Eastern Cape shines brightly in SA’s stainless sector

Building a legacy in quality output, technology and international levels of customer service, three Eastern Cape members provided a highlight on Sassda Executive Director John Tarboton’s recent visit to the province.

From small beginnings, in what was the former Transkei, Autopipe has grown to a state of the art laser mill 27 years later, manufacturing stainless steel pipes and precision machined components for use in the automotive industry.

The company continues to evolve, with the last 12 months seeing them introduce three new production lines, which include CNC Mandrel tube bending and precision machined metal components, together with contracts which will see them exporting overseas.

MD Michael Schreiber reports; “Autopipe is growing rapidly. We have an incredibly strong team which is customer focused and flexible to their needs, so we are kept busy developing new processes, new products and upgrading and improving current systems to ensure our stability into the future; and we will be using a lot more stainless steel locally purchased from Columbus Stainless,” confirms Schreiber.

Schreiber attributes the success of the business today to its flexibility in running both small and big production lines and customer relations underpinned by quick reaction time, reliability, innovative logistics and on-line communications with its customers.

“Basic criteria such as price and quality no longer constitute the decisive factors on which suppliers are judged.  In a global business village, a supplier must become an integral part of the customer’s business. While our core business is manufacturing stainless steel tube, with specialisation in OEM exhaust systems, we add value by manufacturing finished and semi-finished products, as well as perforated tube.”

Initially, with only one TIG welding tube mill in place, Autopipe’s first growth spurt was with its introduction of a “cut-to-length” plant to avoid extra cutting costs and waste at their customers’ premises, thereby enabling Autopipe to produce stainless steel pipes in any length, from as little as 10 mm to 12 m in all qualities, from ferritic to austenitic materials. Ever growing demand soon made it necessary to move premises and Autopipe opened their new factory building in East London in 1997, which included pipe manipulating equipment to offer additional flaring processes to customer specifications.

Asked why they chose to relocate to East London, Schreiber says it was because of the harbour facilities being beneficial for the exporting of pipes, as well as for its central location to other major towns and its proximity to the major automotive industries situated in the Eastern Cape.

An upward Trajectory

Laserxpress, headed up by General Manager Willem Annandale, is another Cape supplier headed in an upward trajectory with a number of firsts and plans to expand output through further investment in machinery.

Laserxpress is planning to purchase a new fibre optic laser cutting machine, which will be the first of its kind in the southern Cape.  The company was also the first to install a laser cutting machine in 2005; and the first to install and use a 150-ton electric CNC controlled press brake for sheet metal bending. We also have a new sales team member on board and we will be communicating with our clients so that they now have a further opportunity to enhance their own methods of design and application with the availability of this new technology.”

Laserxpress currently uses 11 tonnes of high technology CNC laser cutting machines on a variety of materials to very high tolerances. This means they are able to combine accuracy with affordable finished components. “Our major advantage in the field, is that we play a pivotal role as the main supplier to a number of local manufacturers in the Cape with components which influence quality, turn-around times and cost savings to our client’s end products.  We are also the only laser cutting company which keeps five different grades of stainless steel in stock on the premises, together with a variety of thicknesses,” says Annandale.

Previously, local manufacturers, architects, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, interior designers, sign makers and CAD designers were having to send their sheet metal work to other parts of the country to be laser cut. This is no longer the case, Laserxpress matches top quality on a variety of materials to be cut from carbon steel of up to 25 mm thick, stainless steel of up to 10 mm thick and aluminum of up to 6 mm thick.

Using the latest technology software and hardware in their daily production, the team utilises Solidworks design software, Sigmanest for plate “nesting” in layout and programming; Trumpf and Bystronic laser cutting machines and Safan Darley and MVD CNC for sheet metal bending.

“Computer aided engineering is the future. We at Laserxpress utilise the latest technology in our everyday tasks and we believe this makes us the market leaders in this field.”

Another Eastern Cape company to note is Allgemeine Maschinen Fabrik (AMF) managed by Chris Prinsloo. Designers, manufacturers and now international suppliers of high tech road tanker equipment such as valves, vents, manhole lids, vapour recovery systems and overfill sensors, they also run a small but specialised road tanker assembly line and offer world class cutting, bending, machining, forming, and dishing services.

Apart from exports to diverse countries such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia, AMF has become a trusted original equipment supplier to all South African tanker manufacturers and are very proud of the continuous development of their valve range, that can be regarded as a world- class product, along with the road tanker components they make.

Established in Gauteng in 1998, the company relocated to George in 2003 with a manufacturing plant which boasts modern and sophisticated machinery where all work is performed by CNC controlled machines and robots.