Prima celebrates 80 years in the foundry industry

History shows from minutes taken in the first recorded meeting that took place on the 15th April 1937, that it was decided to register a company Prima Iron and Steel Foundry and Engineering Works (Pty) Ltd. The decision was taken by two partners to start a steel foundry to supply the growing mining industry in South Africa.

At this meeting it was also resolved to place a deposit of £100 (one hundred pounds) to secure Portion “J” of Lot no. 2777, Benoni (South) Extention. This was a significant move in that 80 years later the company still operates from the same location.

Although the company was to change its name to Prima Industrial Holdings (Pty) Ltd at a later stage, the family of the original partners – third and fourth generation – are still involved in running the company today.

The two partners in the venture were Alexander Dingwall and William Price. At the time of forming the company they were both over the age of 60 and going into retirement.

Alex and William were brought together by their respective children Mary Dingwall and Les Price who had become engaged to be married.

The name “Prima” was derived from the joining together of the names Price and Mary.

Prima staff in 1938

Alex Dingwall was a blacksmith who learnt his trade in the ship-building yards of Newcastle, UK. He came out to South Africa in 1897 and travelled to Johannesburg to work on the gold mines. He studied further and was the first blacksmith to get his government certificate of competency in 1919 (Certificate No.74).

William Price was a moulder at the Paentaeg foundry in Pontypool, Wales. He was brought out to South Africa in 1915 by the industrialist Sammy Marks to work at a steel manufacturing company called USCO (Union Steel Corporation) in Vereeniging, Gauteng, which would be renamed Iscor Vereeniging Works when Iscor acquired the company. The USCO steel works was the first steel manufacturing plant to be built in South Africa.

The first mention of William’s son Les Price (late father of current Chairman Keith Price) was in the minutes taken at the second meeting of the directors. Les, who was educated at King Edward VII school in Johannesburg, learnt his trade as a steel smelter / metallurgist at USCO. Mary Dingwall (Les’ wife) started with the company from the beginning as the secretary-cum-office clerk.

In the early history of the company it is highlighted that the company always regarded securing the services of a young patternmaker by the name of Stan Jane in 1938, as very fortuitous. Stan Jane and Les Price had worked together previously and were good friends. Stan stayed with the company until his death in 1985 and was instrumental in the development of Prima.

Turning of the first sod in 1937. Les Price, Alex Dingwall and William Price with Saul, one of Primas first employees

Stan Jane was known as a stalwart of the foundry industry in South Africa having been a founding member of the South African Institute of Foundrymen and subsequently becoming President of the Institute.

Prima was started on five acres of ground – today known as Lincoln Road, Industrial Sites, Benoni – with one two ton electric arc furnace. Production started in 1938, producing on average 50 tons of castings a month.

In 1948 Prima purchased an additional 1.6 hectares of ground and started a second foundry to manufacture wheels for the underground transport in the gold mines, in partnership with Robert Hudson Engineering. This foundry would subsequently be referred to within the company as the AD Foundry – the initials of founder Alex Dingwall.

In 1951, due to certain tax laws that were introduced after the war that had a direct effect on shareholders of private companies, the directors were advised to list the company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Prima was listed from 1951 to 1980 during which time it featured ten times in the Sunday Times Top 100 companies and was placed second in 1973. In 1980 the directors decided it would be beneficial to de-list and buy back the shares of the company.

While listed on the JSE in 1964 the directors of Prima decided to acquire the shareholding of Robert Hudson Engineering and as a result took over control of the second foundry.

In 1978 Prima entered the export market and over the past 40 years the company has built up a secure international market with its product being highly sought after and accepted internationally.

In the accolade department Prima won the State President’s Export Award for Manufacturing in 1987 and was a finalist in the Gauteng Chamber of Commerce’s Exporter of the Year Award in 2006.

Being an active player in the international market, Prima soon realised the importance of the global economy and how important it is to be a progressive and competitive role-player in this market. Subsequent decisions by the current directors would enhance this fact even more.

18 years ago Prima took a conscious decision to modernise and upgrade its plant to international standards to protect its local and export markets. Like most industries the company had fallen behind in this area of the business, during the isolation years.

The first step management took was to modernise the company’s four electric arc furnaces to top loading with the latest electronic control systems.

Subsequently the company’s heat-treatment operation, a critical part of any foundry, was completely rebuilt with state-of-the-art top-hat furnaces, handling equipment and water quenching facilities resulting in a highly automated core-shop being built and equipped to supply the automatic moulding lines with high quality cores.

