“At Tranos , we see quality as systemic, as well as an integrated process”
TRANOS, an indigenous engineering and technology company is a true representation of Local Content drive in Nigeria. With a wide range of technical and engineering competencies, it provides innovative and diversified solutions to different sectors, ranging from oil and gas, power and energy to telecoms, among others. In this interview with OER’s Jerome Onoja, the Managing Director, Mr Jude Abalaka, says that Tranos has, through its drive for excellence, maintained high standards in building power generator enclosures, skids and packages, providing energy distribution, control and automation systems and is set to go international by supplying other African countries and the Middle East as it takes off to the global market. Excerpts
Tell us about Tranos?
Tranos is a wholly Nigerian-owned, technology company focused on improving lives through innovative solutions. We prefer to use the word ‘technology’ to describe our work because we have a number of technical engineering competencies which we use in serving different companies. So, our clients vary from sector to sector, and from industry to industry. We try to use technology to solve their unique problems.
How long have you been in business?
Tranos was incorporated in 2008. By next year, we will be 10 years in business. Our initial focus was to service the Oil and Gas industry both in equipment supply and fabrication services. We did that for a while and then realized that opportunities existed in other markets. From about 2010, we started investing in equipment as a deliberate move to end sub-contracting jobs to foreign companies. We started doing this before the NOGICD Act was enacted. For us as a company it made a lot of economic sense to have more control over what we were doing than waiting for foreign companies. In the course of time, we discovered that, what we were doing could benefit other sectors of the economy as well. So, we started attracting customers from the telecoms, building industry and in that same way, our business began to grow.
Is Tranos an extension of a foreign company trying to make in-road into the Nigerian market?
No, no, no! We are a Nigerian company making our way into the international market.
How do you source your raw materials and component parts?
It depends. Most of the time, the bulk of them are sourced locally. A lot of the mechanical things we produce like enclosures,are largely made of local steel. We have a good local company called WEMPCO, they make cold roll steel. For the hotroll steel materials, we buy from local suppliers. We also buy electrical cables from Kabelmetal and Coleman.The materials we import are mostly accessories, some of the consumables and the component parts that do not have local suppliers.
What standards and certifications do you use in your processes?
We are ISO 9001: 2008 certified. We are currently working on upgrading to 2015. For us ISO is like the entry level with regards to quality because we don’t see quality as something that applies to clients alone. We see quality as systemic, as well as an integrated process. If we have a good quality system, it will also impact on our operations. So, we approach our operational systems from the perspective of guaranty for good quality such that quality doesn’t just happen because someone found out through an inspection, but we arebuilding a system where we have everything in place, so that all our processes and outcomes are guaranteed.So, ISO 9001 stands as ourentry level requirement as we build operational excellence and a lean production system on top of that. By so doing, we kill two birds with one stone; because, besides assurance of good quality, we eliminate rework, reduce cost of production and optimize production.
Are you a member of any regulatory professional engineering body in Nigeria?
We are members of Nigerian Society of Engineers, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria andof course, we have our valid DPR and other regulatory requirements in place as well.
What has been your driving force?
Our target is excellence. From the onset, it has always been our goal to attain excellence in everything we do. We are not just trying to be the best in Nigeria at what we do, we want to be the best or at least among the best anywhere in the world.
For us, the driving force is being able to benchmark ourselves and say, ‘when compared to other companies that do what we do in the world, are we among the best?’. Going back to our operational processes, we have learnt and taught ourselves to look at quality and efficiency in a particular way. We have learnt what constitutes waste in an operational system and we have started to eliminate them one by one. So, what drives us is the pursuit of excellence and perfection.
You have a great team; what is yourpolicy in recruiting engineers?
That is an interesting question. What we look at most of the time is willingness to learn. We have our basic entrance tests and interviews too, but as a knowledge-based organization we look for people who are hungry for knowledge and willing to learn.
We have discovered that it is difficult to find ready-made candidates because of the cutting-edge technologies we use. The younger engineers tend to be much more eager to learn, so we like that in the people we recruit. With our core values in mind, we seek people who can easily fit in.
Have you identified upcoming projects for which you have capacity and believe such opportunities could help Tranos retain Forex which ordinarily would be spent on importation?
Yes. We know for example there is Zabazaba Project coming up which we hope to get involved in. There is also the Bonga South West Project. On these projects, there are opportunities for the provision of electrical and mechanical systems andmodules, like rotating equipment packages for pumping, power generation and compression. The EPC contractors and other OEMs can look inwards instead of seeking for foreign subcontractors.
We can also provide power distribution and control systems packages too. These are usually subcontracted by the main EPC contractors. Typically, the subcontractor will import all the components and assemble locally, but in our own case asyou have seen from our facility, we can actually build all the enclosures tofit the exact size that is needed on the FPSOs.
