“We are here, we are working and we are fighting along with everyone else to come out of this pandemic.” These are the reassuring words of Steve Richardson, Crabtree CEO. The company has, like many in the industry, returned to work during Stage 4 of the lockdown with stringent regulations in place. “We are currently in a cautious state,” he says.
“The company is still here to support the market, especially the construction industry, and as we are part of Siemens, we do not see a threat to the business, but it does depend on demand from the market. It is just a case of working our way through it and doing everything in our power to get the correct controls in place in our factories.”
Both the Johannesburg and Lesotho manufacturing facilities are up and running with a 30% staff complement as per the government guidelines. “Since Level 4, we have introduced new shift work and new working practices, including putting up physical barriers in factories and coming up with innovative ways to adhere to the regulations, and have probably been manufacturing at around 20% of our normal levels. We are, however, working on ways to increase the output.”
Richardson believes that the company will not be able to see the true level of demand for at least a month, but currently do have a number of large export orders into the European Union which are keeping the factories busy. “As a local manufacturer, however, we are up against imported products from China – whose suppliers are unfettered – yet we are sticking to the regulations set out by government and are able to meet the current demand".
During the first phase of lockdown, the company worked with a skeleton crew under essential services, providing sockets and switches for its OEM customer base who manufacture the bedheads for ICU and temporary hospitals. At the end of last year, Crabtree expanded its dedicated range of sockets and switches for hospitals and medical environments. Launched in 2016 in response to requests from customers who were performing installations at hospitals, Crabtree’s hospital products are available in two ranges, Classic (comprising over 50 products) and Diamond (comprising roughly 70 products).
“Our hospital range is expanding continually,” notes Henry Woodman, manager of new products at Crabtree. "Because the products are manufactured 100% in South Africa – from design and concept, through to the bending of steel and moulding of plastic – it is relatively easy for us to meet the demands of specifiers and installers, and we can adapt very quickly to market needs.” He says that while in Europe electrical products for hospitals require RoHS compliance and need to carry the CE Mark, this isn’t yet legislated in South Africa for wiring accessories.
“With Crabtree being part of Siemens, however, our products do attain these standards and we anticipate that medical installations, on the wiring side especially, might soon be required to meet these requirements.” Because the loss of power can be devastating in hospitals, the Crabtree ranges are colour coded according to SANS 164-4 and the new SANS 164 Part 2-1 to ensure essential equipment is plugged into the correct power supply and kept running when hospitals suffer power failures.
Richardson and the Crabtree management team are happy to be able to get back to the office and oversee the running of the company as it navigates this unchartered territory. “We are, like everyone else, taking it one step at a time,” he concludes.