Hitachi Construction Machinery Africa has invested heavily in technology to provide a more streamlined, intelligence-driven offering to its industry customers.
MACHINE MAINTENANCE MADE SMART
It’s no secret that industry in South Africa has faced slowdowns in recent years.
Reduced output across sectors has resulted in lower government spend on infrastructure, which in turn has led to challenges in the country’s construction sector, a damaging cycle which is only just starting to show signs of reversing.
One particularly worrisome trend for machine manufacturers such as Hitachi has been the tendency to use non-OEM parts and push equipment beyond its expected lifespan in a bid to trim overheads.
However, challenges are almost always accompanied by opportunities, and for Hitachi Construction Machinery Africa (HCAF), the current situation presents an opportunity to excel at after-sales and support services.
“Even though there is an economic slowdown and loss in local buying power, there are strategic businesses that need to sustain key industries for maintaining the country’s key infrastructure and income from exports such as coal, power generation, and agricultural products,” explains Philip Smith, the company’s Parts General Manager.
“This is forcing the customers involved to either extend the life of capital equipment, rebuild, repair or do extensive maintenance to ensure they can keep up with the required demand to keep these key industries running.”
Having the agility to serve these ever-changing needs is essential for navigating this challenging environment.
Indeed, customers are now looking to OEMs for solutions to help reduce operational costs and increase efficiencies, inspiring technological innovation for the integration of data analysis, the internet of things, and ICT into day-to-day industrial operations.
And this is exactly what HCAF has been doing.
HCAF has served customers across a multitude of industries – including mining, construction, quarry and forestry – with reliable, high-quality machinery and after-sales support solutions for several decades.
The company supplies an extensive range of products, parts and services to clients across the region, establishing a solid reputation for technological capability and excellent customer service, which has seen it become a reliable partner to many businesses.
HCAF also recognises that each of these businesses carries different requirements, working closely with dealers in every country it operates in to supply the full range of products and services in bespoke packages.
INVESTING IN INNOVATION
Investment in innovation is key to an OEM’s ability to adapt to changing customer needs, improve safety and efficiency, and reduce environmental load.
For Hitachi, this latest wave of technological advancement is the culmination of decades of innovation and heightening demand.
“Throughout all of the industrial phases up to the present time, the impact of technological advancements in the field has been a consideration in terms of their effects on human settlements – by noise and dust pollution, for example – and, of course, with regard to safety,” explains Marius Weber, Sales and Marketing General Manager at HCAF.
“This has prompted yet another level of demand, whose challenges have been met in the digital age with greater levels of innovation in shorter timespans than were seen throughout the combined preceding decades of industrial advancement.
“Modern excavation equipment, for example, uses enhanced hydraulic system designs, with advanced electronic controls on hydraulic pumps, improving response and economic control of the pump for greater efficiency and system operation. It also means lower fuel consumption and operating costs.”
Sustainability has also entered the conversation more prominently in recent decades, with OEMs increasingly looking to combine technological solutions and environmentally friendly practices, making their machines run as efficiently as possible.
Hitachi’s telemetry system, ConSite, is a perfect example of this.
A solution that monitors machines’ operational status, it sends periodical reports and real-time emergency alarms to both customers and the OEM itself. Such updates can be received anytime via email or a smart device application, providing clients’ service teams with an easy-to-understand dashboard of their equipment’s performance.
Johan Erasmus, HCAF’s Product and Dealer Support General Manager, elaborates: “Key features include detailed analysis from the onboard data – as an example, engine idle time can have an adverse effect on engine life as excessive idling can result in fuel dilution of the engine oil.
“The ConSite report will indicate the amount of time spent idling and enable the customer to address this and assist in prolonging engine life. Idling time could also be an indicator of inefficient operational practices which lead to increased production costs.”
ConSite has also recently been expanded to serve the oil sector, offering an industry-first onboard oil quality monitoring system. It uses highly specialised sensors to monitor parameters such as viscosity and water or fuel contamination, alerting the customer when oil degrades.
“The abilities of ConSite differentiates Hitachi from its competitors, and truly puts the customers’ interests first which ultimately enables us to live up to our slogan of “Reliable Solutions”,” adds Erasmus.
“Customers – especially those who run remote sites – have received the ConSite system with high praise. ConSite has enabled customers to reduce operational costs and downtime, and extend machine life, all of which are crucial factors in an already challenging industry.”
ConSite is part of Hitachi’s wider Solution Linkage interoperable platform, designed to help customers integrate new vendors into their existing infrastructures. This helps to simplify the connectivity between systems, to eliminate operational silos and enable end-to-end visibility and control across the value chain.
Another customer-driven development, and one which also helps to optimise repair and maintenance processes, is HCAF’s investment in the expansion of its spare parts inventory – today the firm and its three group companies (South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique) hold stock worth R1.3 billion ($88 million).
A FUTURE POWERED BY PEOPLE
This customer-focused ethos is further reflected in HCAF’s approach to recruitment: employees are recognised for the critical role they play in growing the company’s footprint and brand credence in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Enter Marco du Randt, HCAF’s Human Resources Manager for the past five years and a vital conduit between staff and management.
Responsible for developing and presenting an industry-leading value package to all employees, his role is critical in ensuring that HCAF attracts high-calibre individuals with the skills and mindset required to propel the business forward.
“We prefer to employ dynamic individuals who have a passion for growing the African footprint and who are willing to take on challenges without fear of failure,” says du Randt.
“We attract, maintain and develop young, talented individuals through various recruitment techniques. Our recruitment values include hiring the right candidates in the right positions globally, through intercompany transfer policies, and offering these individuals highly competitive remuneration packages. If we care for our employees, they will care for our customers and go the extra mile.”
Such care also involves promotion from within and developing pathways up the company, a process du Randt identifies as paramount to the futureproofing of HCAF.
He continues: “We develop a pipeline and grow future leaders through various intern and learnership programmes, as well as focusing on skills transfer from our highly experienced expatriates to develop and grow future leaders.
“We use and leverage our current capabilities by ensuring we create a culture of learning and sharing – thus we are always developing future leaders and building their capabilities for sustainable growth.”
While identifying and nurturing the talent required to lead the business will ensure its own longevity, the primary motivation remains the customer, a message which du Randt reiterates as the conversation draws to a close.
He concludes: “Our main priority is to consider our customer’s interest first. Once we establish and reconfirm this, we start tailoring solutions around their ever-changing requirements.”