A good omen
Bucketing rain could not dampen the spirits of the Isuzu Truck South Africa team, as GAVIN MYERS joined them for the “launch” of the KANU Commercial Body Construction/Advanced Chassis Technologies (ACT) bodybuilding operation, now under the company’s leadership.
“African people say it’s a good omen when something important happens and it rains. This is our first week operating KANU/ACT and, after days of sunshine, all of a sudden it’s begun to rain,” Sipho Sandla, GM for KANU/ACT, says as we discuss Isuzu Trucks’s new venture during a momentary break in the bucketing rain.
The KANU/ACT facility is located a stone’s throw away from the Isuzu Trucks distribution facility in Port Elizabeth – a city where disorderly weather is nothing out of the ordinary … However, what you’ll find at the KANU/ACT facility is, indeed, quite out of the ordinary.
KANU/ACT’s history stretches back to 1963, with its engineering section (KANU, then Southern Star Engineering) opening in 1982. The company has been involved with General Motors since the 1980s and today has a level-four BB-BEE scorecard and is ISO 9001 accredited.
“Following a four-month transition phase, Isuzu Truck South Africa now owns 100 percent of the company,” explains Sandla, who has 23 years of manufacturing behind him, eight of which have been spent with General Motors and as plant manager at the Isuzu Trucks Port Elizabeth assembly plant.
While the take-over should give Isuzu Trucks a competitive advantage in the marketplace, COO, Craig Uren, explains that this is not necessarily the case: “The bodybuilding sector is not in a good place at the moment. Margins are small and sustainability is a tough task.
“Trucking is a collaborative business – you can’t do it in isolation – and the response to our business decision has been the opposite of what we expected … There have been lots of requests to collaborate, as well as requests for business that we don’t have the ability to fulfil. This has been passed on to other bodybuilders.”
The new facility will also not be exclusive to Isuzu. “KANU/ACT has the expertise to design and develop customised transport solutions for its customers, which other bodybuilders either can’t or don’t do. There is, therefore, a lot of diverse capability in the plant’s operations and any body for any vehicle can be made,” Uren says.
This product line-up includes designs for freight and logistics operations, construction and tippers, waste removal, vehicle recovery, water tankers, trailers, specialised units, firefighting units, farming units, truck tractor conversions, tag-axle conversions, cab conversions and special customer projects.
High-tech auto-CAD design systems and 3D modelling are employed to test stress tolerances and designs before manufacture.
This multi-talented operation also has the capacity to fit various accessories including: bull bars, air-conditioners, radios, auto-lube systems for construction machinery and safe stops. Pre-delivery inspection (PDI), weighbridge facilities, certificate of fitness assessments and fire certification can all be undertaken as well.
Currently KANU/ACT employs 70 people between the two operations and between 40 and 70 vehicles pass through the facility each month. Components are manufactured in the KANU workshop where the sheet metal is laser and plasma cut before being sent to the press to be “bent into shape”.
From there, assembly commences in the welding shop before finishing and painting take place. Five quality gates along the manufacturing process ensure each component is up to standard before it can proceed to the next phase.
Without ACT, KANU can’t really operate. The ACT division is essentially an extension of the Isuzu Trucks production line, specialising in prepping the vehicles before the bodies, manufactured by KANU, can be fitted.
Among ACT’s arsenal of engineering achievements are chassis extensions and reductions, modifications to crew cabs that allow them to tip (a requirement of certain municipalities), and Isuzu truck tractor up-fitment.
Once the modifications have been made and the vehicles built, they are re-homologated and tested. “Isuzu Truck South Africa is the first original equipment manufacturer to physically homologate and test each vehicle it sells,” Uren notes.
“This acquisition complements our growth strategy and we believe the acquisition of KANU/ACT will definitely enhance our current business structure. The move to acquire these entities will centralise the process of buying our trucks where everything will be processed from one central point of contact,” says Uren.
For Sandla, the work now begins to streamline the operation by implementing the kaizen manufacturing principles he put to such good effect at the truck plant. The saying “it never rains, but it pours” has never before had such an optimistic meaning.