Wednesday February 6 2008

R100m smeltery launched

At the opening of the new R100 million RHI refractories plant in the industrial hub of Isithebe were (from left) Dr Andreas Meier, Chief Executive officer of RHI AG in Austria; RHI Isithebe Director, Albert Render, and Fr Gerhard, of the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard,  who received a substantial donation for the organisation's care centre in Mandeni

Right: Two fusion lines produce high quality fused refractories raw materials at the RHI Isithebe plant near Mandeni on the KZN North Coast


DESPITE the cloud of gloom and anxiety hanging over South Africa in the wake of the country's power supply problems, investment in KwaZulu-Natal continues to roll on - as witnessed by the launch of a R100 million refractories smelting plant in the North Coast's industrial area of Isithebe.

Andreas Meier, chief executive officer of the Austrian group RHI Refractories (AG), a world market leader in refractories technology, cut the red ribbon to commission a plant recently.

The new plant has been just seven months in the making, and two arc furnaces will start production soon of high-quality fused refractories, which is the raw materials for high-temperature industrial processes.

The two lines will have an annual production capacity of 30 000 tons of product using several sources of raw material - including magnesite from Europe and China, chrome extracts locally from Samancor and small quantities of zircon mined in Richards Bay.

RHI Isithebe is strategically situated halfway between the ports of Durban and Richards Bay for Product export by containers and in bulk.

Its new facility is a long-anticipated expansion of a smaller RHI plant in Isithebe, which had downscaled because of the withdrawal of decentralisation benefits.

The company started slowly building up its business over the past 13 years into a viable operation and relocated its old plant to the new site, which will eventually provide about 100 permanent jobs.

The R100 million investment has involved a leap of faith, with the national power shortage something that hadn't been anticipated at the time of the company's expansion proposals.

Director Albert Render said RHI had been "very fortunate" to have suffered only two recent blackout events this year, going down for four hours at a time.

RHI has refractories supply installation and service contracts with various steel plants and other industries in the country.

It also works out of sales offices in Gauteng and runs operations in Saldanha, Vanderbijlpark, Witbank and Zimbabwe.

The company is now building another plant in Dashiqiao, China, which will increase total capacity significantly in 2008.

RHI Isithebe, which was originally destined for expansion in Richards Bay some years ago, is committed to involve itself heavily in social investment in the greater Isithebe/Mandeni area.

At the opening ceremony Meier presented an initial cheque of R220 000 to the Brotherhood of Blessed Gérard, a relief organisation of the Order of Malta.

The company acknowledged that Aids was "a tremendous problem" in southern Africa.

RHI has agreed to support the Blessed Gérard's Care Centre, which is "dedicated to the common good" and runs an Aids education programme, a hospice (up to five patients a day are dying from Aids in this facility in dignity) and a children's home for up to 40 orphans and sick children.

Within the next two years, RHI plans to sponsor the construction of new buildings for the public benefit organisation, as part of its corporate social responsibility.

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