Still building for Southern Africa 80 years later

Fabricating over 100 000m² (equivalent to about 850 medium sized houses) of prefabricated building systems per year requires unstinting attention to detail and quality control in manufacturing.

Franz Janovsky was a pilot with the Austrian Air Force during the First World War. He completed his studies in 1919 and then joined Elin – the largest electrical firm in Austria at the time – as an electrical engineer. In 1928 Franz was sent to South Africa by the company to promote the relatively new technique of electric arc welding.

To demonstrate the advantages and practical aspects of welding, a number of welded structures were manufactured. The response to these demonstrations convinced Franz that there was a ready market for welded structural steelwork.

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing manufacture prefabricated buildings and have often been contracted to supply the buildings for a whole ‘town’

As a result Franz decided to establish his own business – naming it Fabricated Steel Manufacturing Company (FSM) – in 1933. The site where the company is still based today – Linton Jones Street, Industries East, Germiston, Gauteng – was acquired and Franz Janovsky, an innovator and an engineer of great talent began manufacturing welded steel structures, most of which were for the gold mining industry.

In those early pioneering days diversification came easily. In 1941 FSM was involved in the construction of a factory for the production of fibre-cement products. Anticipating the need for low cost and time-efficient buildings, Franz Janovsky registered a patent for what was South Africa’s first industrialised building system.

This system called for the use of fibre-cement boards as wall panels, in conjunction with a steel framework. Today, a number of similar building systems – based on the same concept – are on the market. FSM’s first breakthrough in the field of industrialised housing was achieved in 1945, when a contact for the supply and erection of 30 prefabricated houses was granted by Iscor for the new Van der Byl Park township.

The 1960’s saw the development of a lightweight building system. Quickly erected and dismantled, it was designed primarily to meet the requirements of the building and civil engineering industries, offering attractive, functional and easily transportable on-site accommodation. The system was dubbed the ‘Camp Hut’.

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing is not limited to housing, offices and school classrooms – this is inside a bank

The new Durma plasma cutting machine with a Hypertherm supply source and True Hole technology

The family business has since grown to be one of the largest single production facilities for the manufacture of prefabricated building systems in South Africa. The factory area exceeds 4.8 hectares of land with approximately 25 000m² under roof in Germiston. FSM also has an additional two-hectare storage facility for rental units in Johannesburg and 2 200m² factory under roof on a 1.4 hectare property in Atlantis, Western Cape.

“While prefabricated buildings used to conjure up images of demountable school buildings providing additional classroom space, there is now a much wider range of products on offer, more players in the market and increasingly more sophisticated designs of the end product,” says Felix Clemens, one of three Executive Directors of Fabricated Steel Manufacturing.

“The production of schools and classrooms, as well as industrialised housing, made up most of FSM’s product mix in the early history of the company. These FSM prefabricated buildings attracted favourable attention from the various authorities and other commercial organisations. This was the cue for the company to concentrate on manufacturing, supply and erection of various systems of prefabricated buildings throughout South Africa and Southern Africa.”

“From a cost aspect we cannot compete with low-cost housing because of the type of building materials used for these projects. But in all other areas we are more than competitive.”

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing has a number of machines in the press brake department

A mobile prefabricated building in the assembly department

“When using prefabricated structures, there can be a higher initial construction cost. There is also a greater need for coordination of build sequences to ensure that delivery and installation run smoothly and the speed of using prefabrication is optimised.”

“However, using prefabricated materials allows for the off-site process to take place simultaneously with site preparation activities, resulting in a significantly reduced overall construction period of a project. This reduced construction time can lead to less labour costs and delays due to bad weather are minimised. There is also a faster time to occupation.”

“Greater control over the finished product can be achieved, as on-site wet and electrical trades can be minimised or eliminated as they can be generated in a factory controlled process. The indoor environment allows for buildings and components to be protected from climate extremes, vandalism and theft. Safety is also easier to control in a factory and most of the work can be conducted at waist height, and workers know the machinery and systems of the factory. Furthermore, the environmental impact of the construction process can be minimised.”