In 2001 the first Foundry Automation automatic moulding line was installed and commissioned, replacing seven manually operated moulding machines.

In 2003 Prima was fortunate enough to secure a further 1.6 hectares of ground adjoining its existing factory and plans were drawn up for the commissioning of a third foundry. This third foundry, which is known as the resin / heavy bay foundry, was commisioned in 2008 and uses chemically bonded sand for moulding. As a result Prima are now able to manufacture castings up to 11 tons, whereas previously the foundry was only able to cast up to two tons maximum per casting.

Managing Director William Price and Chairman Keith Price

The new foundry also increased Prima’s capacity from 900 tons to 1 300 tons of finished low alloy and manganese steel castings per month making it one of the largest foundries in the country manufacturing wear parts.

Prior to the commissioning of the third foundry in 2004 the company installed a second automatic moulding line that is capable of producing a green sand mould with box dimensions of 2 300 by 1 750 by 700mm every 10 minutes. At the time of installation the line was the largest mechanised green sand moulding line in the country, capable of producing a mould every 10 minutes.

In 2006 further capital expenditure saw Prima purchase a model 815 power hammer making it possible for the foundry to convert even its largest castings to a knock off system. This dramatically sped up the fettling process in the foundry and resulted in better quality castings and improved deliveries.

Also in 2006 Prima built a complete new pattern shop and invested in a Haas Automation gantry router with a table size of 3 700 by 1 800mm to manufacture wooden patterns using the latest technology available. The investment made it necessary for Prima to upgrade its drawing office by purchasing an Autodesk Inventor 3-D Drawing software package to facilitate design of patterns. The company also purchased the Edgecam operating system software for running its CNC machines in the machine shop. Prima has over 4 000 patterns housed in its pattern stores.

2008 saw a further modernisation of the heat treatment facility. This coincided with the company taking a strategic decision to concentrate on manufacturing wear parts such as crusher spares and mill liners for the OEMs, castings that were already a big part of the foundries production. However, more emphasis was given to accommodate larger size castings and the export markets. The traditional South African market for mill liners was up to 300 kilograms but internationally OEM requirements were for much larger castings. The company had to adjust accordingly and had to account for aspects such as melt capacity, crane capabilities, box size and machining capabilities.

With more than 30% of production requiring machining, including the bigger size castings that the company was now manufacturing, the machine shop was limited in that it could only accommodate castings up to three metres in diameter on its boring mills. The solution was to purchase a further three boring mills but now with four metre tables.

In 2010 the company looked at costs in the sand department and as a result installed a 14 ton an hour GUT sand reclamation plant. This installation helped with reducing the company’s energy costs and consumption of sand. The same year the company also installed an electric arc furnace.

2011 was a sad year for the company with the untimely passing of Technical Director Alec Price, brother of Keith, at the early age of 68. Alec had been with the company since January 1963 and, with brother Keith was the third generation of the original owners. Together they took over the running of the company from their father Les in 1980.

A period of consolidation followed with the company rather investing in its processes, people and sales efforts. The drive has led to the company now supplying clients in the USA, UK, Australasia, Europe and several African countries.

During this period a shopfloor ERP management system from Synchro ERP was implemented in the three foundries within the company and ISO 9001:2008 certification was awarded in September 2015. The company was reawarded the certification one year later. Currently the company is enhancing its tracking capabilities with the installation of a bar coded system to optimise production and supply chain planning.

The company has also being preparing for a fourth generation Price family member to take over the running of the company. William Price who has been with the company since 2005 was appointed Managing Director of the family owned business in 2016. William takes over from his father Keith, who is now the Chairman.

Today’s chemically bonded sand metalcasting facilities are under increasing pressure to reduce costs and their impact on the environment, while improving and maintaining casting quality. One of the ways to meet these requirements is to invest in a sand plant and this is what Prima did in 2015. Installed in the heavy bay foundry is a primary and secondary attrition plant that consisted of an Omega primary attrition unit and an Omega USR secondary plant that includes a flash cooler, a cooler classifier, a serrate magnet, hoppers and pneumatic conveying equipment.

In parallel the company looked at its measurement capabilities with a keen eye to incorporate 3D measurement of trial castings and for proofing of patterns. With accuracy as its criteria the company settled on a Creaform portable HandyScan 700. The hand-held scanner offers Prima an effective and reliable way to acquire 3D measurements of physical objects with an accuracy of up to 0.030mm, a resolution of up to 0.050mm, real-time visualisation and reverse engineering capabilities. The HandyScan also reduces the mental fatigue of the engineer, who would have previously relied on traditional methods, or worse, been forced to model a component from memory.

