Flexibility and speed the core at Ukuthela Foundry Projects

While Minika van Aswegen – wife of Ukuthela Foundry Projects owner Cobus van Aswegen – describes herself as being a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, the same cannot be said of husband Cobus. Within the company he has had to take on the role of jack-of-all-trades while at the same time being master of all of them, right down to driving the forklift.

“I don’t think I am unique in the foundry industry or broadly speaking in any small to medium size manufacturing company, that is owner run. You will generally find that a company that has been established by an individual that had previously spent time on the manufacturing floor will be able to deal with any process that occurs on the manufacturing side. We may not fully master all aspects of a given process – casting metal in our case – but we should be proficient enough to produce the castings or product to the quality that we expect from our employees. In short, I must lead by example,” said van Aswegen.

Ukuthela Foundry Projects only casts SG iron castings

“The difference, as compared to an employee, is that I will have the passion. As head of the company, which I established in 2005, I am responsible for developing a culture of operational excellence and improving efficiencies. I spend a lot of time leveraging human and manufacturing assets, influencing systems and technologies, and sharing best practices. And the only way you are going to do that is by being hands on. This allows the employees to see that you are participating and it will in turn take them to a new level of commitment. Other benefits are automatically derived but the key to the success of any business will still remain its people.”

“My background is patternmaking and believe it or not this is one aspect of our foundry process that we outsource. It is only because we have decided to focus on producing quality castings and there are enough specialised patternmaking shops that we can call on to manufacture our patterns, when needed. This side of the foundry business has advanced considerably in recent years and companies are now making use of CNC bridge type milling machines and the latest software to manufacture patterns. The continuous improvement in foundry processes has not left patternmaking behind.”

Ukuthela Foundry Projects keeps a large stockholding of its clients most ordered castings

“There is also the talk of metal casting with 3D printing. However, while direct printing of metal is widely discussed and promoted, the high costs and technical difficulty involved means that many products and applications are better addressed through a mature manufacturing process like metal casting.”

“I can see how it benefits the investment casting foundries and those companies looking for a quick and cheap prototype as an example, but it is going to be a while before 3D printing takes over from the tried and tested foundry process.”

“Before starting Ukuthela Foundry Projects I was a Director in another foundry in the Pretoria area. This foundry has subsequently closed because my fellow Director and majority shareholder at the time decided to retire to the Western Cape. Fortunately I had already gone out on my own and established Ukuthela Foundry Projects here in the Babelegi Industrial area just outside Hammanskraal, northern Gauteng. It is only 45 minutes from Pretoria so logistically we are still very accessible.”

“From the beginning we have concentrated on casting SG iron castings. My motivation behind this decision is that there is always a constant demand for pumps and valves cast in SG iron and today 80% of the castings that exit our foundry are made up of components for the pump and valve industries.”

“Another reason was that we did not want any contamination when casting and you could experience this if you decided to cast a range of metals.”

Hubs that have been cast for the mining industry

80% of the castings that exit Ukuthela Foundry Projects are made up of components for the pump and valve industries

“We are very comfortable casting impellers, diffusers, pump casings, valve bodies and many of the other components required for these products. Just this year we have already cast about 30 000 castings for our clients in these industries. The mix is made up of about 115 different castings and the weight range is from 250 grams up to 350 kilograms per casting. And we are not limited to one-offs. Production runs are easily accommodated in our setup.”

Flexibility and efficiency with forklifts
“Many foundry owners don’t like forklifts running around their foundry because of the inherent accidents and mishaps associated with them. They would rather use a conveyor system in combination with or without an overhead crane to move their moulds and castings around. Designing effective conveyor systems for foundry processes calls for innovation and collaboration. In several cases, coordinating the users’ objectives with the latest available components and capabilities can improve the results of a conveyor design. And yes we are using a conveyor system in our sand reclamation plant. In that instance it makes sense.”

“Likewise we use an overhead crane to transport our metal to the casting area. Again it makes sense.”

“But on the foundry floor we find it does not work for us because of the restrictions it imposes. Currently we have two forklifts constantly on the move, operating throughout the foundry. A third one is on order and should be operational by mid-October.”