Can you highlight some projects Tranos has done?
In the oil and gas industry, we worked on the Chevron Firewater system and their sewage treatment plant upgrade. We did some work on the USAN FPSO for the Essential and Emergency power generators too. A lot of the other things we have done in the oil industry are in subcontracting roles; we worked as subcontractor for delivering water treatment plants for Shell, we carried out numerous offshore fabrication, installation and repair work on Mobil’s OCIPII program during which time we fabricated a cofferdam for the project. Recently, we fabricated a 12-ton pipe clamp for a 48-inch pipeline repair for Hydrodive/Shell.
In the power sector, we have a couple of multi-nationalsfor whom we aretier-one suppliers, and we produce various steel enclosures for generator soundproofing, compact substations and power distribution. We have designed and produced specialized hybrid power systems for telecoms base stations, we have thousands of this powering base stations across the country.
What are Tranos future plans to collaborate with some of our tertiary institutions in respect of knowledge transfer, given that you have a lot of domesticated but unique technologies in use here?
Knowledge is important to us and working with educationalinstitutions is a key thing we have in mind,but we are seeking the best approach. We have relationships with a couple of institutions like the Institute of Industrial Technology (IIT) who we have worked with on a couple of things. And because they train graduates; we also recruit some of their trainees. We have done a few things with UNILAG; we sponsored a research project in their mechanical engineering department.
What challenges have you faced as a young company and how have you handled them?
Getting the right personnel is one, especially as we are growing because a lot ofyoung engineers have little applicable technical knowledge. We couldn’t find people with the experience we required. We solved it by organizing a lot of in-house training, bringing in trainers, and sending some people abroad.
Another challenge is the supply chain; the struggles of bringing in things into Nigeria like machinery and some of the accessories and consumables we need. It is always a challenge because of the cumbersome process of importing and clearing goods. Financing can at times be a challenge too.
You are an Original Equipment Manufacturer; tell us about some products you manufactured in recent times?
We have the telecoms power solution. It is a hybrid power system that connects a special DC diesel generator with a variable speed operation to solar power as well as the national grid, (PHCN). It is automated and can select between the available power sources. There’s also an option where you can remotely monitor and control it. We also have a range of wall-mounted and free-standing enclosures in mild steel and stainless steel. Our enclosures are used for power distribution, automation and for instrumentation. We make enclosures for mechanical equipment and skids too. Besides our standard range, we also design and build bespoke solutions using our R&D engineering capability. So, for projects where clients say, “I want something specific”, we sit down with them and our engineers come up with customized solutions.
What are some of the companies you actually deliver your services to?
We have offered services to Total, Chevron, Hydrodive and WAOS in the oil and gas industry. We have a very good relationship with Cummins Power Generation; we supply them with a large quantity of enclosures for their power generator sets. We also make customized designs for them whenever they have special requirements. If you see a Cummins generator, there’s a high possibility that it is enclosed in a canopy built by Tranos.
We produce compact substation enclosures for Schneider Electric, and we are working on bringing in new customers like Kohler SDMO, who are equally interested in our enclosures.
In what areas are you expecting support from the government?
I always struggle with questions of what government can do for you. I am all for government supporting Nigerian businesses but the truth is that, there are a lot of challenges and not all of them can be solved by the government. If government has to help everybody, then it is no longer business. But there are supply chain challenges that have to do with government agencies like Customs, NAFDAC, SON and others. I think this is an area government can improve and actually do something. It will also help for government to buy our products and use our services.
A lot of people think that development is infrastructure – good roads, good hospitals, good schools, etc. The truth is that,we cannot have good schools without good teachers. So, I think we really, really need to take a step back and pour a lot of money into education.
Are there international companies you admire?
We admire Toyota because of their production system just like a lot of other companies do. We admire Toyota because they have a very advanced production system and they have a continuous drive for improvement. We also admire companies like GE and Siemens. This is because, have realized that we are not that typical company, where you will say, we produce generators or we produce enclosures; we do much more than that. We have also realized that the knowledge we are building within the organization can do a lot for people.
Where do you see Tranos in 10 years from now?
In ten years, we hope that our production system will be much more advanced than where we are now. We are looking at doing a lot of automation of our processes. On a second thought…, in less than two years, we should have achieved that, which will lead to a drastic reduction of waste.
We are looking at growing our capabilities to build and produce heavier structure in terms tonnages. We presently handle about 20 tons but intend to increase that significantly. We plan moving into a bigger facility with more production lines and we should be routinely exporting our products to other countries.
We shall have a bigger R&D department because we do a lot of research and development; looking for problems we can solve and looking out for solutions we can either improve on or make better.
Finally, we expect that by then, the raw materials and component parts we are struggling to import right now will be sourced locally.