A South African company, TurnKey Modular, has innovated a game-changing construction method for African industry. CEO Warwick Jackson explains they have developed a large scale printing method for 3D modelling, which has won international acclaim. In May 2020, they were recognised by the World Association of Stainless Steel for innovation.

‘Our approach is that we take care of everything from beginning to end, including the structure for a customer. We’ve challenged what can be done offsite and then taken to site fully operational,’ says Jackson.

Breaking the mould of 3D modelling

The traditional method of 3D modelling uses software to design a structure in 3D. An individual would then complete the build from the design using standard structural beams. TurnKey Modular has removed the need to instruct an artisan to carry out the plan, and no off-the-shelf structural members are used. Instead, Jackson explains, the virtual model of the product is sent to a machine, and a  ‘printed’ version of the component is created by laser cutting steel. The sheet is then ‘folded’ into the desired shape, and holes are made where required.

‘It is a unique use of available technology that sets us apart from our competitors. There is very little potential for error from human input. Each component is created with a guarantee that it will fit perfectly into the other components,’ he says.

With massive structures now able to be assembled on-site with ease, the process is less labour intensive, and extremely accurate. ‘We are confident that the items that arrive for our customers will fit exactly with no physical work needed in terms of modification or rework,’ says Jackson.

Going beyond borders 

Everything is bespoke made by TurnKey Modular and assembled exceptionally quickly, making it compatible with multiple streams in multiple locations if needed. ‘What this gives us the capacity to do is create a design in South Africa and “print” it anywhere in the world as long as they have a laser cutter and steel supplier,’ explains Jackson. So, in theory, you could manufacture components in the location where they are required if you have access to a simple assembly plant, he continues.

Along with the fact that 3D modelling offers opportunities to work across borders, it has also opened doors for working in harsh environments. The TurnKey Modular team used their approach to offsite work to deliver 64 Meerkat telescope yokes and pedestals to the SKA project in the Northern Cape.

The TurnKey Modular team built the yoke of the telescopes and integrated them into the pedestals. They installed, wired, and commissioned every portion of the internal workings of the units. Before the telescopes were dispatched, they were tested mechanically and electrically. They were then loaded onto a custom trailer, driven to the Northern Cape and installed on-site within 24 hours. Each of the 64 units arrived ready to be received and installed on its pedestal. ‘It was at least fifty percent quicker than using traditional methods, and was delivered on time,’ says Jackson.

This proved to be an ideal solution for a radio silent site, which makes communication with personnel through mobile phones impossible. Jackson explains that managing the process on-site also enabled the use of a massive amount of local content. It highlights the opportunities for the benefit of 3D modelling in Africa, which in turn will drive the use of locally sourced resources.

The past to the present

TurnKey Modular was started in 2018 as part of a management buyout (MBO) with working capital from Unipalm Investment Holdings. ‘There has been substantial growth in the business since, with movements into servicing new sectors. They have upgraded to a new facility in Germiston four times as big as the original office and the company is on a growth trajectory, explains Jackson.

Part of the success is that the partnership has brought with it support such as commercial knowledge, oversight in operations from a financial perspective, and help with the business’s structuring. ‘This has freed up our time in these areas to realise value and focus on our core strengths,’ says Jackson.

Unipalm acquired a controlling stake in TurnKey Modular. For over a decade, the company has been specialising in the manufacture of modular buildings for use in industrial, mining, energy, astronomy, and water applications.