Dolphin Bay commissioned its second fully automated factory, in Sabie, just two weeks ago. And what an experience it was!
The installation process was like climbing a steep, rocky mountain slope, encountering unforeseen chasms and rockslides – and almost losing our cool – along the way.
But the team was extraordinarily committed and cooperative, and once the mountain was climbed, what a view it was from the top!
Dolphin Bay’s Franske Stenden oversaw the start-up process. “Watching Louis the robot doing his job for the first time, the entire automation process, and the factory team as they watched in astonishment, was an amazing feeling.
“Our factory staff used to do everything manually, lifting and adding the heavy kegs into tanks. It was very hard, physical work. Now, Louis, our faithful robot, has taken on the hard labour.
“He also washes the empty drums afterwards. The factory team’s reaction was, ‘Wow!’ They were so impressed!” said Franske.
“Seeing Louis the robot working, the valves opening and closing and the factory team as they watched in total astonishment – it was an amazing feeling.”
Louis arrived a few months ago, and was named after an engineer of extraordinary heart, intelligence and positivity, who did some work for Dolphin Bay and subsequently became a good friend to Bertus. One of the robots at Mossel Bay is named after Louis’ daughter Lydia.
The automation has not resulted in any retrenchments or wage cuts; all the factory workers still have crucial roles.
The automated plant is probably the most high-tech in Africa and among the best globally in our industry. Its installation was a key part of the extensive remodelling of our Sabie factory, which began early last year. A state-of-the-art Scada system monitors the complex automation processes.
Bertus said Dolphin Bay had the benefit of learning from our mistakes in automating the Mossel Bay factory in 2021.
“This factory is a level up. It has additional functions built into the automation that give extra safety, and we had the benefit of using mostly the same contractors, so the project flowed a little more easily. We still made some mistakes, even glaring ones, but that’s part of the process.”
It was the first time Franske has undertaken a project management job of this magnitude. “What an experience, to get there every day to ensure things would work out, but not know exactly how! It took late nights and early mornings, with a lot of technical issues and snags to sort out at short notice. Obviously we wanted to improve upon the Mossel Bay factory. When you redo things, you aim to do them better.
“It was a great team, from the robotics to the electrical and infrastructure guys! If something wasn’t working, it was sorted out quickly. Things were tense at times – like one morning when nothing worked at all – but the team was there fixing all the valves and pumps. When I arrived home, my wife said, ‘You look tired’, but I didn’t feel tired. It was exhilarating.”
“The automated plant is probably the most high-tech in Africa and among the best globally in our industry. It is part of Dolphin Bay’s strategy to do all in its power to build a resilient and optimised business.”
Subsequently, we sent Cirvan Valentyn, who has production experience at our Mossel Bay plant, to Sabie. His input was invaluable, transferring skills learnt over the past two years to the Sabie team. “Cirvan made a world of difference. I’m very impressed with his humility and work ethic,” said Bertus.
“Having the site so far away in Sabie made problem-solving trickier and needed a bit more creativity and patience. That was tested – as was our ability to stay friendly.
“I’m happy we were challenged. If you always do easy stuff, you can’t be pleased with yourself for keeping your good humour,” he laughed.
The automation was part of Dolphin Bay’s strategy to do all in its power to build a resilient and optimised business. “Creating a better, cleaner and more professional working environment for our staff, benefitting our product and ultimately our customers, means we are building a robust business,” added Bertus.
“It is an investment in the future.”