Widasla reaches for the stars

When looking at where Widasla Technologies is today, it is difficult to imagine that it was established in 2004 by Dou Fourie along with a singular engineer, David Sedeane. For the first eight years, the enterprise operated predominantly as an engineering company, due to there being little demand for second-hand equipment at the time. The trajectory changed eight years later when Dou was introduced to BBR Graphics – one of the largest suppliers of globally sourced second-hand equipment in the world. And now, a decade later, Widasla is undoubtedly heading for the stars.

With an agreement being reached with BBR Graphics as its exclusive supplier in South Africa, Widasla initially purchased machines from the local market and supplied them to BBR Graphics for resale in markets such as China and India. However, with the economic climate changing in South Africa, the demand shifted towards a need for second-hand presses to be brought into the country. Widasla initially established itself as a second-hand sheetfed press specialist but in no time, it expanded into other sectors of the printing industry.

The Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2019, which left most companies needing to reinvent their business strategies in order to be sustainable and remain relevant, through diversifying into other realms. This rings true for Widasla, who established Widasla Finishing Systems in October 2020, with Dou and Antony Breddy being partners in this print finishing division, which was followed by the opening of its Cape Town branch in March 2021.

Said Dou Fourie, Managing Director at Widasla Technologies, ‘Our Cape Town branch has seen significant growth over the past year in spite of it being in one of the most difficult markets in the country. We have sold a Müller Martini Bolero as well as a Heidelberg XL 106 5L 5-colour press to Tandym Print, with a 6-colour press sold to an undisclosed recipient. ‘It currently occupies 460 square metres of floor space but due to the growth that it has been experiencing, plans are now underway to expand its premises during the course of 2023.’

He continued, ‘Widasla Finishing Systems has brought about significant change to the company, with Antony and I starting up the division, and Jannie Du Plessis later joining the team in Cape Town. After predominantly refurbishing second-hand Heidelberg equipment, the opening of Widasla Finishing Systems has enabled us to now offer our clients Kolbus, Müller Martini, MBO’s and Polar-Mohr finishing solutions.’

Dou says that with the company doing so much work on Heidelberg Packaging presses, it made perfect sense for Widasla to transition into the packaging space, with die-cutting and box folder-gluers being included in its offering. ‘Packaging is the next market we are looking at expanding into and building upon, especially since this is the direction that the industry has shifted into,’ he added.

Most commercial printers have also become smaller in-house packaging printers, where litho printers initially evolved into becoming commercial printers, through incorporating digital printing into their businesses, and from there they have shifted into now being able to offer packaging printing to their customers. As they have moved in this direction, so too have Widasla Technologies and Widasla Finishing Systems.

‘A printer starts off with a Heidelberg press and a Müller Martini to produce stitched and glued books. From there, the natural transition is to purchase a die-cutter and a box folder-gluer so that they can supply printed packaging and thus keep all of their customers under one roof,’ Dou elaborated. ‘We have expanded our company accordingly, so as to assist print shops as they embark upon the diversification of their businesses. Where we were predominantly a Heidelberg rebuilding facility, we now have three trained KBA engineers and a KBA electrician, with our first KBA 6-colour coater conventional UV machine refurbished in Johannesburg.’  

The company celebrated another milestone during the course of this year, with the opening of its Durban branch on 1 November. ‘We have always had a major following in Kwazulu-Natal, with it becoming a norm for one of our engineers to be in the province for up to 3-4 months a year. Setting up permanent business premises in Durban – as more of an engineering office and spare parts supplier – was the next logical step and it was our highlight of the year,’ Dou explained.

Widasla’s Johannesburg branch has its own success story to tell, with it undergoing so much growth and expansion over the last three years, that it recently doubled its floor space to 1 000 square metres. ‘Our premises in Johannesburg expanded because we simply needed more space. We have so many machines coming in and we want to increase the amount of machines that we refurbish. On average we work on 4-6 machines a year, but based on our expansion and the demand that we are faced with, we are now geared to revamp 12 pieces of equipment in 2023.’

Dou attributes the company’s success to the superior quality of its workmanship. On a local level, the South African economy has led to print shops exploring alternatives to purchasing new equipment. He believes that over the past five years, Widasla has demonstrated the value of opting for pre-owned printing equipment when the refurbishment thereof is of an exceptional standard.

The outstanding calibre of work being done has gained global recognition, leading to equipment being exported to countries beyond the African continent, including the USA, China and Israel as well as in South America.

‘We do a lot of work in America and it has proven to be a very lucrative market for us. As it stands, we have three installations taking place in the USA in January, February and March, along with four take-outs in France, one in Italy and one in Spain. It’s a big deal for an African company to rebuild machinery locally and export it internationally – that’s something that hasn’t really been done up till now,’ he raved.

Dou says that Widasla buys machines for stock and then either sells them locally or across the world. Working internationally and offering equipment all over the world enables the company to bring the best of those machines back to South Africa and into the local market. However, if the local market doesn’t have any need for what is available, then it is sold elsewhere.

