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Company Reports - Buckman Laboratories  

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Buckman Laboratories

Chemical Reactions

Written by Ellie Duncan & Produced by Francesca Birkenhead

Buckman Africa, which operates out of Hammarsdale (about 40km west of Durban), South Africa, is part of U.S.- based Bulab Holdings Inc and is a speciality chemical supplier. The South African arm of the business began life in 1971 and has since become a force to be reckoned with in the chemicals sector.
Chemical Reactions
Buckman Africa, which operates out of Hammarsdale (about 40km west of Durban), South Africa, is part of U.S.- based Bulab Holdings Inc and is a speciality chemical supplier. The South African arm of the business began life in 1971 and has since become a force to be reckoned with in the chemicals sector.

It supplies over 200 speciality chemical products to a range of markets, including the pulp and paper, water treatment, and leather industries. Managing Director, Africa and Asia, Leigh Mann, says that the late Dr. Stanley J. Buckman was the brains behind Buckman International, having founded the company in 1945 in Memphis, Tennessee.

“He believed that basic research, combined with knowledge of industrial processes and technology, could produce innovative chemicals to solve industry problems,” Mann explains. That methodology applies to the company today.

Its products are not only designed to improve process and operations, but also enhance final product quality, extend equipment life and make its customers more profitable.

The focus of the business also lies elsewhere: “We focus on being a sustainable, trusted and ethical organisation that is delivering sustainable solutions to our customers to meet their challenges and make them more profitable through our comprehensive, value-added offer and a Total Cost of Ownership approach to doing business.”

Mann explains how its ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ approach benefits Buckman. “We practice a customer intimate approach, so we get to know our customers’ businesses very well through a series of processes. This enables us to consider a wide range of options that ensures we are able to provide the best solution at all times,” he goes on to say.

SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Sustainability is undoubtedly one of the company’s biggest commitments, and also a key aspect of its appeal to customers. Junai Maharaj, General Manager Operations, reveals that it has a three-pronged approach to the issue of sustainability. “One is the financial stability of the company,” he explains, “making sure that we are strong enough to negotiate with our suppliers and be a key customer to them and also be a reliable sustainable business that is able to endure economic challenges and be able to serve our customers in the long run.

“The other is environmental sustainability which means continuously reducing the carbon footprint and waste generated through our operations – solids, liquids and air. We also focus on educating and creating awareness of environmentally responsible practices that reduce the amount of natural resources we are using. Finally, corporate social responsibility where we focus on three areas – education with emphasis on youth, health and human services and environmental protection.”

As part of its dedication to this cause, Buckman Africa is progressing with plans for a new effluent plant at its Hammarsdale, South Africa facility. The project is groundbreaking, and also costly at just over $1 million. Its use of technology imported from Italy will essentially make Buckman a zero discharge company in South Africa. Maharaj explains that approximately 96 percent of the wastewater generated from operations will be recovered and reused in the new plant, while 4 percent will be incinerated thus ensuring an optimum environmental solution. If all goes well, that should be commissioned by the end of September this year.

“We are very excited about that and I believe this will be a model for most of the other chemical companies, not just in South Africa, but around the world,” Maharaj adds, with obvious relish at the prospect of the project’s success. “We are the first people in South Africa to attain this technology.”

He reckons that if Buckman Africa can prove the plant’s success, then the opportunity is open for other manufacturers to adopt the same. After all, the operations are fairly unique, with a wide range of different products and chemistries involved.

CUSTOMER COMES FIRST
Buckman’s South African facilities are also a unique prospect in the industry. “We have our own manufacturing facilities here, which is a key differentiator,” says Mann. “Not all chemical companies have that; they rely on supplies from elsewhere.” This means that the company is better equipped to respond to customers’ changing requirements at short notice.

People are also key to this customer-oriented service. “Our people are our greatest asset and people costs at Buckman form a significant portion of our cost base. We strive to create a culture of learning at Buckman,” he explains. With that in mind, technical training, organisational development training and innovation training are all provided by the company. Consequently, staff retention remains high. It has access to a pool of talent thanks to the social economic development projects that seemingly form a vital part of Buckman’s sustainability strategy.

A focus on education enables the company to offer bursaries, particularly in the area of science and engineering. Once the students have completed their studies, they are often taken on by Buckman through learnerships or internships. From there on, they can be given permanent employment, dependant on performance.

“As a customer focused organisation, we have structured our supply chain department to manage the value chain from sourcing and procuring raw materials to ensuring we deliver our quality products to customers on time,” says Maharaj of the company’s supply chain function.

He admits that importing raw materials can be a complex process, so it has a team in place dedicated to planning, using a range of tools and processes.

“This team works closely with each other, our suppliers and production department to hold adequate inventory to ensure no disruption to our customers’ operations, through the use of complex planning and forecasting modules and close liaison with our sales force.”

Looking ahead to the future, Mann has a clear idea what’s next for Buckman in South Africa. “I think to continue with our profitable growth plans and diversify the industries that we serve; add on products through a combination of our internal R&D developed products, but also through supply alliances with other technology companies globally,” he says, outlining his vision. “We will continue to focus on our target market and we see potential in the mining industry in Africa.

“The most important thing is that we focus on long-term relationships with our customers working closely with them, solving problems and supplying value added solutions to them.”
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