Hulamin project forges ahead

2009-02-05 00:00

JSE-listed aluminium semi-fabricator Hulamin is wrapping up its massive expansion project, having already spent about R300 million locally.

The R950 million project will increase the giant Pietermaritzburg manufacturer’s rolled products capacity by 20% to 250 000 tons per annum once it is officially completed in August this year.

More than R750 million has been spent on the project.

The five elements of the expansion relate to foil rolling, foil finishing, twin roll-casters, a plate plant expansion and upgrades of two existing rolling mills.

The project, spearheaded by expansion project manager Paul Lancaster, began more than two years ago.

The production of niche, high-margin products for the export market remains a key area of focus for Hulamin.

CEO Alan Fourie told The Witness that a major portion of the project is dedicated to increasing Hulamin’s “more demanding products” such as light-gauge foil, used primarily in the packaging industry.

Hulamin currently produces about 5 000 tons of light-gauge foil annually, primarily for the domestic market.

The expansion project will allow the company to increase production to 20 000 tons per annum, with capabilities of “rolling to thicknesses as light as six microns”.

“Producing foil to these very thin gauges is technically very demanding requiring sophisticated manufacturing plant and stringent process control systems.

“There are few foil rolling plants throughout the world that can produce six-micron foil and qualify to supply the leading company in the world, namely Tetra Pak,” Fourie said.

A major drive to export light-gauge products is under way, primarily focused on North America and Europe.

“It’s a product for which you will see increasing demand in developing regions,” Fourie added.

The new foil mills will become operational in August.

The director of foil and commercial products businesses at Hulamin, Moses Mkhize, is a key figure in this area of the business.

The project involving the twin-roll casters at Camps Drift, which provides a significant portion of the additional capacity, is already in a development phase.

Responding to talk of a slowdown in demand given the global credit crisis, Fourie believes that a long-term view should be taken when examining such issues.

“Clearly what one has to do in this current climate is to bring the project on stream in tandem with [the] market situation. I’m still pretty confident that on a two-to-three-year horizon, we should be where we said we would be.”

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