‘We are now probably one of the largest import and refurbishing companies in South Africa – from a staff compliment as well as a capacity perspective. As a result, we will be investing in training as of next year. The country has lost 7-8 engineers to other countries as of this year, which is putting our trade under severe strain albeit there being less printing companies due to them being forced to close their doors. It is for this reason that we will be making training one of our priorities for 2023,’ he stated.

Widasla’s competencies extend beyond the refurbishment of pre-owned equipment. It also assists print service providers with factory layouts, specialised architectural drawings and factory planning, floors, cable routings and workflow systems. ‘We’ve been involved in factory planning and did a massive relocation for one of our clients in January – in fact, it’s a big portion of what we do,’ Dou explained. ‘Jannie and his team along with Shaun Matthews from Ellectrobillity went to Israel this year, where they provided a complete turnkey solution as well as factory move of a KM600,’ he added.

The company has grown from strength to strength on the electroplating side, with Melvin Strydom going to France for a week during the first week of January 2023 and then to the USA for three weeks do some electroplating work. The company has exclusive access to a banding technique for electroplating rollers while in the press. In the past, this was an expensive service, which required that the roller be removed from the press and sent for repair, in order for it to be done correctly and effectively. Widasla, however, uses imported chemicals that enables it to ensure that the result is so precise that even the colour of the replacement chrome matches that of the original to the point of the repair being indistinguishable.

Dou says that print shops in general have experienced price increases across the board, especially in regard to paper, inks and most other consumables. Their challenge is to find a way to make money within one’s company, because it isn’t always easy to pass these costs on to the customer. The implication being that they are needing to find ways to print quicker and to have less wastage in order to increase their margins slightly.

Widasla is also in partnership with Prepress UK, where it provides the Prepress Interface – a press profiler system that takes the profile from the CTP system and sends it to the machine unit. This reduces make-readies and colour by approximately 35%. Dou says that this system has already been installed at Ndabase, Lebone Litho Printers and Templer Industries, with a fourth scheduled to take place early in 2023.

‘This is where we come in, where we sit down with you and identify where your company is not being as profitable as it can be. We will do a business analysis and identify what you need and how we can help you to limit your waste and bring down your costings, in order for you to increase your turnover,’ Dou elaborated.

As you may be well aware, an enterprise is only as strong as the suppliers that it has. Even more so when a business is compelled to provide quality product/spares/equipment, exceptional workmanship and outstanding service levels. Widasla has built a reputation of ticking all three boxes for itself and Dou attributes some of its success to the relationships that it has forged with its partners over the years.

‘It would have been a lot more difficult for us to have gotten to where we are in the amount of time that we have, had it not been for our sustainable partnerships with BBR Graphics, Ellectrobillity, DK Printmasters and Prepress UK,’ he acknowledged. ‘Our relationship with these companies have grown over the years to the point of me knowing with absolute confidence that their service levels and the standard of their work is exactly on par with ours. It makes a huge difference being able to turn to them for assistance without the slightest hesitation in my mind.’

Every branch and each division has grown during the course of 2022. Widasla Finishing Systems has grown exponentially well and on the technology side, the company is at a point where it doesn’t have one Müller Martini engineer, one Heidelberg engineer and one Kolbus engineer; they have taught and integrated with each other because of their desire to learn and to spread their wings.

‘The company has evolved so much that it’s the first time in the history of this country, where one company has the Heidelberg guy, the best Müller Martini guy and the best Kolbus guy working for one company,’ he said.   

Dou attributes the success of the company to his staff as well as to the ethos that everybody ascribes to: “Do today what other won’t, to achieve tomorrow what others can’t”. ‘My team are absolutely amazing and the company is built around them and what they do. I cannot thank them enough for all of the hard work and dedication that they put into the company, but I can certainly mention them by name,’ he said.

Widasla Technologies (Johannesburg): David Sedeane (Engineer), Willem Slabber (Engineer), Jaco Grundlingh (Engineer), Melvin Strydom (Electroplater), Ruwey Francis (Spraypainter/Electroplating), Kabelo Tshothedi (Engineer Assistant), Reegan Foster (Accountant), Davlyn Bredenkamp (Administrator) and Cathrine Goitseong (Cleaner).

Widasla Finishing Systems (Cape Town): Antony Breddy (Engineer) and Jannie Du Plessis (Engineer).

Widasla Cape Town: Sean Blight (Electrician) and Henry Van Wyk (Engineer).

Widasla Durban: Lucas Beukes (Engineer)

Management: Dou Fourie (Managing Director and Head Engineer) and Jessica Fourie (General Manager).

‘Everybody has played their part and have made a meaningful contribution towards the success of this company. I am proud to have them as part of our team and I look forward to us making 2023 an even bigger success than ever before,’ Dou concluded.