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Turning challenges in the steel sector into opportunities

Tom Sowry, Managing Director of nitrogen generator pioneering company NitraLife, with a selection of their locally manufactured generators.

Despite the local steel sector currently experiencing tough challenges, some businesses within the steel supply chain have seized the opportunities presented by these challenges to grow their success.

One such business is NitraLife, a local pioneer in the manufacture and supply of nitrogen generation equipment since 1996.

Of note is that the company supplies various parts of the steel sector supply chain in South Africa with their NitraCut and NitraSpray nitrogen generators, while also manufacturing the generators from local steel components.

“We have worked hard to become independent and robust in our manufacturing process,” says Nitralife Managing Director Tom Sowry. “Today, we are proud to say that the majority of our nitrogen generator components are locally sourced and manufactured.”

NitraLife uses quality cold-rolled mild steel and 304 grade stainless steel from Allied Steelrode to manufacture their custom-built generators and range of stock, in cooperation with local steel fabricator BoerBoel.

“Sourcing and manufacturing locally also gives us greater control over our production activities, and the ability to provide our customers with more flexible, cost-effective solutions,” says Sowry.

NitraLife stocks their range of generators in a standard model and configuration, but it also has the capability to custom-build generators. “We work on remaining flexible and innovative so that we can fulfill the requirements of clients who want something different from the norm. For example, we are currently building a stainless steel generator for a customer who needs a horizontal configuration. It represents a small change in our original design, but goes a long way to ensure the success of the client’s project.”

NitraLife supplies over a hundred nitrogen generators to the local and international markets per year, which is fairly significant for a company providing a niche application, says Sowry. “Our systems have application in various sectors, from tyre inflation for heavy and passenger transport, to fabrication and spray painting. This wide application is one of the keys to our continued success.”

Growth in the plasma and fibre laser cutting markets

NitraLife has taken the initiative of supplying on-site, on-demand gas to the fabrication sector. High-purity nitrogen is essential when it comes to plasma and fibre laser cutting and fabrication. Traditionally these sectors have sourced nitrogen in cylinders or bulk liquid, which can be a costly and challenging solution.

To this end, NitraLife has entered into a partnership with the global steel processing solutions manufacturer Bystronic, whereby the Swiss company markets NitraLife’s NitraCut generators to its customers, for the supply of nitrogen gas to the fibre laser machines which Bystronic sells.

Leveraging the synergy with Bystronic has also allowed for a swift and highly successful growth trajectory into this segment of the steel supply chain.

“A busy fabricator can amortise the cost of a NitraCut generator within the space of a year by generating their own nitrogen,” says Sowry. Once the NitraCut has paid for itself, the fabricator essentially has a free supply of nitrogen leading to huge cost savings in the medium term.

“The steel sector is certainly facing some tough challenges, but it is encouraging to see how many businesses within the steel supply chain are still making a success of niche offerings.”

“We are fortunate enough to be one of those companies because our product helps to make companies’ production reliable and boosts their bottom line.”