In a year that began with immense challenges for the African steel industry, MM Integrated Steel Uganda remains one of the fastest expanding manufacturers of cold rolling sheets, galvanized roofing sheets and structural steel products in the country, as well as being one of the overall market leaders. With a production capacity of approximately 50,000 tons per year, a strong multinational presence and new ‘Aluzinc’ coating capabilities developing, it looks like whatever gauntlet the industry might throw MM in 2018 will be met with similarly resounding success – but how has the company reached these distinguished heights?
With its origins dating to approximately 18th BC in what is now modern-day Turkey, steel has been a mainstay of civilisation for practically all recorded history. Forged by smelting mined iron ore in blast furnaces – thus removing its impurities – and adding carbon to form an alloy, the result is a high-tensile metal that is stronger, lighter and less prone to corrosion than its base iron. From this basic recipe, many historical variants have been developed: Wootz steel, Crucible steel, and Damascus steel – the latter of which we still cannot produce using modern techniques. Just as diverse are the myriad applications that steel has been utilized for: construction, transportation, agriculture, weaponry, tools and machinery, to name just a few. Now, in the post-industrial era, steel remains an important, low-cost material that is in high demand for consumers all around the world; it would seem that steel has been our loyal companion for millennia, is a relationship that will continue to evolve and flourish with us.
Stepping into this rich tradition is MM Integrated Steel Mills Ltd, a subsidiary of the Motisun Group. The first MM steel mill in Tanzania was established by Motisun in 1995, with a production capacity of 35,000 tons per year. The seed that was planted in Tanzania didn’t take long to go forth and multiply; at the time of writing, there are now four MM steel mills in Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda and Mozambique, the newest of which opened in 2014. With this growth, the company estimates an aggregate production capacity of 350,000 tons per annum and is proud to now be considered “a respected brand [that] is the preferred choice within the building and construction industry”. Upon opening in 2013, MM Integrated Steel Uganda represented the first of its kind in the country: a steel manufacturer that could produce all its own materials, as opposed to relying on imports. Based in Jinja, a town which possessed a notable industrial heritage that began to wane in the late 20th Century, an economic upswing has struck the region since the 2000’s. With $600 million invested over a period of five years from 2013, MM Steel Uganda certainly appears to be at the epicentre of that change.
The impact of the Ugandan mill can’t just be measured through finances, however; it provides employment for over 1,800 people, all sourced from local areas and trained to stand amongst the best in the field. With inevitable expansion for the MM Steel brand, Jinja looks set for making a remarkable come-back to Africa’s manufacturing spotlight. To generate its output, the Ugandan factory is a colossal operation: it consumes up to five megawatts of electricity at a rate of Shs210 million per month, which must be supplied by a direct link to the national grid. For water, at the time of the mill’s opening, its three-kilometre line to the National Water and Sewerage Corporation was non-existent, so MMI connected it themselves. Upon touring the Ugandan mill, Amerlia Kyambade – Minister for Trade – congratulated the management staff for their much-needed efforts and “contribution towards the economic development of our country”, pledging that her department would push through further legislation to “help local industries grow”.
The services provided by the factory include cold rolling mills, galvanising lines, colour coating lines and tube mills, a portfolio of capabilities that is certain to lengthen across their four established mills going forward. ‘Cold rolling’ is a method by which a metal sheet – in this case steel – is passed through a set of rollers at room-temperature, wherein it is squeezed and compressed, with the level of strain determining the end product’s properties and hardness. Allowing for greater dimensional accuracy in the manufacturing process, and thus also increasing its resistance to surface damage, cold-rolling has the added benefit of increasing the strength of steel up to 20%. In terms of manufacturing, it doesn’t stop there: the aforementioned tube mill uses state-of-the-art machinery that rounds steel sheets into high-quality tubes. Once the metal has been forged and shaped, the factory can offer additional services for the new product, such as ‘galvanising’, wherein a protective coating of zinc is added to the steel for further protection from corrosion. In addition to this facility, MM Steel is also able to apply a range of cosmetic (as well as protective) coatings to their metal as per the desired specification. Sold in both domestic and export markets under the brand-name ‘KIBOKO’ for a competitive price, MM Steel’s products maintain an international standard, which in turn maintains the company’s standing as a market leader.
However, with the brand swiftly developing into a notable multi-national presence, MM Steel need to maintain their reputation. This is where innovation and new industry technology play their parts, and MM Steel have shown no hesitation in keeping their company fully on-trend. Among the newest developments has been the introduction of ‘Aluzinc’ coating capabilities at the Tanzania mill. Consisting of cold-rolled steel that is subsequently galvanised with coating consisting of aluminium (58%), zinc (43.4%) and a dash of silicon (1.6%), Aluzinc provides a far greater defence against corrosion than traditional galvanisation methods. Amazingly, this superior protection doesn’t compromise on the steel’s acceptance of paint coatings & finishes, weld acceptance or forming ability. This results in a product that has a broad variety of domestic and industrial purposes wherever damp atmospheric conditions are the enemy. With these capabilities almost certain to spread to the other three factories, and further innovations such as ‘duplex steel’ gaining traction worldwide, it is safe to say that MM Steel’s development will closely parallel the steel industry’s.
Although 2017 was beset by great challenges for the steel industry in Africa – most notably in terms of expansion and export growth – as the months progressed it became easier to feel optimistic. With positive gains in supply and demand steadily rising across the board, MM Steel Uganda’s attitude of choosing to invest in the future is both commendable and wise. The company should serve as an example to others that; when the going gets tough, you must not only maintain your standards but try to surpass them.
In today’s market, it is no longer good enough to simply have industry-leading products and an established name; consumers want to see a clear vision and a strong ethical message – something the Motisun Group are very conscientious of. “MMI Steel,” the company says, “is dedicated to conducting business in a professional and ethical manner.” They are achieving this not only by providing a superior product at a fair price, but also through ecological measures such as improving and expanding their acid regeneration plant capacities. With sights set to firmly on establishing a better tomorrow, not just for Uganda but the entire industry, MM Integrated Steel Mills Ltd is sure to continue developing into a company that is as diverse as steel itself.