McWade Productions continues on its growth path and diversifies outside of just being a foundry

Recent acquisition of Babcock Ntuthuko Powerlines introduces forging into its service offerings.

Nine years ago, McWade Productions decided to take stock of its foundry facility in Olifantsfontein, Gauteng and have hard look at its operational and manufacturing procedures and equipment with a view to improving productivity, yields and increasing capacity.

“The biggest drawback in the foundry was how its layout and workflow had evolved over the years. You could say it was thrown together, since the company was established in 1961 as a supplier to the electrical power transmission industry in Southern Africa and because of production demands the overhaul of the foundry was always put on hold. This was until we took a strategic decision to increase our production levels as well as actively seek outside work,” said Marc Hindle, Managing Director of McWade Productions.

Operations Manager Terence Stopforth and MD Marc Hindle

“We decided to get in an outside consultant who, in conjunction with ourselves, could look at a new layout. It is always good to get an independent view, no matter who it is, because to quote an old cliché, you sometimes operate with tunnel vision,” continued Hindle.

“Shortly after we had appointed the consultant there were a number of benchmarking exercises offered to the foundry industry and we took part in all of them. The results from these benchmarking exercises certainly highlighted our highly non-productive situation.”

“With all this information we could devise a plan to take the foundry forward into a situation where we would start to see real benefits on the production side as well as to the bottom line.”

“The foundry side of the business had been growing steadily compared to the other units in the company, which had seen relatively rapid growth and had formed a much bigger percentage of our annual turnover,” continued Hindle.

McWade Productions is a leading supplier and manufacturer of high voltage electrical transmission and distribution products in Africa for sub stations and line projects

“However, the foundry is an integral operation within the company, especially when you look at the number of proprietary products that the company markets, and the foundry supplies castings to make up these products.”

The transition of the aluminium sand and gravity die-casting production foundry required a change of layout. Pit furnaces had to be scrapped and were replaced with tilting furnaces and their positioning in the foundry was in such a way that it was more conducive to the flow of the foundry. Gas fired burners were acquired to improve the quality of the metal melt and reduce scrap. The sand plant, including reclamation equipment, was relocated and the procurement of a shakeout and knockout plant took place, as well as the addition of a continuous sand mixer.

At the same time the company introduced a number of roller tracks and an overhead rail track and put them in place so that they fitted in with the new design, so as to reduce bottlenecks and wasted downtime.

The benefit of investing in new equipment, procedures and systems was immediate. McWade Productions was able to double capacity and reduce scrap substantially as soon as the changes had been implemented and completed. Whereas before its monthly average was 15 tons of castings per month, it now casts between 32 and 40 tons per month depending on the product mix.

McWade Productions’ product range includes clamps, isolators, connectors, crimping tools, compression joints, compression hardware, insulators, line fittings, switch gear, distribution hardware and many others

McWade Productions has been diversifying its product mix in the foundry. They have reduced their reliance on the high voltage electrical transmission and distribution industry. At one stage this industry accounted for 80% of the turnover but now it only accounts for 12%. McWade Productions now manufactures products such as fan blades for mining clients

McWade Productions has continued to invest in its foundry operations and people since its first phase of upgrading was completed in 2012.

“If you want to stay ahead you always have to look at new opportunities and question existing processes, practices, systems and methods,” said Terence Stopforth, McWade’s recently appointed Operations Manager.

“The company manufactures castings for electrical components using die casting and sand casting processes. The metal used is aluminium bronze, copper and steel. Aluminium 6 (LM6) has a high resistance to corrosion under both ordinary atmospheric and marine conditions, and has excellent castability. Its ductibility enables castings to be rectified easily or even modified in shape. For example, simple components may be cast straight and later bent to the required shape. The type of sand used for sand casting is silica sand,” explained Stopforth.

McWade Productions is a leading supplier and manufacturer of high voltage electrical transmission and distribution products in Africa for sub stations and line projects. Its product range includes clamps, isolators, connectors, crimping tools, compression joints, compression hardware, insulators, line fittings, switch gear, distribution hardware and many others. Currently it has over 6 000 stock codes in its system and many of these codes will have multiple components listed within the code.

