The long-established Springs based aluminium foundry operations Zealous Automotive and Zealous Pressure Castings have been given a lifeline by the Steel Best Group, a company with manufacturing facilities in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape but with its head office in Pretoria, Gauteng.
Zealous Pressure Castings was established as a zinc die casting company in 1970 before changing emphasis to the aluminium die casting industry in 1996. Zealous Automotive was established in 2003 to service the automotive OEM market, supplying finished and sub-assembled components direct to automotive assembly lines.
The previous owners spent over R60 million in a new casting cell just over six years ago. At the time, and still today a state-of-the-art aluminium die casting and machining cell. The core of the die casting cell is the fully automated Buhler Carat 140L compact two-platen hydraulic locking die casting system
In May 2016 the Zealous companies were put into business rescue to facilitate the rehabilitation of the company that had become financially distressed. This was despite the automotive division having major contracts in place with a local OEM.
The Steel Best Group, headed up by Reuben Olifant, subsequently showed an interest to become involved with the aluminium foundry group and in late 2016 installed a management team to implement a business rescue plan that had been agreed upon with stakeholders.
“Essentially the companies are still in business rescue and the appointed practitioners still have a 14 month contract to fulfill,” explained Executive Chairman Reuben Olifant.
“It is nearly two years that we have been involved and believe that the successful rescue of the two divisions is now achievable. For some time now they have been operating as fully functional businesses. We have managed to restore confidence with most of the clients, kept on most of the staff and more recently invested over R10 million in the necessary equipment needed to enhance the quality of the products and components that we are producing.”
A Tongtai Topper TMV-850A vertical machining center machines out the solid cast centre journals
“Initially one of the main clients that we have a contract with – Volkswagen South Africa – was presented with our turnaround plan and they accepted what we proposed and today we are producing over 450 cam carriers a day for them. The cam carriers are for the local EA 111 four-cylinder 1.4-litre Polo engine and each weigh 2.4 kilograms.”
“Additionally, we are now producing another component for Volkswagen South Africa, also for the 1.4-litre Polo.”
“They have shown confidence in us, as has one of the major shareholders, the IDC. They have a 49% stake in the business which in time will be withdrawn as the company gets onto a secure footing.”
“This is happening faster than we thought initially and is one of the reasons that we are now making sizeable investments into our systems and equipment.”
Metal is supplied to the Buhler from a two ton Striko dosing furnace
“Most of the other clients are still on board and some of those that had withdrawn their business are now close to signing up with us again. One of them supplies product to most of the automotive OEMs in South Africa. This client is also keen for us to develop the manufacturing of other components that were not produced previously at the company.”
“More importantly we have been successful in securing non-automotive contracts from clients in the lighting industry. Here we are casting various lighting components and housings.”
“Clyde Erasmus, our COO, and Poena Fourie, our Plant Manager, who were both based at our manufacturing plant in Port Elizabeth have spent many hours at the Springs plant over the last two years. Poena will soon be based there full time and he has been tasked with increasing the 60 to 65 tons a month output that we are currently achieving.”
Poena Fourie explains: “Much of the equipment that is here in the foundry departments and CNC machine shop is in good condition. There was some maintenance and repairs that needed to be done. The previous owners spent over R60 million in a new casting cell just over six years ago. At the time, and still today a state-of-the-art aluminium die casting and machining cell.”
“The core of the die casting cell is the fully automated Buhler Carat 140L compact two-platen hydraulic locking die casting system.”
“The machine is the first of its kind in South Africa. The squeeze pin technology incorporated allows us to cast the two centre journals solid, something that has never been done before locally and, is essential to the integrity of the casting,” continued Fourie.
Steel Best Automotive has recently invested in a Zeiss Axio Scope A1 microscope, which will give the company the ability to have an image analysis to measure the grain size of the cast specimens
“Metal is supplied to the Buhler from a two ton Striko dosing furnace. Depending on the downtime of the machine a number of trial pre-shot operations are carried out until both the die and metal are at the correct temperature. This is done to eliminate any stress and porosity defects before the next operation. Throughout we have these checks so as to halt unnecessary operations being carried out on scrap castings further down the line. We refer to this as process security,” explained Fourie.
“The casting cell is ‘virtually’ controlled by a centrally located ABB robot which extracts the component from the Buhler before pausing in front of a set of sensors that check for the completeness of the casting. The robot then moves the casting to a quench tank followed by a positioning on the cut-off saw for removing of the runners and overflow. It then moves the casting to a Jendamark flatness jig that checks for flatness and that there are no broken cores or distortion.”
“At the same station a Borries marking system is inscribing a dot matrix which includes such information as part number, date and time as well as a consecutive unique consequential number. This ensures traceability throughout the manufacturing process and the component’s life.”
“Assuming there is process stability the casting is then moved to the Technopress clipping press which clips any excess flash and trims the cored holes. From there it is placed on an automatic inlet conveyor. All these operations are carried out by the same ABB robot.”
“The casting is then removed from the inlet conveyor by another robot which first rotates the casting before placing it in a Tongtai Topper TMV-850A vertical machining center, which machines out the solid cast centre journals.”
Steel Best Automotive have also invested in a Zeiss DuraMax, a compact 3D measuring machine that is equipped with the VAST XXT scanning sensor. The DuraMax is used to capture contours and free-form surfaces of each casting
“Once this operation is completed the robot removes the casting from the Tongtai and transfers it to an outlet conveyor. Here the first human visual inspection takes place for visual defects like cold flow, flaking, and porosity in the centre journals before the casting is placed on an automatic work in progress conveyor system that holds 2 400 castings or approximately two and half days production.”
“Before visual inspection takes place one in 10 castings undergo a complete x-ray inspection using 17 different orientations.”
“Aluminium cast alloys are common materials used to fabricate engineering components for the transportation industries, especially the automotive, due to the easiness of their shaping by means of casting processes and the intrinsic reduction of weight of structural components that their employment involves. The design of structural components with lower weight and enhanced mechanical performances are pushing the automotive industry towards the employment of a greater amount of light metals. We have purchased a Zeiss Axio Scope A1 microscope, which will give us the ability to have an image analysis to measure the grain size of the cast specimens.”
“We have also invested in a Zeiss DuraMax, a compact 3D measuring machine that is equipped with the VAST XXT scanning sensor. The DuraMax is used to capture contours and free-form surfaces of each casting.”
“We have been successful in stabilising the business on many fronts. Both our creditors and clients have been very cooperative and the two businesses – Zealous Automotive and Zealous Pressure Casting – are now showing good signs of recovery,” concluded Olifant.
For further details contact Best Steel Automotive and Pressure Die Casting on TEL: 011 813 1130 or www.steelbestgroup.co.za