An interview with John Tarboton


Thejohn tarbaton mechanical technology Southern Africa Stainless Steel Development Association (sassda), one of the most active stainless steel industry associations in the world, provides a platform for members to collectively promote the sustainable growth and development of the industry. “We exist to promote the local manufacture of finished products in stainless steel, to grow the conversion of primary product in South Africa and to grow market awareness and demand for finished stainless steel products,” says Tarboton.


Sassda’s transformation began when Tarboton attended an association summit and enrolled for an association leadership
course that was based on the book ‘What Remarkable Associations Do That Others Don’t’. This book was the result of research
by The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) which had completed a survey on a number of associations. “What
they had done was interesting: four years of research looking at nine matched pairs of associations – one remarkable and the
other good, but not great – to determine the differences,” he explains. Seven areas of difference associated with
remarkable associations were identified:

  1. Treating members as customers and avoiding complacency and arrogance that can become entrenched in longstanding
  2. The alignment of products and services with the association’s mission. “Associations often derive products and
    services they think members want instead f finding out what members actually need. In sassda’s case, we need to listen to
    all of our members to define sassda’s role in growing the stainless steel market.”
  3. Data-driven strategies: “The gathering of information, analysing data and giving proper feedback to members allows remarkable organisations to be adaptable and to quickly realign their strategies to changing circumstances.”
  4. Dialogue and engagement: “We are now routinely going out to our members to talk about opportunities
    and successes. The research found that 90% of emails are deleted before they are read. Face to face contact with members is
    essential to stay properly informed about the state of the industry.”
  5. The leader as a broker of ideas: “The management style of an association is inherently different from that of a business. Association leaders need to be less dictatorial and more creative and innovative. Their role is to generate enthusiasm for the association’s mission, to break down silos and to create a family atmosphere.”
  6. Organisational adaptability: Great organisations were found to be able to reposition to adapt to the changing environment. Alliance building: “Instead of concentrating exclusively on our own markets and challenges, we are now looking to see how we can work with the likes of the of Manufacturing Circle, dti, AFSA, the Corrosion Institute; SAIW. SAISC and the export councils so that, collectively, we can find innovative ways to advance all of our industries,” Tarboton tells MechTech.

Stalcor AdvertSpringing from this new approach, sassda is currently focused on promoting stainless steel in architecture and in the mining industry. “For architects, we go and give presentations about the use and advantages of stainless steel in buildings. We also present to all fourth year architecture students and we sponsor prizes for the best use of stainless steel in an architectural project,” he says, adding, “all over the world, we see architecture as the biggest area of stainless steel growth.” In addition, presentations have been developed for the mining project houses. “Mine and process design engineers have mining, chemical, mechanical and electrical competences, but they don’t necessarily know much about stainless steel. Some seem to think that stainless steel can’t be welded, for example, which is completely untrue.

“So, based on what the engineers have requested, we have initiated a programme of afternoon engagements with project houses to introduce the different grades of the material and their advantages. We focus on the austenitic, ferritic and duplex grades
of stainless steel, the differences between them in terms of corrosion and mechanical properties, and their potential uses.”
Also under development are followon seminars on corrosion and lifecycle costing of stainless steel as compared to its
alternatives. “This is a big challenge area for us, to shift a mine specifier’s mindset to consider using stainless steel for tanks, mining equipment and structures. By using longer lasting stainless steels instead of carbon steels, which has to be separately protected to extend its life, the replacement, operating and maintenance costs can be substantially reduced in the long term.
“It’s not only about longevity. The initial costs plus the protection, maintenance and equipment downtime costs also need to be
factored in. If a carbon steel tanks needs to be taken offline for three days for relining, for example, that is a real cost that can be
avoided if a stainless steel tank is used instead,” Tarboton points out.


While many projects across Africa are on hold right now, “this will not last forever”. “At some point the commodity cycle will turn around and prices and sales will improve,” Tarboton assures.

By analysing imports and exports of finished products through the international Harmonised System codes (HSCs) and applying typical factors to determine the amount of stainless steel associated with these products, sassda is looking for export ‘hot-spots’ of potential opportunities for its members. “We have 1 600 products that members make and we have fitted all of these to the HSCs to enable us to track growth areas.”

In collaboration with the dti, stainless steel is being represented in South African pavilions at export showcases across Africa and beyond. “This is a cost effective ways for our members to get exposure in African and overseas markets. We are going to Chile this year, looking for opportunities to export into the copper mines, for example,” he notes.

Future opportunities? “Should the nuclear new-build come to fruition, we are looking to establish a nuclear cluster to localise ancillary plant equipment and components such as walkways, pipe and cable racks, piping and valves. We need to work with the dti and help develop our industrial capacity to ensure that the target of at least 50% local content is achieved,” Tarboton says.

As well as architectural uses for facias on public building such as hotels and supermarkets, the steel construction industry is expected to increasingly adopt stainless steel going forward “The US is now specifying 100-year life for its new bridges, and stainless steel rebar is going to be required to achieve this. The US is looking at duplex grades for this, but the Japanese prefer the 12% chromium martensitic grade (410) and we have done extensive research in South Africa on 3CR12, which is ideal for this application,” he says.

South African strengths include tank containers, in which the likes of Welfit Oddy already excel; and the catalytic convertor industry, which is hoping for growth based on the new APDP programme. Automotive applications account for 28% of local consumption.

Future potential is offered by food and agro-processing applications, hydrogen fuel cells and the increased use of stainless steel for roofing.

“Our fabricators are successful because they offer something extra: high quality, customised solutions or specific technology that is locally developed and owned. They also have close relationships with their markets, such as those in the mining industry. We are not only selling on price, and we will continue to be successful if we adopt these attitudes,” Tarboton concludes.

First appeared in Mechanical Technology in January 2016

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