SAIW’s KZN branch in Durban, which was officially opened in December last year, has seen immediate success since starting with a full training programme in January 2016. African Fusion visits the Westville premises.
SAIW began to deliver courses at the Master Builders Association building near Westwood Mall in Westville, Durban in October 2015. “But the branch wasn’t officially opened until December and we have only been fully operational since the middle of January, 2016,” begins SAIW’s KZN branch manager George Walker.
Describing his background, Walker says he started out as a welder back in 1978 and, by the time he joined SAIW in Johannesburg in 2006, had accumulated some 30 years of project experience: “In my day, we worked as semi-skilled welders until we had accumulated a few years of service. Then we could apply to do the trade test. I served my time with Fluor, the construction people, initially building Sasol 2 in Secunda,” he tells African Fusion.
His experience made the trade test relatively easy. “I was told the test would take two days to complete and we all had to book accommodation in Olifantsfontein. But by the afternoon of the first day, I was finished my test, so I went back home. A few weeks later, I received my welder’s Red Seal artisan qualification,” he recalls.
In the early 1980s with Murray and Roberts, Walker was a TIG welder on the Koeberg construction site and after completing a stint there he returned to Secunda “where they were still busy with Sasol 3”. He has worked on power stations from Evander to Matimba and accumulated extensive experience on welding, pipefitting and boilermaking – “working mostly on plant construction projects”.
“I originally joined the Institute as a welding instructor in the SAIW Welding School in Johannesburg, but I also took up the opportunity to do the Level 1 and Level 2 Inspector courses. Then Jim Guild asked me if I would be comfortable lecturing. It was a natural migration for me, from welding to weld inspection – and here I am, about to complete my 10th year with SAIW,” he says.
As well as taking on the role of branch manager, Walker is taking a lion’s share of the lecturing load. “I lecture on Level 1 and Level 2 Inspection courses; Competent Persons, boilers and pressure vessels; ASME 8 and ASME 9 code courses; as well as on the AWS D1.1 Structural Welding Code,” he says, adding that he is currently presenting Week 3 of the Level 2 Inspection course.
Describing the available facilities, he says that the KZN branch has two modern lecture rooms, with data projectors and projection screens, as well as a fully equipped NDT lab in the basement, “which we have also fitted with a data projector so that it, too, can be used as a classroom”.
At the time of writing, all three of the branch’s training rooms were in use. As well as the Level 2 Inspectors course being delivered by George Walker, SAIW’s four-day ultrasonic Thickness Testing course was being presented in the basement NDT laboratory by Mark Digby, while second week Level 1 Inspectors were in the second lecture theatre with Errol Anderson.
“The Inspector’s courses are organised in one week modules, with Level 1 students attending one week per month for four months and Level 2s having to do five weeks over five months. So while we are teaching L1 and L2 groups every week, the groups are changing all the time. This also means that lecturers from Johannesburg allocated to courses, such as Errol Anderson, can come down for one week a month to meet up with the same set of students,” Walker explains.
Why was the branch needed? “With the growth of demand from Durban, lecturers have had to come down from Johannesburg to enable us to offer courses locally. These courses were initially run in Amanzimtoti at the Weaver Conference centre and then we moved across to Royal Durban Country Club. But neither the venues nor the facilities were ideal. We could never do any real NDT, for example, which generally requires a lab with extraction and cleaning facilities,” he responds.
“Durban has also emerged as a significant industrial hub. Transnet rail engineering and port terminals divisions are very active in the area, as is the shipping industry. We also have the petrochemical refineries – Shell, Sapref and Engen – and the multi-fuel pipeline terminal. Sappi and Mondi on the pulp and paper side and the KZN sugar industry are also here. These industries are very relieved to have a local training facility for welding related personnel,” Walker believes.
“So far this year, we have run two courses per week with, on average, 15 to 20 people in each and we are confident that this can continue,” he says
“Durban itself,” Walker continues, “is poised for a industrial boom. With the extending of the harbour, oil tankers will be able to come between the refineries to allow tankers to be unloaded directly. This could create increased demand for welding inspectors and other personnel,” he suggests. Transnet Engineering is busy building some 480 bogies for Bombardier for 240 electric locomotives, and these are all being built to EN 15085, so they will require significant numbers of NDT inspectors to meet quality requirements.
Elizabeth Shole, SAIW KZN’s training administrator, sees her role as supporting current and prospective students. “I started at the Institute in Johannesburg in 2011, on contract as an accounts clerk capturing suppliers’ invoices and preparing collecting payments.
“After the five-month contract, I moved into the Certification department doing data capturing of the students and I was appointed to a permanent post in November 2011,” she tells African Fusion.
“In 2013, I was ask to help the training administrator with some of her duties, organising catering for the courses and issuing SAIW students with their bags, T-shirts and weld measurement tools. It was during this time that I began to help answer student queries, on the phones helping them to choose and apply for SAIW courses, for example.
“Now in Durban, the job is the same, except I deal with them face-to-face as well. Prospective students don’t often know that welding, NDT and inspection are three different things. They think everyone has to start out as a practical welder before they can take up the other opportunities, but this is not necessary,” she says.
The NDT Laboratory is equipped for ultrasonic testing (UT); visual testing (VT), penetrant testing (PT) and magnetic particle testing. The Institute has bought 12 state-of-the-art Olympus EPOC 650 UT testing machines for training and the data projection allows the UT output to be projected onto the screen at the front during lectures.
The practical area for surface inspection is behind a partition at the back of the NDT laboratory, which is fitted with extraction hoods for PT spray, sinks for washing and a headshot magnetic particle bench for activating magnetic particle test samples. “We can now deliver almost all of our NDT modules in this facility,” says Mark Digby, SAIW’s NDT manager, adding that he even hopes to be able to do some radiographic testing in the future.
“Training is very important right now in South Africa and in KZN, in particular. We have been lagging behind with respect to skills development and I believe it is a duty of all manufacturers to upgrade workers to the point where they can be self-sufficient.
“We need skilled workers who are efficient and who can stand on their own two feet. We need people who are more proactive and less dependent on their superiors. Unless more of our workers are upskilled to the point where they can operate independently and effectively, we are fighting a losing battle. Our industries will never be competitive and sustainable,” Walker concludes.
The modern, purpose-built and spacious SAIW KZN branch seems to be the ideal environment for such students to flourish.