Lightening the load
It is not very difficult to assess the impact that AFRIT has had on changing the way trailer manufacturing in South Africa is undertaken. With a current market share of approximately 25%, AFRIT remains a family business, as KERRY DIMMER describes, to continue its legacy with the generations of Van de Weterings to come.
It might be fair to say that a trailer is just a trailer, but unless you have a passion for steel, a grasp of the nuances of its DNA, a zeal for innovative design and flawless workmanship, then you dare not step up to compete against AFRIT.
An unprecedented growth over the past five years is proof that the usual mundane business practices don’t apply at AFRIT. Time-tested, honest values are the same today as they were 40 years ago when Arend and Gerrit van de Wetering started the business. AFRIT as we know it today has been built on solid foundations of family heritage, sound business principles and an uncompromising commitment to quality.
Since those early years, the trailer industry has changed out of all recognition and AFRIT has been responsible for many of the advances made in South Africa. In fact, they have been emulated time and again by competitors in search of a winning formula. AFRIT has several priorities that keep it top of the preferential list of trailer purchasers. One of those is its commitment to making trailers more efficient and lighter without compromising on the quality of production and the final product.
Leon van de Wetering, sales manager, confirms that the average 40 new designs that the company creates annually are borne out of synergistic relationships between their clients, suppliers and designers. “It is not enough to simply create to meet client specifications. We are driven to exceed expectations and we do that by keeping ourselves familiar with the latest technological advances in steel manufacture and manipulation. We have an intimate knowledge of the base products we use and how they react under variable conditions.
“State-of-the-art trailer manufacturing is best done by tailoring and refining processes. We are in a constant flux of innovation which is stimulating and dynamic.” This energy permeates the entire business operation of AFRIT, which is directed by precise planning and scheduling, as well as influencing the work culture of employees – that of self-regulation with attention to detail.
Employees are encouraged to take responsibility in the delivery of a quality product from the various assembly lines in operation. Each line is dedicated to the production of an individual product group, but has the flexibility to adapt to the manufacturing of whatever trailer type is most in demand at any particular time.
But supply and demand in a growing industry is what counts and having three days worth of stock in a buffer store means AFRIT’s turnaround is exceptional. Complementing this are five state-of-the-art spray booths that offer environmentally friendly, quality paint with a drying speed that allows for final fitment as soon as components exit the spray booths.
AFRIT also invested in its own, dedicated components division as part of the AFRIT group rather than outsourcing, with a small percentage of the components being supplied by external manufacturers. “This was an investment well worth its salt,” says Van de Wetering. “We now have world-class technology such as robot welders, laves and milling machines, press breaks and Computer Numeric Controlled (CNC) laser cutters. This not only allows for more effective control and minimising costs of components, but also offers further savings to our clients owing to increased productivity.”
Production levels are high within AFRIT and with the demand for trailers comes a high demand for after-sales service. Repairs, refurbishments and product support are also undertaken by AFRIT. Its fully-equipped on-call mobile maintenance and after-sales service teams ensure support throughout the country. The daily capacity of the dedicated repairs and refurbishments division is four trailers a day.
AFRIT has also addressed the needs of those operators who require used trailers. Given the tough economic climate, this is an area that Van de Wetering predicts will become more popular well into next year. “Our standards remain just as high in our used trailer division to ensure we can meet the budgets of the full complement of transporters.”
Van de Wetering confirms that although the economic crunch has an impact, there has been an overall positive outcome on AFRIT’s business. It has provided the company with an opportunity to grow its market share in the past 12 months. “This increase in sales and steady production is largely as a result of our ability to address and initiate rapid processes to minimise material waste and increase efficiency. Another factor is our differentiating philosophy that has been our foundation since day one, that of being able to deliver the lightest possible trailer with the highest legal payload to earn maximum income. Therefore, AFRIT has and always will offer the best value for money, irrespective of price increases and the economic climate.”
The policy to continually consider updating its manufacturing plant with the latest technology has also not stopped. “Modern machinery cuts back on time, reduces wastage and improves quality. It also puts AFRIT in a position to be versatile and this is exactly the strategy that we believe works in our favour,” reaffirms Van de Wetering.
It is this very versatility that was put to the test when AFRIT succeeded in meeting the tough deadline of supplying Transnet with 66 new, specialised container trailers that were required to improve the efficiency of the transport system within its Cape Town harbour facility. What makes this contract exceptionally notable is that meeting the deadline was only possible through sheer high-level planning and the dedication of AFRIT staff and suppliers – the order was placed in mid-April for delivery by mid-July.
AFRIT has been a recipient of a FOCUS on Excellence Award in the past and is hopeful, says Van de Wetering, with its latest nomination, that it will win again. “New customers, particularly, are impressed with this recognition which offers reassurance that AFRIT is a best-rated trailer manufacturer. Endorsement by FOCUS is highly regarded and merely being nominated is a remarkable achievement.”
AFRIT has shown, and continues to maintain, a steely state of grace and stability. It has always been admired for its client and solution-driven approach, as well as adapting easily to market trends and needs. Each AFRIT division is headed up by a Van de Wetering to ensure the time-honoured family traditions and essence of devotion will be sustained throughout the generations to come.