Hit hard by the lockdown, Formatube started manufacturing stainless steel hand sanitisers.
Hit hard by the lockdown, Formatube started manufacturing stainless steel hand sanitisers.

A Cape Town stainless steel company is turning adversity into opportunity with a new product line in foot-operated hand sanitisers, among other equipment related to infection control.

Formatube specialises in custom stainless steel installation for several industrial businesses, notably in the aerospace, petrochemical and marine sectors. It was hit hard by the lockdown, which resulted in the closure of local steel mills.

However, the company found itself in demand as a supplier to essential services and, more recently, to other non-essential businesses seeking to implement infection control protocols.

Soaring demand for sanitising equipment, workplace barriers and spraying infrastructure allowed the company to at least keep going at a time when many were unable to operate.

“We have done about 150 sanitiser stands for schools, security companies, pharmacies, shipyards, other engineering companies, wine estates and retail outlets, and will make another 200 for next week, and have a capacity to make 1,000 for next month with some new designs,” said Formatube CEO Koorts Liebenberg.

“The foot-operated sanitiser has really taken off in a big way.”

The company, whose products are made to international certification standards, is now providing existing and new clients with sanitising equipment, Liebenberg said.

The demand has also prompted some innovative new product designs.

“We are just making different products, a different production, until things pick up,” Liebenberg said.

“We've lost a lot of work from overseas — our [South African steel] mills closed. But business still carries on to a certain degree.

“We've got the guys who build parts for marine. They've got the skills.

“It is about me making a product that can keep my staff paid so that they can eat,” he said, adding that the new product stream has enabled him to return to an almost full staff complement.

The company is also seeing an upsurge in demand for workplace installations such as screens.

“Factories are now forcing people to move apart and putting screens in between,” Liebenberg said.

“For hygiene purposes they also need to spray stuff at the end of the day. So we are developing something similar to a smokescreen at a pub, but which has sanitiser in it.

“It is something that would make it cheaper for factories — the idea is that once a week the factory gets disinfected. One has to think out of the box like that.”

The foot-operated sanitisers have adjustable height and can be fitted with different-sized bottles.

Walk-through sprayers are similarly custom-made according to client specifications, Liebenberg said.

Clients range from large retailers to government agencies.

Liebenberg said the company is determined to keep price levels as low as possible — at about R1,850 — to assist the national effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The equivalent product from overseas is about R5,000.

Said Liebenberg: “We don't want guys sitting at home — welders, polishers — so we are just carrying on with this different product line until things pick up again. Our product is 100% local.”

The economic contraction has prompted several other companies into survival mode, particularly in sectors still directly affected by lockdown regulations.

The ongoing ban on recreational boating has prompted marine suppliers to diversity their client base.

Johann Brits, owner of Cape Town-based Rope World, said one of his clients has turned to mask production to offset losses. Other suppliers are surviving off a trickle of business from essential services suppliers in the maritime space.

Gary Sindler, CEO of Manex & Power Marine, said the company is supplying to dive shops and the National Sea Rescue Institute.