“The latest equipment investment was in a 3D printer. Prior to that we had installed two more 250 kilogram electrical resistant furnaces, a 5-litre core shooter, a gassing unit, a Bruker Q2 spark spectrometer so that we can formulate our own alloys, a drying unit and then we completely overhauled our air supply system, which has led to significant savings in electrical costs.”

Pit furnaces had to be scrapped and were replaced with tilting furnaces and their positioning in the foundry was in such a way that it was more conducive to the flow of the foundry

The gravity die-casting area of the foundry

“You might think that this is not a huge amount of investment in the foundry over this period but you have to take into account that we are not just a foundry. The philosophy of McWade Productions is to manufacture as many of the components that are used to assemble our products, as well as invest in the related technology and processes associated with manufacturing them. This includes tooling, machining, welding and fabrication.”

“For example in our foundry facility we have invested in CNC equipment and we now have a fully-fledged toolroom servicing the mould and die requirements of the foundry. This includes maintaining existing moulds and dies as well as manufacturing new ones when our design department comes up with a new design. The 3D printer enables us to create one-off prototypes without having to face the costs associated with traditional mould making. Creating casting tools can be incredibly expensive. This means that for small and medium production runs, high tooling costs often cannot easily be amortised.”

The aluminium sand foundry area

McWade Productions have also invested in a sand reclamation and shakeout system

“Metal casting may be one of the oldest manufacturing methods used to create metal parts, but it is also yet another sector that can benefit from 3D printing. With the high costs involved in producing tooling aids like moulds, cores and patterns, 3D printing is already proving to be a worthwhile alternative to the conventional production of tooling for metal casting processes. Foundries are therefore increasingly adopting 3D printing into their workflows as a means of remaining competitive,” added Stopforth.

“We are also big on training and have adopted the NTIP student training initiative from its inception. On average we will train 13 students a year and we make sure that they are exposed to all areas of the foundry, the toolroom, machining, fabrication and assembly.”

“Our foreman in the toolroom is a product of this initiative. We could see that he had the ability and ambition to further himself and after being with us for three years as a student we took him on as a permanent staff member. His knowledge of CNC machines and the Edgecam machining programme that we use is very impressive,” said Stopforth.

Picking up the story Hindle explained: “For the majority of its history McWade Productions has concentrated on manufacturing and supplying product for the high voltage electrical transmission and distribution industry. One of our biggest clients is the SOE Eskom and it still remains so. However, through diversification of product mix in the foundry we have reduced our reliance on this industry. At one stage it accounted for 80% of our turnover but now it only accounts for 12%.”

A new addition to the laboratory is a Bruker Q2 spark spectrometer so that McWade Productions can formulate their own alloys

The 5-litre core shooter and gassing unit

“We have done this in a number of ways. About six years ago we absorbed another aluminium foundry into our business. This immediately added a whole host of components for the catering industry to the mix. We also actively pursued opportunities in the rail, food, agriculture and mining industries,” said Hindle.

“We now cast components, all in aluminium, such as bailer needles, fan blades, shafts for compaction units, swing trays for the aluminium smelters, meat saws, potato peelers, jaffle makers, plates for grillers and one of the more bizarre ones – components for the lowering mechanisms used in the burial industry.”

“We have also acquired various companies that manufactured similar or complementary components. These included Burcon Engineering, B Karg Engineering, Elbroc, CCL, Linegear 2000, Zodiac Engineering, Idube Electrical, Heron Engineering and Trugrid Sales.”

“The acquisition of these companies has not only diversified our product range but also allowed us to manufacture components that we used to outsource. It has also diversified the materials that we beneficiate. For example, Trugrid Sales have for over 30 years designed and manufactured fiberglass structures and access systems, which are also part of the mix of products and components for the high voltage electrical transmission and distribution industry. Their products can also be found in many other industries as well.”

