LOCKDOWN WITH C.I.I. Radio
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): Let’s go to the lines right now… and welcome our next guest Graham Raynor, current owner of Clifford Machines & Technology. As the world urgently tries to create and produce protective personal equipment or PPE’s as well as ventilators due to the demand as the covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc across the world, Africans have been placed last on the list to receive the much needed supplies. But can South Africa not create and produce our own resources with the many skilled people resources we have at hand? At Clifford Machines & Technology is one such company that believes that it can be done at home. To talk more about this, let’s welcome the current co-owner of Clifford Machines & Technology Mr Graham Raynor. Good morning Graham, welcome to the show.
GRAHAM RAYNOR: Hello Zahir
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): Thank you so much for taking the time to join us, Graham. You’re a founding partner of Clifford Electronic [Machines & Technology], please tell us more about the company that you co-own.
GRAHAM: I didn’t actually found the company, the company was founded by a gentleman by the name of Clifford Sobey in 1969, hence the name and we have been lucky to celebrate our 50 year anniversary last year. Right now, together with my partner Iain Ambler, we are the majority owners of the business and we are based in Pietermaritzburg , our turnover is approximately 100 million rand per year. We have 50 employees, half of which are engineers, every one of them talented and dedicated people who make up a really fantastic team that I am proud to be a part of. Our main line is design and manufacture of machines for the steel wire industry but in the past we have been involved in many different projects from making brake testing machines, to tyre making machines, and of course we have been involved with ventilators in the past.
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): Now you developed ventilators before that were successfully used in hospitals as well as ambulances, why did you stop producing them?
GRAHAM RAYNOR: Well, at the time Richard Sobey, he’s the engineer, and probably one of the smartest people I have ever met, he got together with Dr Don Miller, he was a highly recognized anaesthetist at the Tygerberg hospital and decided to develop these ventilators. That project started late 1990’s and in the early 2000’s became commercially available. We sold to Municipalities in South Africa and also we sold to some hospitals in Zimbabwe. The problems from a selling perspective, you know, the technology was really fantastic and was well received by the people that bought them, but we faced two problems. In the public sector, quite frankly, there was always a concern, and it reared its head many many times, where we were required to put some money under the table in order to receive orders and from an ethical and moral standpoint we just simply weren’t interested in doing that. So from the public service perspective that kind of business disappeared. But we found in the private sector, and the best analogy I could get, my background is accounting, the very first spreadsheet package I used was a spreadsheet package called Quattro Pro. Today you wont find Quattro Pro, I don’t think, and I was dragged kicking and screaming into using Excel, which I am extremely comfortable with now. The same happened in the private sector with the doctors, the doctors were going to university and learning their craft, mainly on Siemens equipment and then they were getting into private practice and then private hospitals were all Siemens, Siemens, Siemens. So we kind of found ourselves butting our heads up against a product where there was already an acceptance which we found very difficult selling to the private hospitals. The upshot of the whole thing, you know, eventually we were continuously breaking even on the project and we just decided from a commercial perspective that it didn’t make sense, so we just closed it down.
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): With the current crisis, will you be starting the project again as demand is now very high and of course they are required very urgently especially in Africa?
GRAHAM RAYNOR: There is a responsibility and obviously altruistic purpose behind us starting it up again to meet the needs to basically potentially save lives. I think the other thing is, right now with the lockdown, we have employees that are sitting at home and we need to repay their dedication and loyalty to the company and while the ‘no work no pay’ regime would almost seem the most appropriate, we have gone some way to mitigating that and continue to pay, at least a portion of their salaries and wages to them, but the biggest reality and business economics dictate that that cannot continue forever. So we sit in a situation where we don’t know what business is going to be like once this whole thing blows over, we certainly have a strong order book going into the crisis but we don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 6 months. So getting involved in this project really ticks two boxes for us, the altruistic one where we reach a level of responsibility, but also we get our guys back into work and we preserve the integrity and sustainably of our company and look after the ability of our employees to continue paying their bills.
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): And then lastly, very quickly, we only have a few, actually a 1 minute left, Graham. What is the next step for Clifford Machines and technology? What amount of funding will be required for your project to move forward in the production of the ventilators and tell us do your old machines still work and what are you doing to do with your old machines your company has produced in the past?
GRAHAM RAYNOR: well I think, Zahir, this project was shut down in 2005 so we’re basically taking out the old technology that we have. We are not reinventing the wheel, I guess we are just changing the hub caps but there is a certain amount of prototyping that needs to be done, we need to get the new units tested. From the development perspective I guess I have to use the word development in inverted commas because we are not reinventing the wheel but certainly we have to upgrade some of the electronics to the latest available technology and in fact some of the parts in the machine that we had 20 years ago are no longer available. So even the matter of just repurposing the unit, and also specifically making sure that it is appropriate to COVID-19. From the development costs, we’ll cover that internally we have no problem with that and we are quite a long way down the line, in that we have all the bits and pieces together, we’ve been writing the software. The hope is that we would have everything ready by the end of this week. Unfortunately, as is always the case, when you try to do things in a rush, there have been some problems, most notable of which we had some parts stuck in customs at OR Tambo [airport], despite us moving mountains to try and get them the documentation they require at customs, it’s still stuck there. But those are the challenges we face. From the perspective of what funding we need going forward, the numbers are quite staggering, and one hopes if we can secure orders for the machine then we will be able to also secure some form of deposit from the customers to fund the working capital. But to give you an idea, if we were to manufacture 1000 units, the working capital requirements for that would probably be in the region of 60 million Rand and for a company that only turns over 100 million, that’s a big number. So we are certainly looking into other options, the IDC has setup a fund specifically for COVID-19 type projects like this, so we are looking to the IDC, we are looking to our banks, we are also consulting with certain funds, private individuals and companies who are expressing an interest in getting involved. And then, of course, we don’t want to hold this close to our chest, and I refer back to the responsibility I was talking about earlier, it’s important that we consider licensing the product to other people as well as open sourcing the product. So all these things are working concurrently, it’s not the normal development cycle that you would want, but we are confident that we can get this thing sorted and out to market as soon as possible.
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): Yes, Graham, thank you for your time this morning and thank you for joining us on the airwaves of C.I.I. I think if there any a time we need your company at the most is now at this troubled time. Not only our country is going through, but the world, especially in Africa, we need as much resources as we can to combat the spread of the virus both locally. So thank you so much for your time once again we hope to chat to you again in the near future and we wish you all the best on your project moving forward. Thank you so much.
GRAHAM RAYNOR: Thank you Zahir
ZAHIR BASSA (HOST): Thank you .That was Graham Raynor he is the co-owner of Clifford Machines [& Technology] talking about the creation of ventilators, which we need now also with the use of equipment that we need here instead of outsourcing it from other countries.