separator in exchange for their cream. Since then, the company has expanded the range of applications in South Africa as well as its geographical presence with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Alfa Laval South Africa also has responsibility for the Sub Saharan countries.”

Today, Alfa Laval South Africa concentrates on three key technologies: separation, heat transfer and fluid handling, across the many industrial segments in which it operates. “These products are offered individually or combined into optimised solutions,” explains Ekholm, who joined the company in 1985, working for it in Venezuela, Peru, Indonesia and Korea, before arriving in South Africa in 2008. “The products and processes are sophisticated and, consequently, there is a demand for customer service. In Johannesburg, we have a modern workshop that offers a wide range of services, from secure supply of original spares, preventive maintenance, repairs, upgrades to field service at any location within the Sub Sahara region. It is within this field that we feel we are able to make an even bigger difference in the region by assisting known and unknown users to optimise their processes.”

The company’s mission statement is, in Ekholm’s words, to “optimise the performance of our customers’ processes” time and time again. “We deal in sophisticated quality products and different process industries, so a local priority is, of course, to have a highly competent team that is capable to understand and deal with our customers’ demands and needs,” he adds. “We focus a lot on training and, not least, specialised training in Europe.”

What sets Alfa Laval apar t from the competition - not that it needs to brag - is that it is the global market leader, has 127 years of experience, and it has a strong focus on R&D, ensuring it retains that position. “We are market leaders and always prefer to refrain from making any comparisons, but I would like to emphasisethe importance of R&D in which we spend 2.6 percent of total net sales and consequently we release between 35-40 new products yearly,” says Ekholm. “Local presence is also extremely important; we have 26 major production units in different parts of the world, 70 service centres and sales organisations in some 100 countries.”

2009 was a record year for Alfa Laval South Africa. However, during the latter part of the year, the recession hit the company and, as such, volumes have dropped. “The economic crisis arrived later in Africa and our particular type of industry was also hit later in the economic downturn,” says Ekholm. “We are therefore experiencing the worst effects at this point in time. The immediate short-term objective is to maintain the high level services that our customers demand and, thereafter, grow the sales volumes with double digits. There is certainly a need for improving efficiency in many industries in our region, not least within energy saving.”

Some of the company’s more famous African projects include a heat recovery project at a Uranium mine in Namibia, the supply of compact plate heat exchangers to an Acrylic Acid plant, partly owned by a South African Petrochemical company, and an environment-driven project that turned out to be very profitable.

“Alfa Laval plate heat exchangers were used at one South African Mine Explosive company to recover ammonia from the vent pipe, concentrated and absorbed by nitric acid to produce ammonium nitrate,” he explains, telling us more. “Alfa Laval is, unsurprisingly, seen as a company that supplies quality products,” Ekholm adds. “Our major clients work in the petrochemical, power, edible oil, beverages and steel industries within South East Africa.”

BMW recently chose Alfa Laval to help minimise paint shop waste, which was another impressive contract win. “In very short words, Alfa Laval deals in saving or recuperating resources and we have three major areas of focus: Energy, Environment and Food,” Ekholm says. “These are three areas that are in the limelight. For instance, in regards to energy, we help the industry with both production and savings and we minimise the environmental impact. As energy resources get scarcer and scarcer and prices get higher and higher (not least in South Africa) our solutions will increase in demand.

“The sub Saharan region is exciting for Alfa Laval,” he continues. “There is increased political stability and the growth in the continent, which will be substantial once the recession is part of history, is highly exciting. On top of that, we are dealing with industries that need or can make important efficiency improvements. We want and will be part of that, our technologies are key to most industries; the environmental requirements are in the limelight as never before.

“We are consequently confident that our growth in this region will be substantial in the years to come.”
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