“The cost and constraints of the shipment method must be taken into account, especially if the factory is located far away from the site. For example, mobile, completed structures transported on a flat-backed trailer will be limited in length, width and weight based on the capacity of the truck. Transport may also be affected by daytime traffic restrictions, maximum load capacities and height restrictions under bridges.”

“Ideally the site for placement or erection must not be more than 300 kilometres away from the factory, particularly in the case of mobile units, otherwise the transport costs start to impact.”

Individual units, such as a site office, are also manufactured by Fabricated Steel Manufacturing

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing fabricates virtually everything in their Germiston factory. In the main cut-to-length coil is supplied to them from various suppliers and then they process material through the cutting, bending, punching and roll form machines

“The various components of the prefabricated structures that we manufacture are fabricated in our own factory-controlled conditions. The structures are available in various sizes and internal layouts can be designed to customers’ requirements. The structures are supplied as modular, mobile, polycore building or interlocking panel systems. These structures are either assembled in our factory and delivered to site ready for use, fully wired and plumbed for immediate occupation or supplied in a knocked down form to be erected on site.”

“The products we manufacture are modular building systems, polycore building systems, fast space mobiles and interlocking panel systems. They are either bolted steel or chassis type structures or panel systems that can be relocated or permanent structures such as the polycore building system that has a concrete base.”

“The inner and outer walling on all of these systems is a panelised sandwich system with a polystyrene core and an external and internal skin. The roofing and ceiling options are mostly client dependable but the flooring is generally 16mm thick magnesium oxide floor panels on steel supports covered with heavy-duty vinyl sheeting, or carpet can be specified as a floor cover.”

“The most popular systems that we supply are the mobile systems. The assembly of these units, in our factory, starts off with the chassis. They are manufactured from 2.5mm or 3mm steel lipped channel with heavy duty cross members welded together into a rigid ladder frame.”

Cutting on the new Durma plasma cutting machine

In the paint shop

“The walls are the sandwich panel design with a 60mm polystyrene core enclosed with a 0.5 to 0.6mm chromadek external and internal skin. Both exterior and interior skins are bonded to the polystyrene core by a special process resulting in an extremely strong panel. The panel has a patented interlocking profiled edge, which gives a flush, weatherproof joint. The internal panel can be specified as a wood print chromadek finish.”

“The 60mm thick polystyrene core has insulation properties (U-value = 0,6 W/M² ºC) that are superior to a 230mm brick wall, is fire retardant and does not give off poisonous gases in the case of a severe fire, as is the case with some polyurethane insulating materials.”

“The roof and ceiling are also made up of a sandwich panel design with 0.5mm galvanised or chromadek profiled outer skin, 60mm polystyrene core and 0.6mm chromadek inner skin which serves as the ceiling. The roof joints overlap to ensure a weatherproof finish and chromadek fascias are fixed externally.”

“The windows are made from either aluminium or steel that are either painted or galvanised depending on client requirements.”

The new Durma plasma cutting machine has given the company more scope for cutting operations

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing has its own cut-to-length and rollforming equipment

“All interior doors are 40mm hollow core construction with a decorative woodgrain finish. Exterior doors can be clad with a chromadek skin or solid timber doors can be specified. Single or double glass doors can also be specified for offices or stores. The rebated doorframes are made from 1.6mm steel. Exterior doors are fitted with a 3 lever mortice lock and interior doors with a 2 lever lock.”

“SABS approved electrical harness kits are supplied for quicker installation and relocation. All switches and plug points are flush mounted and conduits are concealed in the wall cavity. A fully equipped distribution board is supplied with each kit.”

“Our scope of clients covers many areas including government and the mining and construction industries. The more remote the location the more the prefabricated structures become attractive. We have erected or supplied individual units and ones for a whole village that can accommodate up to 5 000 people for permanent or long-term projects. The structures include from one to six bedroom accommodation, dormitories, ablutions, kitchens, dining rooms, clinics, doctors consulting rooms, site offices, storerooms, canteens, offices and schools and classrooms. These structures have even been extended to facilities such as banks, shops and E-house projects housing auxiliary power units.”

