Even through the gas market has stagnated due to a lack of economic growth, Afrox says that the R60 million state-of-the-art facility that it officially unveiled at Riverhorse Valley on Friday is a sign of its confidence in the KwaZulu-Natal economy.

“Our R60m Riverhorse Valley facility is geared specifically for efficiency and cost-effectiveness, aimed at benefiting customers in the medical, hospitality and industrial sectors and sets a new standard by which modern industrial gases hubs will be measured,” managing director, Schalk Venter, said before cutting loose a bunch of red balloons.

This modern 18 000 square metre site which the company describes as its flagship filling and engineering services hub, is designed to international standards, best practice and expertise and backed by the best in technologies and expertise of the global gases, engineering and technology giant, the Linde Group.

A walk through the new facility that includes a fully stocked warehouse, customer engineering services, service engineering department and an independent medical filling plant that is amongst the best in the world, shows that the company has made huge strides.

Head of operations, IM Marais, said that this was a major improvement on the aging site from which the company operated on Maydon Warf.

Work on the project began a year ago and it was commissioned just over a month ago.

“Afrox now has the ability to meet the growing demands of large and small industry across KZN with a filling capacity of 22 000 cylinders a month which is an improvement of 15% from the old plant which was at Maydon Wharf,” said Venter.

The facility is hi-tech in design with the “heart of the hub” run by PLC controlled automated cylinder filling technology.

It acts as a “one-stop-shop for Argoshield, CO2, nitrogen, helium, medical and food grade gases as well as portable cryogenic containers. LPG is supplied via its Pinetown operation.

Afrox Riverhorse Valley is also supported by a fully equipped onsite cylinder test shop, ensuring the high pressure gas cylinders are maintained and hydrostatically tested to legal requirements – something that has had to be done in Johannesburg until now.

Marais said that gases could also now be mixed on site, allowing them to add new products, including the shielding gases that have traditionally been trucked in from Johannesburg.

Battery powered forklifts have replaced diesel ones and the installation of silencers to eliminate blow down noise has addressed noise pollution concerns.

Venter said that there were initially plans to build a new air separation unit at Riverhorse Valley. However, the company reconsidered at the end of 2015 when political and fiscal uncertainty began to manifest in poor economic growth and a drop in industrial output.

The decision to throw all its energy behind the filling and engineering hub that now sits proudly on a prime site adjacent to the N2 hinged on improved efficiencies and safety.

Already, according to Marais, operational efficiency has improved 15% with more to come.

Venter adds that throughput can easily be accelerated by between 20 and 30%.

This will support the Afrox focus on growing its client base in strategic growth nodes – food and beverages, hospitality and medical – which continue to expand alongside the needs of a growing middle class consumer base.

The Durban hub will also act as a blueprint for the upgrading of Afrox’s facilities in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth from next year.