Acquisition of Babcock Ntuthuko Powerlines
“Our most recent investment has been the acquisition of Babcock Ntuthuko Powerlines.
Building ‘highways’ for power is the core of the business that has been established since 1954 and occupies a 39 000m² under-roof facility in Nigel, Gauteng, with a further 18 700m² under-crane externally at its disposal.”

Larger castings are machined in the machine shop

Large runs of aluminium castings are often the case for McWade Productions

“The business is a large manufacturer of transmission and distribution line hardware and forgings and includes manufacturing and testing.”

“Installed capacity is up to 120 tons per month of forged components for both powerline line hardware and third-party requirements in the mining, railway, automotive, marine and forestry sectors. McWade Productions requires a number of forged components for its products, so the new company – McWade Powerlines – will be able to supply these.”

“The company is very well equipped with the latest equipment for servicing the forging industry and providing the value-add services such as machining, toolroom, heat treatment and design.”

“Production equipment in the forge includes four banning pneumatic hammers with forces of 2000, 3500, 4000 and 6000 kg/m, including induction heating furnaces and trimming presses, one 250 ton horizontal forging machine, induction and gas fired heating furnaces, two shot blasting machines and fully automatic cold saws, a high volume billet cropper, two bench type MPI machines for crack detection, numerous eccentric and fly presses used for coining or manufacturing of forged bolts, nuts, U-bolts and other components, various metal finishing and deburring machines and three 620 CFM screw compressors with receivers.”

McWade Productions likes to control the whole manufacturing process from foundry to assembly. The company now casts between 32 and 40 tons of aluminium castings a month depending on the product mix

McWade Productions have also introduced robotic welding to the production department

“The company also has a toolroom and machining facility that includes a Haas VF3 CNC that has a table load of up to 1 500kg, two rigid copy milling machines, two AgieCharmilles spark erosion machines, five milling machines, two surface grinders, one cylindrical grinding machine, four lathes, one precision drill, a cold saw, a pantograph, a metallurgical laboratory with routine hardness and tensile testing equipment and five heat treatment furnaces.”

“The company has a long history of dealing with Eskom and has recently been involved with integrating the Medupi and Kusile power stations into the national grid.”

McWade Productions is part of the Royal Bafokeng Group. Royal Bafokeng Holdings (RBH) is a community-based investment company whose growth uplifts and creates intergenerational wealth for the Royal Bafokeng Nation (RBN), a 100 000 strong Setswana-speaking community in South Africa’s North West province. McWade Productions falls under the Mining, Oil and Gas Services subsidiary of RBH.

Founded in 1961, McWade Productions has progressed in line with the growth of the electrical transmission industry in Southern Africa and is today a prime supplier of electrical components and accessory equipment to the African and international transmission and distribution electrical industry.

The company was family owned until the 1970s before being sold to the then Cullinan Group. The late Basil Burnett, a director at the Cullinan Group responsible for the operations at McWade Productions and father-in-law of current Managing Director Marc Hindle, decided to purchase the company in 1976.

McWade Productions were recently commissioned to manufacture swing trays for anodes for an aluminium smelter

McWade Productions have also invested in the toolroom by adding CNC and milling machines and a Chmer Wire EDM supplied by Extreme Machines

The company was sold to the Bateman Group in 1988 before a management buyout took place in 2005. Hindle, a Mechanical Engineer, has been with the company since 1981 and his partner, Sales and Marketing Director Dessen Naidoo, joined the company in 1978.

Combined, both directors have a majority shareholding in the business having sold a sizeable percentage of the company to a division of the Royal Bafokeng Holding Company in 2008.

Babcock Ntuthuko Powerlines was a subsidiary of Babcock International Group Plc until the recent transaction.

Local designation
“With local designation starting to gain momentum at many of the SOEs it is important that you are able to manufacture as many of the designated products as well as be compliant. We have invested so that what we were previously sourcing from Taiwan is now made locally and we have achieved a Level 1 approved B-BBEE status, as well as being ISO 9001-2015 accredited.”

For further details contact McWade Productions on TEL: 011 316 2262 or visit