Harish Patel, Managing Director, and Chandrakant Mistry, Chief Engineer, CP Engineering

MACIG Connect Series

Harry-Patel-BLOGCP Engineering has a long history of operations in Zambia. Could you talk us through the company’s evolution up to its present state?

Harish Patel (HP): CP Engineering was set up in Kitwe by an Italian, Chez Perucci, which is where the company gets its initials. The focus was initially on machining work for the mining industry, which at that time came under the auspices of ZCCM. When we took over the enterprise in 1982, ZCCM was already in decline, and we started looking for ways to diversify our business. Stocking fasteners was our first new line of work and CP rapidly became Zambia’s leading distributor. At one point, we considered moving into manufacturing bolts locally, but the high cost of raw materials made it economically unviable. Instead, we import finished products from China, India and South Africa. Aside from mining, we found a niche manufacturing special parts for other factories in diverse industries such as textiles, cement plants, and even soft drink companies. With the privatization of ZCCM and the arrival of new operators came a new wave of work from the mines. In 1992 we purchased new premises, shifted the operation to its current location and began to acquire more equipment. Today, this unit houses all of our machine shops, as well as our retail outlet. Retail of fasteners and tooling is now an important part of our business. We are the exclusive distributors of the elite German brand, Heyco, and Pilot Machining Tools of South Africa.

What has been CP Engineering’s experience of the process to become an officially recognized contractor for the mining houses? What kind of expectations do they have of their suppliers?

HP: Today’s mines must follow strict regulations regarding their contractors. We are obliged to register with the National Council of Contractors (NCC) before we are able to take on certain jobs. The operators then send out a team to conduct a site visit and inspect our workshop and make sure that we are working to a high standard. Safety is a major priority for mines so it is important to have the correct health and safety procedures in place and ensure that all our staff wears the appropriate protective equipment. CP Engineering has been trading for 32 years and we pride ourselves on exceeding these minimum levels.

When it comes to mining repairs and fabrication, what specific services is CP able to offer?

Chandrakant Mistry (CM): CP Engineering can take care of a wide range of machining and fabrication tasks. On a mine site there are a huge number of machines in use, from excavators and trucks to crushers and grinding mills. Gears, bushes, sleeves, rods, axles and other parts all undergo immense amounts of stress and inevitably some will wear out. It usually falls to the OEM to provide spares or repair old parts but this can take several weeks, during which time the mine production suffers. We are able to offer a much more rapid solution to their problems by re-machining damaged parts or fabricating entirely new pieces. Most of these parts require high-tensile steels, such as EN19 and EN24, and advanced cutting tools, which many machine shops do not have. There are some foundries in the area that can provide us with castings as and when we require them.

How would you assess the level of technical training in the country and what strategies do you follow to ensure that CP Engineering has the highest quality workforce?

HP: Hiring skilled professionals and tradesmen is a challenge in Zambia. Demand still outstrips supply by a considerable margin. There are technical colleges in the area, which do a reasonable job of educating new technicians but they lack practical, hands-on training. Whereas in more developed countries students will have access to a wide range of machines, in Zambia it is common for an entire class to share just one piece of equipment. That being said, the situation has begun to improve with the arrival of the new mines, all of which run their own training programs. This will eventually lead to a larger pool of skilled workers spreading throughout the Zambian economy but for now the mines themselves need all of the personnel they train. It is very important for us to hire the right people. Our work requires extreme precision – we are talking tolerances of just 1/1000 of an inch – so there is absolutely no margin for error. Our headcount today numbers around 50 people, many of whom have over a decade of experience with the company.

After more than 30 years of providing engineering services to the Zambian market, what does the future hold for CP Engineering?

CM: CP Engineering belongs to a group of companies with diverse interests, including textiles, a tin factory and paint manufacturing. We are constantly looking to expand our client base and we are active members of the American Chamber of Commerce. Recently, the company visited the United States as part of a trade delegation aimed at promoting business ties between the two countries. We are open to partnering with foreign companies and acting as their local partner here in Zambia. Looking forward, the group owns a large amount of land around our existing property, giving us the potential to build new facilities.

Recent upheaval in the area of mineral royalties has made some investors wary of entering Zambia. What is your advice to businessmen who are considering setting up shop in the country?

HP: I was born and raised in Zambia, although I was educated in the United States, and believe that Zambia is one of the most business friendly African countries. The government has made a real effort to accommodate foreign investment in recent years. Compared to our regional neighbors, Zambia presents a much more stable and peaceful operating environment. While there is still a notable skill gap, Zambia will overcome this challenge within a few years.

This interview was part of research being conducted by GBR for its upcoming Mining in Africa Country Investment Guide (MACIG) 2016. A pre-release report on the Central African Copperbelt was released in May 2015 and can be accessed here. To participate in this report, please contact Molly Concannon at mconcannon@gbreports.com or +243(0)826300684.

IMAGE: Harish Patel, Managing Director


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