When compiling a list of South African inventions that have made an impact on a global scale, Pratley Putty will always feature among the top performers. It hasn’t just made its way around the world, this strong adhesive putty has even travelled to the moon. The latest accolade for the ubiquitous putty is being featured in the book ‘Uitvinders, Planmakers En Ander Slimkoppe Van Suid-Afrika’ by local author Engela Duvenage.
During the 1960s, Pratley founder George Montague (Monty) Pratley and his laboratory invented the world’s first epoxy putty. Initially, it was intended to be used internally for insulating and affixing terminals to cast iron electrical junction boxes. However, the product was subsequently introduced into the local market as Pratley Plastic Putty, a name that ultimately became Pratley Putty.
An agreement to manufacture the product under licence to a company in the United States was concluded, which introduced the product to the American Space Agency even before it could enter production in the USA. When the space agency decided to use the product aboard its Ranger space craft, the product was supplied from South Africa via the American distributor. Hence it became the only South African Product to go to the moon.
The product was also featured at a ‘Destination Moon’ exhibition at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in the historic Electric Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July 2019. In honour of this occasion, the South African Mint also featured the putty in its ‘South African inventions’ series of silver commemorative collectible coins that recognise some notable South African inventions.
Pratley produces and actively exports to international markets as diverse as the UK, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Middle East and the Far East. A growing export market in particular is Africa, due to the popularity of the products for quick DIY automotive repair work.
Its diversification strategy has stood the company in good stead in building up each division by cross-pollinating its research and development (R&D) efforts over the 73 years that the company has been in existence. “If one industrial sector is down, we have other divisions in the company that are usually doing well. Especially during this time of Covid-19 and the ensuing economic downturn and market volatility, our strategy of diversification over the years pays off,” highlights chief operations officer Charles Pratley.
The company is even diversified in terms of its manufacturing methods and know-how, especially as it carries out the vast majority of its own production, from plating electrical cable glands to in-house powder coating, adhesives mixing, and even perlite processing. “Most companies would outsource such specialised technical requirements, but we see it as a prime asset and key differentiator in the market for us. We have a policy of maintaining 95% service levels, and we don’t have to rely on any supplier that could be late with delivery,” notes Charles. “We are quite fortunate in having such a depth of manufacturing expertise and the technology underpinning us.”
As far as the longevity of the company is concerned, being a 100% family-owned business allows agile decision-making. Andrew also highlights that Pratley has a very loyal customer base established over many decades who play a significant role in introducing innovative usage of products.
Both Andrew and Charles have seen some interesting applications over the years for Pratley Putty, from repairing tortoise shells to affixing transmitters to pangolins for tracking purposes, and also for plugging holes in rhino horns as a technique to combat rhino poaching.
As for the future, Andrew reveals that a lot of products that have been in the R&D pipeline for three to four years have now come to fruition, from mineral to world-first electrical products specifically for applications in hazardous areas, such as Africa’s most advance perlite filter aid plant and an international standards-adherent flameproof double compression cable
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