Vessel Fab

In March 1994, amidst South Africa’s shifting economic and political landscape, Frans Kloppers and Errol Benvenuti started Vessel Fab with a staff complement of just three people and a working capital of R75 000. They hired part of a workshop in Lee Glen (in Florida, Gauteng) and set to work on the first order for a Cyclone in stainless steel type 316L for Kemplant. Today, 21 years later, the company employs about 40 people and have completed work for major clients such as Arcelor Mittal, Euchem, Anglo Gold, Mass and Heat Transfer and many more.

From humble beginnings

“After 24 years of working as a boilermaker for a boss, I realised my career was at a dead end,” says Frans. “This was my main motivation to start my own company – when I saw a gap in the market that could lead to a better future, I took it.” And that chance sure worked out well. As of June this year, the company will be running from its new premises in Fransen Street in Krugersdorp, where the facilities include overhead cranes (from 10t to 100t) and an under roof floor area of 3 700m2.How does such success happen? With hard work, time and expertise, of course. “In the beginning it was difficult to finance our work without a credit worthiness record, which resulted in slow growth as most of the projects we weredoing were not very capital intensive,” recalls Frans. The expertise certainly was not lacking as the founders of Vessel Fab brought a considerable amount of knowledge with them. Materials of all kinds were no mystery to Frans and Errol (who retired four year ago), varying from the lower end such as 304L, to more exotic materials like 904L, Hasteloy and titanium. Products made to American codes, such as pressure vessels and heat exchangers, were an everyday occurrence in the early days and as better cranes became available, the fabrications we could do became larger and heavier too.”As a result of all this hard work, Frans and his team have proved what Vessel Fab are known for: the strength and versatility to produce a broad spectrum of products to a very high standard. It’s a one-stop shop for clients’ fabrication needs, including vessel design drawing. AIA inspection can also be included. The products Vessel Fab produce these days include anything from pressurised equipment for the petrochemical industry, to tanks, pipework, ducting and anything in between. Welding is also a vital part of the business of fabrication and so a variety of welding procedures in an assortment of materials is available.Vessel Fab is a member of Sassda and Neasa, offers apprentice training and other on-the-job training to improve in-house skills and is a level 4 B-BBEE contributor. The company’s 250kW generator ensures that production is not lost during load shedding.Vessel Fab will also be applying for certification to ISO 3834 under the guidance of Quality Manager Keith Clarke, a mechanical engineer with a National Higher Diploma in Total Quality Management. “Keith has been in the industry for longer than he can remember and has successfully obtained and maintained ISO 9001 and ISO 3834 certificates in the past for other companies he has worked for, so we’re quite excited about this development,” says Frans.

Big tanks, big success

Of the major projects Vessel Fab routinely completes for major players in the South African industry, the eight large tanks completed for Anglo Platinum’s Rustenburg Base Metals Refinery stands out. It was a big undertaking and not just because of the size of the tanks, which also brought a whole lot of additional challenges. Vessel Fab trumped all challenges in each corner. The eight tanks, which were 7,5m in diameter and 13m high, formed part of the Tank House debottle necking Project that was given to Consulmet to manage and so Vessel Fab reported to them throughout the project. Altogether, the project took 14 months to complete and Vessel Fab called on various players to make things a success.

“To begin with, we subcontracted the design and drawings to Nicro, a mechanical engineering company. The tanks were designed to API Standard 650: Welded Steel Tanks For Oil Storage,” ays Frans. The tanks were then made using SA 240 316L plate in 8mm thickness.

Because of the sheer size of the tanks, they were made in three sections for on-site erection and some of the work had
to be done in Vessel Fab’s yard as well as the workshop. Vessel Fab also purchased a 25t mobile crane for the yard work. Three types of welding were used during the fabrication itself, giving Vessel Fab a chance to show off their expertise in this field: Gas Tungsten Arc Weling (GTAW), Shield Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) and Flux Core Arc Welding (FCAW). Because of the size of the tanks and the variance of techniques, precautions needed to be taken when working outside in the yard to protect the gas-shielded methods of welding – wind was a problem – and the consumables used for the FCAW were supplied by Bohler and provided good results.

“Additionally, the conditions of the Standard API 650 meant that a certain amount of radiography had to be performed on the welding,” says Frans. “This work was done by SGS Sentinel and the standard of welding was found to comply with the required quality.” Further quality testing that was required on the welding work including a 100% Dye Penetrant Examination, which was completed by a Vessel Fab operator, who is qualified to SNT-TC-1A Level II. They used a vacuum box leak test on the tank floor welds, which showed no signs of leaks and a water fill test would then be done on site once the tanks had been assembled. Anglo Platinum also appointed Quality Services to oversee all these quality aspects, which were done to a detailed quality control plan both at the shop and on site.

The transport of the tanks to the site presented the biggest hurdle – the loads were classified as abnormal and so the traffic department escorted the trucks during the transport of the tanks and the Post Office were involved, as the phone lines had to be lifted en route in order to provide space for the tanks. To try to reduce costs, three sections were used on two trucks for the delivery. To accommodate the size of the loads, a special frame was constructed and fitted to the truck that would support a wide tank on a relatively narrow truck bed.

Dominicus Transport was responsible for surveying the route used, as well as transporting the tanks themselves. “The overhead traffic lights in Krugersdorp had to be modified to be able to swing out of the way when a truck carrying the tanks came past,” recalls Frans. “I can also imagine that the trucks caused motorists a certain degree of anxiety when they were confronted by the convoy on the narrow roads through Magaliesberg.”

Once on site at the Anglo Platinum mine in Rustenburg, a sub-contractor to Vessel Fab erected the tanks. “The first few tanks were assembled off the foundation in a rather confined space; this was due to the fact that civil work was still in progress at the site,” says Frans.

“Once the foundations were finished, the tanks were assembled in position, the sections were taken off the trucks and placed immediately in position for fit up and welding.”

Frans and his team are proud of the work they did for this project, not only because of the high standard of the finished product that was maintained, but also because the delivery date was met despite industrial action that took place countrywide during this period, which affected many aspects of production across industry in South Africa. The mining industry experienced major labour unrest at the time of this undertaking and so the delivery of the tanks had to planned quite precisely in order to ensure the tanks could get on to the site safely.

Many happy customers

This is not the only big project Vessel Fab has taken on and completed with success and there are many more in the pipeline. The eight large tanks were not the first project completed for Anglo Platinum – a scrubber, heat exchangers, tanks and ducting were supplied to the Sodium Plant at the same site in Rustenburg.

Pressure vessels, heat exchangers and ducting were also previously supplied for Anglo Platinum’s Nickel Plant.

This certainly proves that their work guarantees satisfaction and many clients return time and time again for bigger and better projects. This is a good thing, because Frans and his team just love what they do. SS


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