These investments have signalled the beginning of another investment phase in the company. Prima are soon to begin revamping the original foundry where an upgraded fast-loop moulding line is planned. Included in the plans is that the foundry will be converted from a green sand to a no-bake foundry and a mechanised cooling bay and a 60 ton an hour mixer will be installed.

Creative thinking and attention to detail also forms an integral part of the young management team at Prima. This was demonstrated recently when the company had to manufacture a bowl and mantle for their US client Optimum Crush. The castings are destined for use on a cone crusher in the Canadian gold mining industry. The bowl has a final weight of 10.7 tons and the mantle is 11.1 tons once cast fettled and finished. Previously the largest casting Prima had manufactured was in the region of 8.5 tons.

To take on this project has been a great test for the company and required meticulous planning and team work, from the engineering department to the foundry, quality, fettling and machining departments.

Transfer bogey system
One of the main constraints the company had for this project was that it did not have the melt capacity, or so they thought, on site. After the disappointment of nearly acquiring an arc furnace to alleviate this problem they had to come up with an alternative. This is when Greg Mac Rae, the company Quality Manager, suggested that the company fabricate and install a transfer bogey system so that they could easily transfer molten metal from the small component foundry to the heavy bay foundry and pour simultaneously. The melt capacity of the smaller furnace is 4.5 tons and added to Prima’s main furnace of 12 tons it gave the company enough molten metal to accommodate the larger size castings.

The system is very simple in design but it has saved the company a sizeable amount of costs. They also built rails of approximately 30 metres in length to bridge the gap between the two foundries and a mechanised transfer bogey to transport the ladle from the smaller foundry. Prima also installed a six metre launder to aid the pouring process.

The castings
Bulk material processing and handling systems are an integral operation in the mining industry. Crushing technologies for bulk processing applications require components to be cast of high-grade steel and to be recognised for rugged structural integrity. Prima has made this area of industry its core business and is supplying services and products of the highest quality to the world’s mining, crushing and extractive industries, producing chrome/moly, manganese and low alloy steel castings. These include mill liners for rotary milling, bowl liners and mantles for gyratory crushers, jaw liners for jaw crushers, blow bars for impact crushers, segments for two roll coal crushers, wear parts for underground scrapers and metal shredder machines.

The foundry site covers a total area of 35 000m² and consists of three foundries employing approximately 320 people and producing over 1 000 tons of finished castings per month, ranging in mass of between 20 and 11 000 kilograms.

Other facilities include a fully equipped laboratory using a computerised emission spectrograph to ensure that the highest quality and standards are met and maintained and a large, well-equipped machining facility to supply finished components ready for installation.

For further details contact Prima Industrial Holdings on TEL: 011 421 6911 or visit

A spectacular view of one of the arc furnaces

Mould preparation

A metal pour in one of the three foundries at Prima

The Foundry Automation automatic moulding line

The heat treatment and quenching department

In 2006 Prima built a completely new pattern shop and invested in a Haas Automation gantry router with a table size of 3 700 by 1 800mm to manufacture wooden patterns using the latest technology available

In order to improve the process in the fettling department Prima purchased a power hammer, a pneumatic impact hammer used to knock off ingates and feeders from the casting. This has greatly improved the quality of the finished casting as the heat normally associated with flame cutting, the old method used for cutting off the ingates and feeders, will be eliminated. With no heat being used in this process, there are no heat affected zones with structural changes, and no thermally induced stresses

Moulding and core preparation

A panoromic view of the pattern shop

The pattern storage area

Prima now incorporates 3D measurement of trial castings and for proofing of patterns. With accuracy as its criteria the company settled on a Creaform portable HandyScan 700. The hand-held scanner offers Prima an effective and reliable way to acquire 3D measurements of physical objects with an accuracy of up to 0.030mm, a resolution of up to 0.050mm, real-time visualisation and reverse engineering capabilities

In the heat treatment department at Prima

A large pattern in the process of being manufactured

Another pour taking place

Inside one of the three foundries at Prima

30% of production at Prima requires machining. The company has a number of boring mills with table sizes up to four metres

One of the melting stations at Prima

Prima Industrial Holdings have made a strategic decision to move into the larger size castings market. This bowl casting used on a cone crusher has a final weight of 10,7 tons

Prima Industrial Holdings have recently manufactured a mantle for their US client Optimum Crush. The casting weighs in at 11,1 tons