It has been 55 years since Giuseppe Cimato began his own business – Efficient Engineering – in a small workshop in the south of Johannesburg. Celebrating this significant milestone in May 2023, Efficient Engineering has grown into one of South Africa’s leading heavy fabricators with a reputation for quality and reliability.
Like many South African success stories, Efficient Engineering is today a towering oak that grew from the proverbial humble acorn. It was started in 1968 by Giuseppe Cimato, a young blacksmith from Italy who had arrived in South Africa aged 17.
Facing considerable ethnic discrimination from local artisans and workmen he carved a niche for himself in the metal fabrication business, recalls his son Tony, CEO of Efficient Engineering. He had already proved himself as an employee with a prodigious work rate, churning out items like steel frames for bus seats at twice the pace of his peers. This earned him only envy from workmates, and he soon decided to strike out on his own.
“His first workshop was nine square metres in Ophirton, south of Johannesburg, where he built tipper buckets for Atlas Copco underground equipment,” says Tony. “He also manufactured bulldozer blades, scrapers and backhoe buckets as well as cabs for earthmoving equipment.”
With limited resources and cashflow, he would procure materials for each job as it was secured, making it a constant challenge to generate returns. While artisans were plentiful, the good ones would have been scarce, explains Tony – so an added problem was to hang on to competent skills. Tony joined the business 1982 after starting a law degree and soon deciding it was not for him.
After his first year in the workshop sweeping the floor and cleaning machines, Giuseppe saw that Tony was not going anywhere. He was finally allowed to start learning a trade, and within seven years was a qualified boilermaker. He began taking a role in the running of the modest workshop, which then employed five artisans and 22 labourers.
Perhaps the most expensive item of plant was a an oxy-acetylene profile cutter with an optical eye that followed a one-dimensional drawn paper template – fairly advanced technology for those days. With these resources, Efficient Engineering made components for a number of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
“An important shift for the business was when we started to move away from the lighter work and focus more on heavier components for mining and materials handling,” says Tony. “This delivered more work and better margins.”
By the late 1980s, Efficient Engineering had developed a loyal following of customers in this niche – fabricating components for equipment such as circular stackers, bucket wheel reclaimers and drum reclaimers. Machining was still outsourced, but the focus on quality and accuracy was always paramount; this allowed the company to make a name for itself, fabricating and assembling to the highest standards.
A slow and challenging time was to come in the last years of the 1990s, when the economy had slumped. Tony took over the business from his father in 2000, also buying out his father’s business partner, and began the task of building up the business again. After a few good contracts, the company was back on its way and looking for space to expand premises.
Working with developers Abbeydale Construction, and with the in-principle support of the Industrial Development Corporation, work began in 2006 on the company’s Phase 1 engineering facilities on 28,000 square metres of land in Germiston. They relocated in 2007, and within four months were repaying the developers twice as fast as they needed to, he says. With the added space, machinery and lifting capacity, the company had quadrupled its turnover, and a new era of expansion had begun.
After only a year of continued growth, work started on another building of 4,500 square metres on the same site – to be called Phase 2. Investing in an adjacent plot, Efficient Engineering then created the space for the building of Phase 3, and the Abbeydale Construction team went straight from one to the other.
“This gave us the capability, for instance, to build the whole bowl for mining trucks,” says Tony. “We became a one-stop shop, as we had all the machinery and space we required – from large gantry cranes and machining equipment to shot-blasting to specialised painting facilities. We didn’t have to outsource anything, so the work became quicker while still closely controlling quality.”
Today, Efficient Engineering is in a class of its own, being one of only a few companies who can still perform this range of heavy engineering in-house. As a black empowered entity since 2010, the company subsequently expanded further into its Phase 4 and Phase 5 premises.
“With the challenge of Covid-19 behind us, we experienced a good recovery in the 2022 financial year – with FY2023 in fact being the best year we’ve had,” he says. “Looking at how well we are doing now, we are confident that FY2024 will be as good if not better than last year.”
The company’s future looks brighter still as South Africa’s focus on local content is better applied, notes Tony.
“Efficient Engineering is now well placed to produce locally what is often sourced from India or China,” he says. “The emphasis on local content could enable companies like ours to create jobs, develop skills and add vital capacity to our economy for a more prosperous future.”