Money and Markets

The Maritzburg company that helps make Tesla cars, now brings wifi to millions of air travellers

Business Insider SA
The SA company Hulamin manufactures the battery box base plate of Tesla cars. Photo: Netwerk24
  • South African aluminium rolling company Hulamin has a long-standing contract with Tesla.
  • It is also the only supplier in the world that can produce a crucial fitting that enables wifi connections on airplanes. 
  • Hulamin will continue to operate from Pietermaritzburg.

The KwaZulu-Natal based aluminium rolling operation, Hulamin, has carved out a very important global niche. 

Hulamin is now the only supplier in the world that can produce a crucial fitting that enables wifi connections on airplanes according to CEO Richard Jacob.  

Hulamin makes rolled aluminium products. By using high-end technology and adding alloys like silicon, it manufactures very specialised products that are used in electric vehicles (like the Tesla) and now also in airplanes that offer wifi.

To supply wifi, two satellite dishes need to be fitted to an airplane – one to upload data and the other to download. These satellite dishes, which resemble very large round dinner plates, are fitted into a highly sophisticated, high-tolerance machined aluminium frame that cannot warp or buckle under pressure.

Hulamin is the only company in the world that can produce the aluminium plate for these frames. 

Equally, Hulamin is one of the few producers of high-end aluminium products for electric cars. Hulamin has a long-standing contract with South African-born Elon Musk’s Tesla car company to supply battery box base plates. These ultralight heat-treated plates can withstand massive amounts of weight and heat. Hulamin has a growing client base for its electric car inputs. 

Jacob estimates that Hulamin now controls half the global market for ultra high-end aluminium products.

Still, it continues to operate from Pietermaritzburg.

We have clients all over the globe. Moving our factory to the US would not make sense to our clients in Germany and Japan. The efficient Durban harbour is only 80km away, and the cost of transporting it to other markets is reasonable. From a global perspective, South Africa is not badly positioned at all.
Hulamin CEO, Richard Jacob

The company released its results for the year to end-December on Monday, with its rolled products delivering another year of record sales. Overall, though, the subdued local market weighed on total sales, with turnover increasing only modestly to R10.2 billion (2016: R10,1 billion). Its headline earnings fell by 13% due to the stronger rand. Hulamin's share price was up almost a percent to 514c by late Monday afternoon.

Take a look how wifi equipment is installed in an airplane:

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