Solidworx Engineering and Fabcast Alloys combine talents and expertise

I was warned before visiting Solidworx Engineering to not to attempt to visit using my sedan vehicle. The reason given was because there had been plenty of rain in the area and the gravel roads leading to the company were in bad condition. Gravel roads should give you a clue as to the location of the company – not in your normal industrial area that has tarred roads and other good infrastructure. Fortunately, by the time I had to visit Solidworx Engineering, the rain had relented and the baking sun had dried the roads to the extent that an off-road or 4×4 vehicle was not necessary. I was happy though that I did not have to drive the gravel roads in my sedan every day.

“There are a number of reasons that we moved to this location,” CEO Anton Bezuidenhout began explaining.

“The area has been zoned industrial but unfortunately the necessary infrastructure that was promised has not materialised, but that has not deterred us. The gravel roads are generally in good condition except during the wet season. Our ‘Lapa’ (A lapa is a structure that is popular in South Africa. It usually consists of a thatched roof supported by wooden poles), as we call it, is in tune with the local nature, yet it is not far from the hustle of Pretoria. In fact, we are only six kilometres from the N1 highway just north of Pretoria, in an area called Derdepoort. Our physical address might be registered as NO513 Sakabuka Avenue but, as you can see, we are not in the middle of nowhere,” continued Bezuidenhout.

Fabcast Alloys manufacture high-pressure die-castings from one gram up to 6kg

Fabcast Alloys has gravity die-casting and high-pressure die-casting facilities

“Sometimes it even gets too busy for me and I have to retreat to a remote location if I need the quiet space to design a new tool or die. The electronic tools at our disposal these days afford us this opportunity.”

“I established Solidworx Engineering in 2008 after my business partner Andre van Niekerk and I closed our previous business – Wheelcraft Alloy Wheels. We had to pull the plug on the specialist alloy wheel manufacturing business because, even though we had been in business together for 18 years and had a very good reputation, we could not compete with the influx of Chinese manufactured wheels that were being imported at the time.”

“We had built the business from a five-man operation to one that employed 185 people and were manufacturing between 8 000 and 10 000 wheels a month. And this was not supplying any of the OEMs but rather the aftermarket only. We were even exporting but when you are competing against a product that is imported at less than our manufacturing cost, you are on a hiding to nothing. A sad situation to experience but also one where we gained a lot of knowledge and technical expertise to take forward.”

“I have been involved in tool and die making all my life. I qualified at one of the SOEs before moving to a large South African corporate aluminium beverage can manufacturer. I then moved to a company in Babelegi when the industrial area was thriving in the Bophuthatswana Homeland. The whole area is now a shadow of what it used to be.”

Marketing and Sales Manager Werner Schoombee with CEO Anton Bezuidenhout

Fabcast Alloys has four high-pressure die-casting machines – two 160 ton machines, one 250 ton and one        400 ton

“After a few years at that company I then joined the Tiger Wheels manufacturing plant in Babelegi. All the time I had continued to work in my trade as a tool and die maker. At Tiger Wheels I was second in charge of the toolroom and introduced a number of new processes that saved on costs and time. Sadly, that plant no longer exists but long before it was liquidated, I had already started to set up Wheelcraft Alloy Wheels with Andre and when the time was right, we went into full time production.”

“We established the company manufacturing steel narrow and wide rims with pressed in and bolted together aluminium alloy centers that were gravity cast for the aftermarket motor industry. They were special looking wheels for a niche market, especially when you had them chromed.”

“After the first year we started manufacturing one-piece gravity die-cast and machined wheels and about three years later we invested in a low-pressure die-casting machine, and that took us to the next level of wheel manufacturing. We were not interested in the mass production for the OEMs, while at the same time we were not reinventing the wheel. We manufactured all our own dies for manufacturing the wheels and for the accompanying accessories.”

Fabcast Alloys manufacture gravity die-castings from 30 grams to 30kg

Fabcast Alloys produce between 8 000 and 10 000 high-pressure die-cast components in a month

“The success of our business was built on one singular goal and philosophy – to deliver the absolute highest quality custom manufactured wheels that money can buy.”

