Festo commemorates 40 years in the local automation industry

The Festo training centre. The Festo training centre.

THIS year, Festo South Africa turns 40, marking a milestone in the African automation industry. To commemorate the occasion, the global pioneer of automation technologies and vocational education invited key figures from within industry, government, institutions and media to its official anniversary VIP day on 5 September, 2013, where the company reflected on its impact in the region and on future prospects as a contributor to the manufacturing industries in Africa.

Since its establishment in 1973, Festo South Africa has opened eight offices, and currently employs almost 200 staff members who support the automation sector with state-of-the-art pneumatic and electrical components, electronic control and automation systems, as well as with skills development in the field of machine and process automation. Today, the company services over 5,000 customers and trains up to 1,400 students annually in South Africa, the SADC and EAC countries. 

“Over the years, we have grown from a staff complement of just 14, to opening branches across the continent and servicing all major centres of automation. This industrial development has gone hand in hand with the expansion of our vocational education programmes at Festo Didactic, resulting in a sustainable model whereby skills feed growth, which in turn, creates a need for more skills,” says Richard Teagle, Managing Director at Festo South Africa. “This has firmly entrenched Festo South Africa as a true leader within the industry, both as a supplier of automation technology and vocational learning,” he says.

Festo as a leader in vocational education

Throughout its history, and as the first training provider of its kind to obtain merSETA accreditation, Festo Didactic has up-skilled well over 20,000 training course participants in South Africa alone, helping uplift the industry productivity and improve employability. The organisation frequently adapts its short courses to keep up with the latest innovations and technologies, and continuously increases the number of programmes it has on offer. Each course is tailored to the participant’s skills level, ranging from beginner to advanced, and covers technologies from pneumatics, electrics and hydraulics, to the more recently introduced water treatment and energy optimisation modules. 

“Festo Didactic is the largest training institution in Africa that covers mechatronics, pneumatics, electric control and hydraulics – even though Festo itself doesn’t supply hydraulic componentry into non-training applications,” says Teagle. Festo has also helped to further mechatronics as a professional field in South Africa, with the NMMU (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University,) CPUT (Cape Peninsula University of Technology,) TUT (Tshwane University of Technology) and DUT (Durban University of Technology) already using Festo technologies in their own mechatronics labs. 

Forward-thinking innovation and advancement

As part of Festo AG, a global group which achieved a €2bn turnover in 2011, Festo South Africa has brought some of the most advanced robotic technologies to the country: The Festo SmartBird, which mimics flight using ultra-lightweight mechanical technology, and the Festo ExoHand, a high-strength mechanical replica of the human hand, are just some of the technologies Festo has showcased at universities and exhibitions across Africa. “We have clearly seen how this fun factor within automation has inspired students and even qualified professionals to become more involved in the field of factory automation and mechatronics. We are very proud of our company’s ability to have contributed to the industry’s growth and advancement in this way,” says Teagle. 

As an upcoming example of this, the winner of the German Future Award 2010 (Deutscher Zukunftspreis) the Festo Bionic Handling Assistant, which draws inspiration from an elephant’s trunk, will be on display at the Festo VIP day. Designed to improve interaction between humans and machines, the system uses high-end robotics to grip and handle nearly any small objects with ease.


Festo is a founding global partner of the bi-annual WorldSkills competition – the world’s largest vocational skills competition, which brings young tradespeople together to compete and test themselves against the most demanding international standards. This year, Festo supported the competition in the Mechatronics and Mobile Robotics disciplines, and sponsored the official competition equipment in the form of modular production systems – as it has done for the last 15 years. In the next competition in 2015, the local company will also sponsor the Industrial Control and Polymechanics disciplines, in an effort to grow and inspire broader participation throughout the industry. 

Global skills sharing 

In the most recent example of international co-operation, Festo South Africa, the GIZ (The German Agency for International Co-operation,) the technical division of the BMZ (The German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development,) the University of Stuttgart, the University of Pretoria and The Water Academy adapted state-of-the-art water treatment technology to the uniquely South African environment.

In this example, Festo South Africa was chosen to be part of Germany’s skills development drive for being the leader of innovation and development on the African continent. South Africa was chosen as a research location for its unprecedented value in terms of water, climate, energy, biodiversity, health and education. 

“South Africa is a unique contrast of first- and third-world, so we have access to first-world knowledge and third-world applicability, which makes it a great place for Festo South Africa to test a prototype that meet the needs of developing countries,” says Teagle. “This has firmly placed us on the map as a contributor towards international skills sharing and cross-continent relations,” he says.

Continued expansion into Africa

With over 100 product innovations yearly and over 2,900 patents world-wide, Festo is one of the world’s leading automation solutions providers.  The company’s key markets have grown to include the food and beverage, automotive, petrochemical and process industries. Within these sectors, Festo provides both customised and ready-to-install solutions throughout the factory and process automation spheres. 

The company’s products include everything necessary to design, assemble and commission complete automation solutions using pneumatics, electrical controls and assembly technology. Complementing this, Festo provides its customers with tailored services that form a complete value chain offering that includes everything from commissioning and product training, to Energy Saving Services.

With a continually expanding presence across sub-Saharan Africa, Festo provides its full range of products and services in the SADC and EAC regions. “Festo was originally founded in Germany, and has expanded to nearly every corner of the globe,” says Teagle. “In the last few years, Festo South Africa has taken major steps to bring high service levels and our complete product offering to most of Africa.”

Festo South Africa’s 40-year anniversary

Some of South Africa’s top businesspeople and ambassadors contributed to the 5 September anniversary event in Johannesburg: The MD of BMW South Africa and the Chairman of the Southern African German Chamber of Commerce, Mr Bodo Donauer, presented a speech as the keynote speaker, while other notable 
guests included:

  • Leaders in South African industry
  • The merSETA CEO, Mr Raymond Patel
  • The Acting Chief Executive of WISA, Ms Dot Zandberg
  • The Director of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Mr Stan Bridges
  • A number of key Festo Directors and Shareholders from around the world

“Our anniversary event is showcased that, apart from our engineering excellence, Festo South Africa plays a role in national development through skills advancement and technology exchange, linking Germany, South Africa and Africa as a whole,” 
says Teagle.

“Through our products, services, and training initiatives, we aim to raise the competitiveness and advance the progress of manufacturing in Africa, improving employment prospects and lifting standards of living,” he concludes.

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