South African company, Romix Industries, has been earmarked for the award of a K364 million contract to construct a 3 km stretch along the Zaka – Kambalame road in Neno, Southern Malawi. The company is little known among many in Malawi, but it has a promise – it’s coming to Malawi to put to an end the country’s road woes. iHubOnline Editor Mallick Mnela (MM) engages Romix Industries Managing Director Pieter Prinsloo (PP). Below are excerpts of the interview:
MM: Tell us the background of Romix. How did the journey into the road making business start?
PP: I studied Teaching in the early 70’s but I never went into the profession as I realized I had bigger things to do. I went into Sales and Marketing and spent the next 23 years in the Computer Industry.
Romix was started in 1981 by my late ex-brother in law. He did a lot of work with Polymers (water based) mainly in sealants and coatings. He passed in 1995, and I then sold the Company to a third party and bought it back from them in 1996.
That was when I thought it would be a good idea to use Polymers to bind soil together. I was still in the Computer Industry and had to fill orders and do research at night (much to the chagrin of my second, now ex wife)! I messed up her kitchen scales Tupperware and her oven was full of soil and even her car had some spatterings of Polymer on it.
During 1997, after thousands of experiments in the garage, I believed that I had found the magical solution. I spent a lot of effort to find out what the shortcomings of the traditional methodology in road construction were. It was then clear to me that this technology could change the world.
I left my job in the Computer Industry and started out alone.
It was a very tough task to introduce an un-tested technology into a market that is dominated by inflexible, conservative engineers that refuse to even try any new thing. They have been using a technology that was 100 years old and many of them, to this day, call anything other than cement or lime, “Snake Oil”.
PP: You are now known across the world. What are the notable successes you have registered in different parts of the world?
PP: I have done a massive amount if marketing all over the world. On average, I fill a Maxi Passport in less than two years.
Rightly or wrongly, I decided at the outset to use the Distributor / Agent model to promote Romix Products instead of employing my own salesforce. It worked in some instances, but in others it failed miserably. In Armenia and one case in South Africa, my Agents actually started their own Companies selling exactly our concept under other brand names. Agents have no loyalty, or most of them!
We have had some very good successes though. Apart from being the first to market of a Polymer Product that is used as a “mix-in” solution, we are undoubtedly the market leaders in the non-traditional soil stabilization market.
We are well known in China, India, the DRC and several other African Countries. We had several breakthroughs in the Caribbean and also Australia.
In the DRC (prior to the recent Government change) we have built more than 150 kilometers. In South Africa we have done approx. 120 kilometers of roads. The progress, unfortunately, has been slow due to level of skepticism amongst the old guard of civil engineers. Things are looking more promising for the future as younger, more energetic, open minded engineers enter the profession.
MM: You pride yourself because of Soilfix. Tell us more about this product.
PP: Yes, Soilfix is my baby – it is the flagship product of the Company. Everything started with Soilfix.
For starters, the “core” Polymer which is the backbone of the product is patented and only available to Romix on an exclusive supply agreement. This Polymer has the smallest particle size of all polymers and is produced in only one plant in the world – Durban South Africa. The rest of the secret formulation adds different performance attributes to the final product such as, lubrication of soil particles for better compaction. Recent tests showed that SoilFix aided compaction of soils up to 104%. This is unheard of in the Industry. The best compaction achieved with cement or lime is normally around the 98% mark. SoilFix is Bullet Proof!
Other additives to the formula induce downward migration of the Polymers into the sub-base and sub-grade layers of the road. When stabilizing with SoilFix, the customer gets up to 3 layers of strength while only paying for one layer. This is a very potent selling point. Single layer construction with multiple layer performance.
MM: Any more products you have to offer?
PP: Yes, we have several others, mainly wearing course products:
First, there is Romix BTA (Black Top Asphalt). This is a water based, cold asphalt product. It delivers the same performance as Hot Asphalt (Premix). It is a Polymer resin that is mixed with stone and quarry dust. Hot Asphalt requires expensive mixing plants with heating. Hot Asphalt must be laid at a temperature of around 180 deg C. If not, then it must be returned to the plant for re-heating. BTA can be mixed cold. And can be stockpiled for a week under plastic sheets.
Secondly, we have Romix PRS (Polymer Road Seal). A low volume wearing course seal with a black appearance.
We have Romix PNS Eco. A clear drying Polymer seal for roads in Nature Reserves and Parks where a “Natural” look is preferred, yet no dust is generated.
And we also have Romix Roadsafe – Pothole repair. This is an amazing product. It can be applied to fix potholes without any preparation of the pothole – cutting or priming. It needs very little compaction and can even be applied when it rains.
All these products were developed to enhance our “spine” product – Soilfix.
MM: In poor countries such as Malawi, there is a serious challenge in terms of butimised Roads. How do you think your coming to Malawi would help change the situation?
PP: Our products have been specifically designed to offer relief from exorbitant costs associated with the “Traditional” Layer works roads. We have proven over and over that, with our technology, using locally available soils, we can cut the cost of roads by between 40 to 60%. What’s more, we can cut the time to complete projects by 80%.
This recent tender is a case in point. Rural roads in Malawi are not built properly. They do not stabilize the soil and they place bitumen seals on un-stabilized layers. When water gets into the base layers, the road fails and potholes appear.
We are proving this time that we can build the road properly, with a five year guarantee that will last at least ten years, for a cost not much more than the current price paid by the RA.
If anything, I think you should consider investigating the current crop of Construction Companies in Malawi as I firmly believe that they are collectively ripping the customer off!
MM: You have operated in different parts of the world. How would you differentiate the regulatory frameworks between those countries and Malawi?
PP: We have been following the Distributor / Agent route of marketing. In the past, we have always used local contractors and / or the Customer’s equipment to build the roads.
Malawi is unique as it is the first time that we registered our own Company. Incan’t really comment much on this. I still maintain that it would be better for us to work with a trustworthy local Construction Company to deliver Projects. In this case, we had to do it this way to at least get into the system.
MM: You have established you company in Malawi. What are your short-term and long term goals?
PP: I believe that we have achieved our short term goal. We were awarded a contract, right? Our long term goal is to “Connect the Communities and Connect the People” of Malawi with affordable, long lasting roads. We believe that our technology can enhance people’s lives and also bring vigour into the economy of the Country.
After all, our Romix Products were “Designed and Developed in Africa, For Africa. I appreciate your interest in Romix and hope to work honestly and fruitfully with you so that you can bring good news to the people of Malawi.