Hammarsdale DCs

Published: FY2023

Ackermans Hammarsdale DC: A model for sustainability in overcoming water and electricity challenges


Hammarsdale serves as home to Pepkor’s distribution centres (DCs) for a number of business units, including Ackermans, PEP and all Speciality brands, such as Dunns, Tekkie Town, CODE, Refinery, S.P.C.C and Shoe City. By consolidating logistics and sharing lessons, the group is able to maximise efficiencies for each business unit.

This case study details how Ackermans has gone about ensuring that the water and electricity supply is uninterrupted, enabling them to continue operations to serve customers amid water and electricity outages.

Water challenge
Keystone Park, where the Hammarsdale DC is located, is supplied water by the eThekwini municipality via the Hammarsdale reservoir. The challenge that Ackermans faced was that, on average, there were at least 12 days of water outages every month, specifically during business peak periods.

As a temporary solution, water tankers were being brought in to provide water for operations. This was not sustainable, considering that at peak operation the Ackermans DC, which runs day and night shifts, has between 650 and 700 employees. Most employees are female, and the presence of a canteen and clinic on site increases the need for clean water for health and hygiene reasons. This has led to the initiation of the water harvesting project by facilities manager Charles van Niekerk in late 2021.

The water harvesting project
To build the business case for water harvesting, our first step involved meeting with the municipality’s operations managers. The municipality’s long-term goal is to ensure stable water supply. Based on a geological study of the area, its medium-term plan is to tap into about 300 000 kilolitres of underground water from Camperdown to Shongweni through boreholes. However, as van Niekerk explains, “all these solutions were too distant for us, considering our immediate daily needs.”

After talking with the engineers who built the site, it was agreed that water harvesting tanks were the best short-term solution for the 89 000 m2 facility. Of this area, 55 000 m2 are used by Ackermans, while Pepkor Speciality uses the remaining 34 000 m2. Project planning began around June 2022, and the water harvesting system was put into place by October 2022.

Van Niekerk says, “We realised that the water catchment area is probably large enough to supply our business with the water it needs. However, we were aware that we lacked the expertise to provide drinkable water, and with laws governing water supply, it was too risky to handle this by ourselves. So, we completed the design, which the engineers approved, and hired a service provider who has the necessary expertise.”

Ackermans first set up a 60 000-litre water catchment system and later added another 60 000 litres, bringing the total to 120 000 litres collected from the facility’s roof.

For drinking, clinic use and canteen needs, Ackermans currently purchases potable water. The medium-term strategy for drinkable water is linked to the PEP DCs water harvesting project, located across the road. This project is in the commissioning phase and once operational, the PEP DC will provide Ackermans with potable water, meeting all their water requirements independently from the municipality.

The water harvesting initiative at Ackermans has also been a successful pilot for Pepkor Speciality. Speciality initially set up a 40 000-litre capacity during construction and later added another 40 000 litres, totalling 80 000 litres.

Solar project
The Ackermans site, initially relying on the municipality for electricity and equipped with five backup generators, faced challenges due to the country’s increased load shedding, especially in the last year. On average, the Ackermans DC experienced 97 hours of load shedding per month over a 12-month period.

Van Niekerk notes, “The generators, meant as backups, were being overworked, and we were not getting the best out of them. Although the site is only five or six years old, the generators’ operational hours have doubled, ageing them prematurely. They weren’t meant to be our main power source. Additionally, the high diesel costs were straining our budget.”

Furthermore, maintaining the generators was challenging. If a generator failed or needed to be serviced, it was near impossible to work on it. The generators require two hours to cool down before servicing, making it difficult to perform maintenance before the next load shedding cycle kicks in.

Van Niekerk explains, “In February 2022, we started discussing various power solutions. We considered different types of generators, upgrading to a larger generator, and synchronising existing generators to cut diesel costs, among other options.”

Solar was identified as the best solution, although it had to take into account the unique circumstances of the DC, especially in relation to battery backup storage. Due to the parking lot being under pylons, legal restrictions on battery storage in that area, and limited space in other parts of the facility, the solar system would not include battery storage.

The approach that was adopted involves a three-way synchronisation, where solar power is the primary energy source. During the day, the entire facility operates on solar energy, while at night, it switches to Eskom’s power and the backup generators during load shedding. This approach reduces reliance on generators, allowing for more regular maintenance, less running time, and therefore extending their lifespan. Additionally, this solution positively contributes to lower carbon emissions by using solar energy, a renewable source.

At the heart of these initiatives is the strong relationships the Ackermans team built with the municipality, service providers and partners. Van Niekerk remarks, “We’ve built strong connections with the water department’s operations manager, the Eskom team, and others. These relationships have been invaluable in crisis situations and during the development of these projects.”