“Wheelcraft Alloy Wheels was also one of the first wheel manufacturers in South Africa to introduce an LM 6 aluminium rim that was gravity cast as a solid. Low-pressure casting is now the dominant method of casting aluminium rims but then you have a plant that is manufacturing thousands in a shift.”

“Generally speaking, light alloy rims are only manufactured in aluminium and magnesium. Magnesium rims in conventional cars are extremely rare due to their high cost, and most importantly, low corrosion resistance. The main advantage of cast aluminium rims over steel is that it is possible to be able to have a unique design, high dimensional accuracy and optimal static and dynamic mechanical characteristics.”

“Of course, the weight of aluminium rims over steel is another advantage.”

“During my Wheelcraft period I gained invaluable experience in casting aluminium. My partner Andre and I even built the company’s melting furnaces and low-pressure die-casting machines that we used.”

“The birth of Solidworx saw me return to my roots of designing and manufacturing tooling – press tooling and form tools. I have a decent size ‘garage’ on my small holding, which is located here in Kameeldrift East, and I already had a CNC toolroom mill that was mainly used for the various hobby activities I did. It would become one of my main machines as I got orders for more and more tools.”

Between the two processes – gravity die-casting and high-pressure die-casting – Fabcast Alloys can cast up to 20 tons of castings in a month

Fabcast Alloys also offers a shot blasting service

“My tooling has been exported to Australia, for example, and one of my first clients, is still a client today. I love to design custom-engineered tooling – even for smaller contract manufacturers with a high mix of low-volume work. Although my strength is in die making as well as press and form tooling, we will also design and manufacture tooling for injection moulding and the manufacturing of plastic components if required.”

“I recently designed a trim tool for a client that allows them to now rework the scrap whereas before it was going to the scrap dealer and realising much less value to the client. Too many suppliers develop product in a vacuum and then bring it to the customer as a solution. You’ve got to work together.”

“As I grew, I started to employ staff and add onto my ‘garage’. But all along I knew you had to add value where possible, either by offering machining services or manufacturing components for clients. Getting involved in the value stream requires investment but at the same time it does not leave you vulnerable to one area of manufacturing. Even if it is finding a solution to eliminating unnecessary manufacturing steps to a client’s process. When I was at Tiger Wheel Manufacturing, I could see that there were unnecessary manufacturing steps but it fell on deaf ears when I suggested changes. ‘This is how it has always been done and this is how it will always be done.’”

“That attitude would not survive in today’s climate. Everything is so fluid and the digital age is almost making it slippery. Removing waste from the value chain is a must and not an option.”

Gravity die-casting
“My long-time association with gravity casting was a big influencer in Solidworx getting back into gravity aluminium die-casting. We are designing dies for a lighting industry and offered to manufacture certain of the components locally that they were importing. We were given the chance and now we manufacture a number of components for these clients, besides manufacturing their dies.”

The new Fanuc RoboDrill Alpha-D14LiA5

Solidworx Engineering CEO Anton Bezuidenhout’s expertise is in tool and die making as well as design

“All of this was taking place in my ‘garage’ on my small holding. Eventually it became like a rabbit warren and I had to address the problem if I wanted to grow my manufacturing side.”

“At this stage on the aluminium gravity die-casting side we can produce between 6000 and 9000 components monthly. This volume is based on components that vary from as light as 30 grams to 30kg. Our melting holding furnaces vary from 50kg to 250kg melted aluminium weight. Dies are cleaned by fine sandblasting after every run and are maintained in-house by our tool room.”

“Again, we built our own furnaces.”

High-pressure die-casting
“The drawback of limited space and no workflow was compounded when I got the idea to venture into high-pressure die-casting where you can do volume production, as compared to the amounts of components or products that you can cast with gravity casting.”

“We were prompted by a few clients during a period of time that required high-pressure aluminium die-casted components. We soon realised that there is a gap in the market for this and after some research we found out that the owner of Fabcast Alloys was about to retire. This was a perfect opportunity for us to tentatively get into the business of high-pressure die-casting.”

“The foundry was based in Nigel, southeast of Johannesburg, Gauteng. That location was not in our thinking so we moved all of the equipment to a rented factory north of Pretoria as we did not have the space at the smallholding. The equipment was in bad shape and had not been serviced for many years so the interim location gave us time to refurbish it all, which was a major undertaking.”