“We are not limited to South Africa and depending on the projects we can have as much as 30% of our production exported. We have supplied product to all our neighbouring countries, which are generally delivered by road, and into Madagascar, Ghana and other West African countries.”

The company still makes use of its Trumpf Trumatic punching machines

Chassis being welded together for mobile prefabricated buildings

“One of the more challenging and interesting projects that we have supplied in recent years was for the Medupi Power Station situated at Lephalale in the Limpopo province. We supplied polycore, modular and mobile building systems consisting of 220 four-bedroom mobile units, 130 five-bedroom units, offices, dining halls, laundry, kitchen and recreational facilities.”

“We fabricate virtually everything in our Germiston factory. In the main cut-to-length coil is supplied to us from various suppliers and then we process it through our cutting, bending, punching and roll form machines. Other processes include sand blasting, painting, welding and assembly.”

“As the company name says we fabricate steel. Components and products for plumbing, electrical, windows and other disciplines such as these are all outsourced although we do have our own wooden door-manufacturing department. The board for the flooring and ceilings is also outsourced as is the polystyrene core.”

New Durma plasma cutting machine
“Most of our equipment that we have on the floor is relatively old but still performs the functions according to the spec we require. In some cases the older equipment performs better than the more modern equipment we have but it all depends on the component that is required.”

A recent contract involved manufacturing housing for switchgear with a weight bearing of 12 tons. Each unit measured 12 by 4 metres and weighed 16 tons

Complete homes can be designed and manufactured by Fabricated Steel Manufacturing

“However, we have recently invested in a new Durma PL-C 2580 high definition plasma cutting system, Aurora – Beckhoff control unit and with a table size of 2 500 by 8 000mm and a modular table loading system.”

“These rail type plasma cutting machines are designed to cut a wide range of mild steel, stainless steel and aluminium. The PL-C (Compact) series that we purchased is equipped with a Hypertherm supply source and True Hole technology. Dual precision rack/pinion guiding for the Y1, Y2 and X axis along with a synchronised dual side backlash free drive system with high precision planetary gears, allow high positioning speeds, acceleration and automatic torch height control to provide high quality efficient cutting.”

“Modern plasma systems can do more than just cut. They can gouge, mark, remove welds, and more. And this applies whether plasma processing occurs using a hand-held torch or a machine torch mounted on a CNC table, robotic arm, or automated track.”

“Minimising waste and the speed of manufacturing components were the big reasons why we purchased the Durma plasma. Through the use of the CNC technology to manufacture components, we’re able to ‘nest’ these components for material optimisation, leaving as few off-cuts as possible. Basically, the computer programme chooses the most optimal arrangement for the components to be laid flat ready for CNC cutting. This method of automation saves both time and unnecessary material waste.”

“This is especially pertinent when you are processing between 200 and 300 tons of metal per month.”

Modern, affordable and comfortable
“Our digital processes (design and manufacturing) do allow for ‘custom’ prefabricated builds, providing flexibility and surety around the timing, cost and project delivery, all of which are fundamental for our clients.”

“Another advantage is that we are able to take our clients from design conception to build completion. This allows for communication between all parties throughout every stage of the process.”

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing shows its versatility by erecting structures in remote areas

Fabricated Steel Manufacturing were involved in manufacturing the housing and other accommodation and service buildings for the Medupi power station

“More importantly, the panelised systems that we offer these days are modern, affordable and comfortable. They can be manufactured and delivered in around a third of the time of traditional site based construction. Maintenance is minimal, they can be relocated and if permanent can last up to 50 years.”

FSM is managed by three executive directors – Felix Clemens (nephew of the founder), Peter Janovsky (grandson of the founder) and Thys Kloppers. Mahogany Private Equity (a majority black female owned company) purchased 25.1% of the company in 2010. The company employs 275 staff and has been ISO 9001:2008 certified since 2012.

For further details contact Fabricated Steel Manufacturing on TEL: 011 821 5600 or visit