An up-and-coming materials handling and engineering company that is currently enjoying very strong growth is eMalahleni-based African Commodity Handling (ACH), which specialises in providing products and services to a number of industries, most notably mining and power generation. ACH has an appetite for expansion and is keen to undertake entire materials handling projects on a turnkey basis and also to diversify geographically.

An empowered business, ACH was founded in 2013 and is run by a well-balanced management team. Growth since the early days of the company has been rapid and ACH now has over 300 employees (although this number constantly fluctuates as some contracts end and others begin).

ACH emerging as a new name in materials handling

ACH refurbishment project of a SCHADE circular reclaimer showing the five-crane simultaneous lift of the harrow.

Explaining the background to ACH, the management team members say it signed an exclusive agreement to represent German company SCHADE Lagertechnik (SCHADE) in Southern Africa. “SCHADE, which has a history going back well over a century, is part of the AUMUND Group, and has a global reputation as a supplier of materials handling equipment, including stackers, reclaimers and wagon tipplers,” they explain.

Since incorporation in 1879 SCHADE has grown to be a recognised leader in the field of bulk material stockyards and blending bed technology. As pioneers in the stacker/reclaimer market, SCHADE has a long and distinguished reputation for innovative engineering and superior quality. SCHADE expertise is best demonstrated by the outstanding service life of their stockyard and blending bed equipment operating worldwide under severe conditions.

SCHADE products include stockyards and blending beds of circular or longitudinal shape, stackers, tripper cars, bridge-type scraper reclaimers, portal and semi-portal scraper reclaimers, cantilever scraper reclaimers as well as wagon unloading systems.

“There is a big population of SCHADE machines in South Africa and some neighbouring states. These machines require repairs and maintenance, spare parts and sometimes refurbishment or upgrades for higher throughput, therefore we stay busy,” the team members say.

“Obviously, once the mining market turns up, we will also have an opportunity to supply new capital projects in mining. The market for heavy materials handling equipment is fiercely competitive but an advantage we have is that the SCHADE brand name is highly regarded in mining circles with SCHADE products having an extremely good reputation for being reliable and cost-effective.”

While the SCHADE line remains core to the ACH business, the company has diversified since founding into the maintenance and repair of mechanical equipment on the mines and at power stations. It has multiple crews that travel to site to undertake assignments and they are backed up by ACH’s workshop and fabrication facility – which has 55 full-time employees – located in the Highveld Industrial Park near eMalahleni.

“We were originally focused on maintaining SCHADE’s installed base of equipment but increasingly we found that there was scope to extend our services to all the materials handling installations and mechanical equipment typically found at the mines and power stations,” says the team. “The range of work we undertake is very broad and includes – just to give a few examples – repairs to draglines and conveyor structures and the replacement of slew rings. Basically, we can undertake anything structural or mechanical. Refurbishments are also part of our offering and we’ve just completed a large excavator shovel for a client.”

They add that assisting at power station shutdowns has also proved a fruitful field. “We currently have well over 200 people on site at one of the big thermal power stations working on a 100-day shutdown. This has now become an important part of the business.”

ACH is keen to execute entire materials handling projects – from design, through fabrication, machining, civils and earthworks, erection, to final commissioning. “We have all the necessary skills. We’ve worked on virtually every aspect of typical materials handling systems and there is no reason why we cannot put everything together and implement entire systems as the main contractor. We’ve just completed a study on a new stockpile conveyor system for one of the local mines and we are more than capable of delivering this on a turnkey basis should the mine go ahead with the project.”

ACH is also actively considering branching into the design and manufacture of its own equipment. “We obviously will not develop products that would compete with the SCHADE range but pretty much everything else is on the table.”

Looking to the future, the team members say they have a vision for ACH to become a leading African engineering and maintenance company in the commodity sector, operating not just in Africa but also globally. “This is an admittedly ambitious goal but we cannot see any reason why an African company cannot achieve it. We are very competitive and produce top-quality work and it is just a question of time before we expand from our roots in the Mpumalanga coalfields,” they conclude.

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