Kelvin Mills, Francis Yu and Juanita Stiehler-Brits (Hestico’s current MD) in Korea finalizing the Abiman/Yudo shareholder arrangement in 2011

Hestico celebrates 60yrs

Plastic and rubber machinery supply business Hestico is celebrating 60 years of active operation this year, almost certainly making it the oldest equipment supply business in the industry in South Africa.

At the time of its founding in May 1962, the purchase of production machinery was a difficult undertaking for convertors since most of the equipment was imported from Europe. Forget about email and the internet, those days were even pre-fax! The efficiency and reliability with which the company’s founders handled this responsibility helped get many of the convertors of that era – many of whom were completely new to plastics – off to a good start. Providing quality machinery at fair prices with reliable back-up still forms the core of the service that Hestico provides.

Hestico was founded in Johannesburg by Herman Ernst Stiegler, who had immigrated to SA from Germany, and Conrad Niehaus. At first the company operated as CF Niehaus & Co, but that changed in 1970 when Niehaus left and Herbert Seitz joined, creating Hestico, being an abbreviation of these gentleman’s names.

From inception the company’s sole activity was the supply of machinery to the plastics and rubber industries, and the partners managed to gain the agencies for some top-flight European machine manufacturers, the first of which included Werner & Pfleiderer, Berstorff and Mann + Hummel. Stiegler was integral to the early success of Hestico. Besides the fact that he was a popular and gregarious man, he also oversaw the implementation of the systems that enabled the company to operate effectively. Most important of these was the system to provide technical back-up to users of machines it supplied and doing so in a professional and convincing manner.

As the company grew, more agencies were added, including that of tooling component/hot runner maker D-M-E of Belgium.

Extensive inventory

Besides its comprehensive customer services and well trained team of technicians, from the start Hestico maintained an extensive inventory of spare parts at its customised premises in Kew, Johannesburg.    This enabled the company to offer efficient technical support.

Hestico has exclusive agreements with a number of top international OEMs, and its technicians are Siemens OEM qualified.    With this high level of service, the environment at Hestico was in some cases a ‘training ground’ where a number of technicians enjoyed the opportunity to work on high-standard converting equipment. Over the years, the Hestico team has included individuals who – with the acquisition of such skills – went on to become respected field service technicians in their own right. And quite a number of these individuals later switched to the converting sector, in the process helping build the industry to what it is today, a healthy world-class operation.

1974 was to become one of Hestico’s standout years: Heiner Wolber joined as sales engineer, also tasked with sales of D-M-E and related products. Heiner actually spent the rest of his career at the company.

By this time the company had grown and was employing nine people, operating from premises in Richard Street, Selby.

Durban, Cape Town

Up till that time Hestico had operated solely out of Johannesburg, but in 1978 it started cooperating with Internatio, a Dutch group involved in machinery and material sales which operated outlets around the country. Internatio from then acted as a sub-agent in Durban and Cape Town, selling and distributing Hestico’s range of products.

In 1981 Fritz Kettner and Heiner Wolber became directors and shareholders, paving the way for one of the company’s heyday periods. Kettner specialised in the supply of Illig thermoforming machines, which are still popular.

Unfortunately, Hermann Stiegler died after a heart bypass operation in October 1985. So ended the career of one of the best known individuals in the industry in South Africa, a man whose accomplishments also included involvement in the setting up of the Plastics Federation of South Africa.

Herbert Seitz took over as MD from Herman. Later that year, Herbert’s son Wolf Seitz joined Hestico as a sales engineer. In 1988 the company purchased a 3000m² property in Kew and built its own premises. It moved there in 1989 and has remained there since.

The tie-up with Internatio had an unexpected spinoff in that, after the Dutch group closed its plastics machinery division in South Africa in 1990, the Internatio managers in Durban, June Smith, and Cape Town, Gerhard Greiner, continued working with Hestico. Greiner, along with some Internatio staff, joined Hestico in Cape Town. The Cape branch became a separate company, Hestico Cape, with Greiner as MD.

June Smith took over responsibility for management of Hestico in KZN. Smith and Greiner, who both remained with Hestico for the rest of their careers, helped establish Hestico’s presence in the two coastal cities.


Hestico also inherited the agency for Arburg injection moulding machines from Internatio, a machine line which was to become one of its most popular. Various other agencies, namely Rinco ultrasonic welding equipment and Madag printing equipment, also came to Hestico as a result of Internatio’s departure.

By this time Hestico had become the biggest plastics machinery supplier in South Africa, with a staff of around 40.

Herbert Seitz retired in 1992 and Heiner took over as MD. Then, in 1997, Hestico merged with Affirm Machinery Sales. This was essentially the renamed entity which Peter Hengst had started when he had left Hestico and formed Bekum SA in 1976. Hengst had, during his absence, achieved considerable success with the sale of Bekum blow moulding machines, which in the 1970s and 80s were the standard for container production in SA.

Affirm had a strong presence in the blow moulding market, one of the only areas where Hestico was not involved. Hengst became a shareholder of what had, with the formation of Coprah Investment Holdings, effectively become a business group. Hestico, Satcor and Affirm Machinery Sales fell under the holding company.

Affirm’s entry to the group signified the acquisition of several important new agencies for blow moulding equipment, including Aoki of Japan (ISBM) and Uniloy (blow moulding and structural foam machines).

In 1998 Juanita Stiehler-Brits joined Hestico as a sales engineer, responsible for sales of Arburg machinery as well as certain downstream equipment.

Hestico’s founding strategy included agreement that directors and staff had to depart on reaching the age of 60, and this clause resulted, obviously, in several individuals moving on. One notable departure was that of the popular Fritz Kettner, who left at the end of 2002 and moved with his family to Austria. That in turn resulted in Juanita becoming a director and shareholder. The wheel, as always, kept on turning and the next to arrive was Kelvin Mills, who signed on in 2004, with the intention of taking over from Peter Hengst. Kelvin had worked in the blow moulding area and was well suited to sales of this equipment. Following Hengst’s retirement at the end of 2004, Kelvin took over responsibility for blow moulding. He became a director in 2006.

Further evolution was in store too, however. At the K show in Düsseldorf in 2010, discussions with one of Hestico’s top principals, hot runner manufacturer Yudo of Korea, resulted in the Yudo buying a stake in the SA company.    This resulted in Yudo CEO Francis Yu becoming chairman of Hestico following the retirement of Heiner Wolber in March 2011. Juanita was then appointed managing director and Kelvin to director. Kelvin subsequently opted to return to the converting sector, in 2014, leaving Juanita at the helm, and it’s got to be said that she has managed serenely since, with Hestico sticking to its business model and principles and continuing to support its customers around the region.

The outcome of this international participation opened opportunities for Hestico, not least as far as trade with the Far East was concerned.    Although it has over the half-century supplied mainly European brands, Hestico has over the past decade been supplying far more equipment from China and Taiwan, falling in line with the many competitors selling machines from the Far East.

Other highlights

Besides this chronology, Hestico has created opportunities for many people in the industry in a number of other ways, including its donations of machines to PlasticsSA (formerly the Federation); the hosting of technical workshops (specifically by Arburg); and hosted visits by representatives of the global companies which it represents, who on many occasions gave presentations to industry gatherings and also imparted their knowledge to guests at the Hestico stand at trade shows over the years, including the Propak Africa, Propak Cape and other events.

It can safely be said that Juanita and the Hestico team have set a high standard and backed up the equipment they supply in an efficient and convincing way throughout. Congratulations to the Hestico team!