Rham Equipment – Excited to Innovate

Rham Equipment is a company that has excelled in solving problems faced by the mining industry.

For over 35 years Rham Equipment has been producing specialised mining equipment. The company has supplied over 2,000 units to the underground mining industry, in both the hard rock and coal sectors. But what drives the company is the prospect of solving a new engineering challenge.

We consider ourselves to be one of the most innovative companies around the world. We never stop,” says Kevin Reynders, Rham Equipment’s Managing Director.

Indeed, while Rham Equipment has shown healthy growth, Reynders confesses the company has grown less quickly than it might have because they are addressing so many projects are once. It’s a problem he’s happy to have.

“It’s a typical engineer’s dream company,” he says. “We formulate ideas and develop objects. We welcome innovation and learn through our experiences, enabling us to adapt and offer more effective and suitable solutions to the industry.”

As well as being keen to get their teeth into any new engineering project, Rham benefits from being a South African company through and through, understanding their clients and their challenges. The company’s thoroughly local outlook gives them the perspective necessary to tailor-make products for its clients. The enthusiasm of Rham’s engineers means they can offer quick turnarounds as everyone gets excited by a new project and is keen to get involved.

Punching Above Their Weight

Every business has to deal with competition, but Rham Equipment is operating in a market occupied by much larger foreign competitors. It’s an environment where Rham’s agility and attention to detail are essential to remaining competitive. The market is dominated by large OEMs, which can make it a challenge for smaller local companies to break into the market.

“People tend to believe that established OEMs have been in the business for years build good equipment and are therefore reluctant to change and consider more effective alternatives,” Reynders says. “But as we say these large OEMs build for the world, we build for each individual mine.”

Rham Equipment also has the challenge of funding its work entirely out of its own pocket, where corporate OEMs have greater financial resources to draw on in terms of borrowing money and access to different buying models. However, while the challenges are real, Reynders believes South Africa is undergoing a period of change with regard to procurement.

“South Africa is changing, so mining houses have to spend more on local procurements. We’re all moving towards a more circular economy within South Africa,” Reynders explains.

South Africa exports much of its production while struggling with high unemployment levels, a situation that Reynders argues can be improved by focusing on locally-sourced content.

In terms of selling their own products, Rham has one very simple strategy. Saying “Try it”.

“The most effective way to change the mind of the end-user is to afford them the opportunity to trial the required machine,” Reynders tells us. “That’s the easiest way to win business, go to a mine and put a machine there.”

Rham Equipment regularly offers potential customers equipment to trial for three or four months before successfully transitioning into a rental agreement and eventually, outright equipment purchases. Rham Equipment’s design and manufacturing process considers the conditions in the specific mine where it will be used, giving it an immediate competitive advantage.

It’s this hands-on approach, combined with Rham’s enthusiasm for a fresh problem to solve, that gives them the edge. Rham Equipment’s sales process consists of visiting the mine, giving a presentation, identifying the problems that mine is facing and demonstrating how they can modify or build equipment to meet those challenges.

Talking to Reynders about the future, it’s clear he believes that the presence of large foreign OEMs in the market is not just a challenge, but an opportunity. While currently, local OEMs have less than 30% of the market share, he believes it is possible for them to take 50-60% of the South African market share.

“We’re currently standing more and more together to build this model in South Africa,” Reynders says.

No Time for Clock Watching

Of course, finding people with that enthusiasm and putting them in the place where they can do the most good, that is the real challenge. It’s one Rham has embraced with a company culture built around a flat management system and an aversion to hierarchies.

“You need to create a culture. People don’t work for money, they work for satisfaction,” Reynders reflects.

A part of this culture is Rham’s “open” policy that makes it easy for staff to move freely between positions in the company. It’s a policy that has resulted in a dedicated and enthusiastic workforce.

“We don’t have clock-watchers. If someone is not satisfied, we will find out what the issue is, move them around until they are comfortable and enjoying what they are doing,” Reynders explains.

It’s an approach to recruitment that breeds loyalty. Rham Equipment’s average personnel turnover is seven years, but that figure is skewed by the number of graduates and school-leavers brought into the company as part of apprenticeship schemes. While these apprentices will typically stick with the company for three or four years as part of the training process. Rham recruits 12 apprentices every six months, but at the end of their apprenticeship the majority will take their new-found skills elsewhere while three or four are brought in as permanent staff. Beyond those apprentices, the turnover is considerably lower, with the company’s shortest-term director having been part of the Rham Equipment for 13 years.

“It’s all about instilling a culture and creating an environment for your people to express themselves and achieve fulfilment and satisfaction in knowing they are appreciated and part of a team,” Reynders insists.

Indeed, looking at Rham’s drawing board today you will see projects any engineer would be excited to be involved in. Currently, the company is engaged in developing a farm tractor for the South African market. The new product was slated to launch this year but has been cancelled due to COVID-19, so it is now scheduled to launch in 2021. Rham is also carrying out development work with battery packs, designing and manufacturing a completely battery-powered land cruiser while at the same time electrifying its existing portfolio of equipment in a complete shift away from diesel.

Whatever part of the business you are working in, Rham Equipment’s approach remains the same.

“We have a working formula,” Reynders points out. “We continuously analyse the needs, develop the solutions and assess the effectiveness on relevant challenges in the industry to find a workable solution.”

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