Solidworx Engineering has evolved into operating as a one-stop shop. The company has also invested in an injection moulding machine and manufacture the moulds for the plastic components that are required

An example of where Solidworx Engineering machines a component and also manufactures the injection moulded component

“We acquired four machines – two 160 ton machines and one 250 ton and one 400 ton. This gave us a fairly decent mix of what aluminium die-cast components that we could manufacture. This range is from one gram up to 6kg.”

“Obviously we were thinking bigger than just a few clients. Now that we are up and running, we do have many more clients in a variety of industries. We produce between 8 000 and 10 000 components a month.”

“Between the two processes – gravity die-casting and high-pressure die-casting – we can cast up to twenty tons of castings in a month, depending on orders.”

“The acquisition of Fabcast Alloys also allowed us to become a Level 2 BEE contributor.”

New factory
“As I said earlier there were many reasons for us moving to our ‘Lapa’ in Derdepoort. The introduction of the high-pressure die-casting business was one but another more important one was space and material and component flow. We moved into our new purpose-built 1 120m² factory two years ago. The total size of the stand is 10 000m² so there is plenty of room for expansion.”

“The space in the factory is divided into the specific area of process that we are involved in and of course assembly and dispatch.”

“My expertise is in tool and die making as well as design and for this you need a full-on
toolroom. From my original hobby Haas toolroom mill we invested in a lot of conventional lathes, milling machines, a surface grinder, EDM and a CNC machining center to enable us to have our own dedicated tool room.”

Machine shop
“For the machining of the cast components we have a full-on production machine shop consisting of the following machines: A Feeler vertical machining center, a Johnford vertical machining center, a Fanuc RoboDrill Alpha-D14MiA5 and a number of press drills and tapping machines.”

“In November 2019 we added a second Fanuc RoboDrill. This time we purchased a bigger version – the Alpha-D14LiA5.”

“We have also just installed two Kent CNC vertical machining centers, with one of them fitted with a 4th axis. These are second hand machines but are still in very good condition. We acquired them from another precision engineering shop and we know they have been looked after.”

An overview of the CNC machine shop at Solidworx Engineering

Solidworx Engineering will do 3D printing for rapid prototyping where needed

“The machining department has grown substantially in recent years and this is because we now offer machining services as well. Besides needing the machines for the manufacture of tools and dies we can also add value to the castings that we produce. But it goes even further than that. We are now manufacturing a number of components from scratch for clients to their specification.”

One-stop shop
Success comes to shops that are attentive to the changing needs of their customers. Such shops are generally willing to make fundamental manufacturing changes and process additions, when appropriate, to best meet those demands. In a growing number of cases, a shop’s customer wants to receive more than just a component that has been accurately machined.

“The company has evolved into operating as a one-stop shop. We are now recognised as a source where multiple manufacturing processes are offered – we have also invested in an injection moulding machine and manufacture the moulds for the plastic components that are required. We are not quite the one-stop shop because we don’t offer post processing services such as powder coating but that could be a proposition in the not too distant future.”

“Admittedly, there are other processes that we currently outsource. The reason they are not performed in-house is because they don’t fit into a foundry or machining operation and we have very reliable suppliers.”

“We are able to design – we use Solidworks software for our 3D modelling and designing and we do 3D printing for rapid prototyping where needed.”

“We use Mastercam software to create the tool paths for complex machining, whether it be a tool or a component. We are limited to non-ferrous metal castings such as aluminium and brass but not so on the machining side. We are also able to advise. A recent example is where we converted a client from aluminium gravity die-casting to high-pressure die-casting. We are also able to offer solutions whereby we come up with an idea to a client’s problem, develop it and then manufacture it.”

“With new products or patents, we can assist from patent searching to full prototyping, all in one package.”

“We also offer rolling of angle and flat bar, sheet metal bending, welding in CO2 and TIG and fabricating services.”

Solidworx Engineering and Fabcast Alloys employ 45 staff between the two companies, and Fabcast Alloys has recently been certified with ISO 9001:2015.

For further details visit Solidworx Engineering on TEL 082 901 0749 or visit