“One of the main reasons for us using forklifts is that it gives us the flexibility and the efficiencies associated with the process.”

Castings ready for delivery

Ukuthela Foundry Projects have already cast about 30 000 castings for clients just this year so far

“I will explain why it works for us and other foundries should consider going the same route. We have manufactured a number of different size stands that can take one, two or more castings, boxes or moulds, either the same size or various sizes, depending on your production requirements. The stands are designed so that the forklift can easily pick them up or deposit them in the required area. There are no obstructions on the floor so the forklifts move quickly and freely around the factory.”

“The pouring line is a great example to give you of how much time we save. Once we have done a pour that stand is moved to the cooling off area and is immediately replaced with another stand that has new moulds on it. There is no waiting for a pour to take place over the whole pouring line before you start moving the castings. In essence the line of moulds could be replaced with new moulds ready for pouring by the time you have finished the last pour in the previous line.”

“We even have a holding area for completely prepared moulds, on the stands, ready and waiting for a forklift to move them into position.”

“There are many other examples I can give you – from mould preparation to fettling. With the amount of castings that we are casting these days we need the efficiencies of speed and the flexibility associated with using the forklifts.”

The weight range Ukuthela Foundry Projects can cast is from 250 grams up to 350 kilograms per casting

Ukuthela Foundry Projects has over 500 patterns catalogued

“We believe that we would have to employ another 10 to 15 staff to fulfill the same amount of production that we are currently achieving if we ditched the forklifts or went onto the conveyor / overhead crane system.”

Raw materials
“One of the main ingredients for casting SG is pig iron. We only use pig iron and the required additives in our melts. The only form of scrap that we will use is our own reject castings and any cut-offs that we derive. This way we can control the quality of our melts and the resultant benefit is a very low scrap rate.”

“Our pig iron is supplied in one ton bags and these are stored in a designated area because you cannot have your melt area cluttered. Again the forklifts move the bagged material quickly and easily without any interruption to our melting and pouring process.”

“Our first furnace that we purchased was a 200kg furnace. We have subsequently purchased a 350kg furnace and a 480kg furnace, both supplied by MUR Industries. Currently we are producing 60 tons of castings a month and these furnaces give us enough capacity to fulfill our melt requirements.”

Equipment – owner designed and built
Addressing the company’s equipment requirements Van Aswegen admits that he is not that popular with the suppliers as he is quite capable of designing and manufacturing his own equipment.

Ukuthela Foundry Projects checks material specs with a Spectromax

Moulds being prepared

“The equipment that we have built might not be referred to as state-of-the-art but it is functional for our needs. Where necessary it will include practical features that fit into our layout. The sand reclamation plant, including the shakeout, is all our own design as are two of the three continuous mixers that we have.”

“Currently we are putting the finishing touches to our own shotblasting machine. This should be in operation by the end of the year.”

The holding area for moulds before being moved with a forklift to the pouring line

The core shop

Ukuthela Foundry Projects employs 24 staff and occupies 4 500m² of space and has all the necessary testing equipment for quality inspection, including a Spectro spectrometer. The company stores about 500 patterns for clients, all carefully catalogued. Six months ago it was issued with its AEL licence.

Large stock holding of customer castings
Ukuthela Foundry Projects must be one the very few foundries that does not operate under the ‘order first then we will produce’ system. Such is its healthy relationship with its clients Ukuthela Foundry Projects keeps a large stockholding of its clients most ordered castings.

Ukuthela Foundry Projects is in the process of putting the finishing touches to their owner designed and built shotblasting machine

Ukuthela Foundry Projects believes that there will always be a constant demand for pumps and valves cast in SG iron

“We offer them an off-the-shelf service and they appreciate the fact that they don’t have to wait weeks to get their castings after they have ordered them. If there is any downtime on the pouring line we make sure that we pour castings to replenish the stocks that we hold for clients.”

“But we are not completely rigid. Such is our flexibility we can accommodate urgent or last minute orders.”

“Ukuthela is a Zulu word and it means to pour, which is essentially what a foundry is all about – pouring molten metal.”

For further details contact Ukuthela Foundry Projects on TEL: 012 719 8860