Corobrik steps on the gas with multi-billion rand investment

Corobrik steps on the gas with multi-billion rand investment

An architect’s impression of Corobrik’s new R880 million Driefontein factory, which is due to be commissioned in 2020.

South African brickmaker, Corobrik, has embarked on a multi-billion rand investment roll out to grow its business and develop new markets over the next five to six years.

Corobrik chief executive, Dirk Meyer, says the lion’s share of the initial R1-billion allocated during 2017/8 would go towards a R800 million factory that will be built alongside its existing Driefontein factory in Gauteng. The new factory is due to be commissioned in 2020.

“This is the largest project of its kind underway worldwide at present and will deliver a face brick factory that is the biggest and most environmentally friendly in Africa,” says Meyer.

He says this is likely to be followed by another mega factory on the East Rand, and expansion in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape within the next five to six years.

Corobrik currently operates 13 clay brick factories and 14 kilns countrywide which produce a mix of plaster and face bricks for the residential and commercial markets. It also has two concrete operations in Durban which supply concrete paving and retaining walls.

The company converted a further two kilns to clean natural gas in 2011 and was the first South African company to sell carbon credits. It produces a billion bricks a year and sells about four million bricks a working day.

Meyer says the new Driefontein facility will produce around 100 million bricks a year – double that of the existing facility there – and use only a third of the energy currently used by its predecessor where the 30-year-old kilns are outdated and not fuel efficient. The new, sophisticated kilns will be fully automated, and the new operation will produce zero waste.

Once the new facility is fully operational, the obsolete older facility will be shut down and demolished.

Meyer says state of the state-of-the-art technology will be supplied and commissioned by German supplier, Keller, which has been in the industry for over 100 years.

The design phase of the project began two years ago. Last year, the company completed an intricate audit process to investigate three different manufacturing processes. This culminated in the signing of the agreement with Keller in January this year.

“Although the equipment itself will be manufactured offshore, it will be installed using local expertise and labour,” says Meyer.

“Corobrik is constantly working closely with architects and the construction industry to ensure bricks remained fashionable and relevant. The new Driefontein factory will enable the company to produce more of its tried and tested products and to introduce new high-quality face bricks in different sizes, formats and colours.”

Meyer says the new Driefontein facility will follow in the footsteps of the Rietvlei facility which Corobrik developed into its first mega factory. This clearly showed the advantages of using the latest technology to produce a high-quality product.

“We believe it will lower the cost of manufacture while significantly improving the quality of our product. This will improve efficiencies and grow existing markets and will allow us to develop new products and income streams on the back of projected economic recovery in the country. This fits perfectly with our objective of growing the company organically,” he says.

In January Corobrik commissioned a R65m upgrade to its Rietvlei factory. This upgrade included the purchase of a blending dehacker which automatically blends bricks off the line and packages them in a convenient format. The first person to touch these bricks is now the bricklayer on site.

Meyer says similar technology will be incorporated into the Driefontein development.

Corobrik’s investment in its existing facilities during 2017/18 also includes R65m at various factories around Mpumalanga and Gauteng.

Refurbishment of the special extruder and cutter at Fisantekraal in the Western Cape means that the factory can now produce Corobrik’s full range of special shapes.

Meyer emphasises that although the new equipment is highly automated, this will not lead to job losses. Instead, employees now have opportunities to increase their technical know- how.

The upcoming investment will also contribute towards transformation in the sector with a staff trust holding 26% of Corobrik’s share capital since 2008. Together with other private shareholders more than 40% of the business is with black investors.

“Substantially growing the company’s turnover and profits will ultimately benefit all employees,” says Meyer.