At a time when companies are thinning the worker ranks, many people may be thinking about going into business for themselves. Freddie Visser, the owner of Stainless Plate Products, did that six years ago having previously worked for others. He recommends the latter.
Metal working and fabricating is an industry where the path to becoming your own boss is wide open. If you have the engineering talent, a commitment to quality, and a personality that meshes well with customers, you have what it takes to make it on your own.
The best way to start down that path is to start cutting and fabricating. The question is whether to work for someone else first or to start out on your own immediately. The latter provides the most security and, honestly, the best chance to be exposed to all aspects of the shop floor and the rest of the business.
Stainless Plate Products owner Freddie Visser took the plunge in opening his own business only six years ago in 2009, which was based on a hunch that there were not enough specialised plate processors in the Western Cape. The company built its own plasma machine and this first machine, which has a Hypertherm HPR260XD plasma source and Burny controls, has been so successful that Stainless Plate Products have built a further two machines as the business has grown. The bed sizes on the machines are 4 by 2 metres, 6 by 2 metres and the latest edition 8 by 3 metres
Maybe not right out of the gate, but eventually. It’s very gratifying at times and is something everyone should experience, if they so desire. Those who do will have a greater respect and appreciation for all that goes on behind the scenes of a small business after they run one themselves.
With the proper experiences and possibly even potential customer contacts, budding entrepreneurs can think about establishing a brick-and-mortar location. Of course, plenty of shops start in a garage, but some municipalities, particularly those close to urban areas, may not appreciate businesses being run out of residential neighbourhoods. Wherever the location, a fabricator needs room for working, material storage, equipment and the proper power setup.
Stainless Plate Products owner Freddie Visser took the plunge in opening his own business only six years ago in 2009. Having earned the qualification of a Mechanical Engineering degree from Stellenbosch University, he began his working career in the engineering environment that had a bias towards adding value to metal whereby the companies machined components for either their own use or external customers.
Owner Freddie Visser
“I ended up in a situation where I was managing people and not using my qualification. This was not satisfactory. Something had to give and I was the only one that could take that decision,” said Visser.
“Although I had a couple of decades of experience and had shouldered a good deal of responsibility at my former company, starting up a new business was challenging. But when you get in the steel processing business, it kind of gets in your blood I guess. It’s been fun and exciting.”
Visser’s entry into his own business was based on a hunch that there were not enough specialised plate processors in the Western Cape. Even though he had little experience in this area he was determined to make an impact, and this he has done.
“Shop equipment basically works the same, even if the buttons and switches are labeled differently. No matter whether it is a welding machine, a CNC lathe, a plasma cutter, a pressbrake or a shear, if you read the manuals, familiarise yourself with the equipment, and become comfortable with it, you can teach yourself to run it.”
Stainless Plate Products is continuing its efforts to be as different as possible from competitors. It’s mandatory. That’s life as an independent. The company has now rolled out a Trumpf TruLaser 1030 fiber laser that has an X axis of 3000mm, Y axis of 1500mm and a Z axis of 75mm. The machine has a 3kW power source and can cut mild steel up to 20mm, stainless steel up to 16mm, aluminium up to 12mm and copper and brass up to 4mm. The machine was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
Various components cut by Stainless Plate Products
“In my case, besides taking into account the limited funds aspect, I wanted to build my own machine. Who in his right mind would want to start a fabricating shop without the use of tried and tested equipment? After a few months of being a middleman and doing some trading I got busy on building my first plasma machine.”
“I rented the premises that we currently occupy and with the help of Multicon, who have been building systems for nearly 20 years, the plasma took shape. During this period I still remember how the landlord, who has very little mechanical knowledge, would visit and gasp at the thought of what I was trying to do. The first machine, which has a Hypertherm HPR260XD plasma source and Burny controls, has been so successful we have built a further two machines as the business has grown.”
“The bed sizes on them are 4 by 2 metres, 6 by 2 metres and the latest edition 8 by 3 metres. This gives us versatility in this department and does not tie up one machine, say the bigger one, when we could be cutting smaller plate requirements on the other two.”
Changing times, changing business
By and large, shops don’t shape themselves; customers shape shops. That is, customer needs drive decisions about the equipment, capabilities and processes shops bring in-house. As a result, an increasing number of them are looking beyond conventional processes to alternate manufacturing technologies that complement their existing equipment. After all, the goal is to deliver whatever product the customer requires in the quickest, most cost-effective way possible.
Likewise as a metal fabricating shop grows and starts to expand its capabilities, it must be doing something right. Maintaining the culture that spawned the success while hiring new employees, who have their own opinions and work experiences, is a challenge. If employees remain engaged and committed to serving the customer, success can be sustained.
3,2 metre aluminium profiles that have been machined on a Leadwell V50 CNC vertical machining centre supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools. Drilling and milling operations were carried out on the top of the profile, drill and tap operations on the side before the profile was flipped around and milled
Aluminium components that have been machined
Visser has had to cope with this aspect as well as the business side growing in complexity.
“As an employee owned company we provide a challenging work environment where personal growth and rapid career development are encouraged. Having started off as a high definition plasma cutting and profiling service operation, the business has transformed in recent years. We still offer the service whereby we can cut up to 60mm thickness in stainless steel, aluminium and mild steel. Duplex stainless steels, specialised carbon steels and materials like copper can also be cut.”
“However, through customer demand wanting more than just cutting we have added more disciplines to the shopfloor. We now also offer CNC milling, CNC turning, large conventional machining, bandsaw cutting, welding and bending.”
“But the change hasn’t just come about through customer demand. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to visit a number of international companies that are in a similar business to us. These visits prove to be invaluable because you are exposed to systems and operational procedures that you would not normally encounter in South Africa.”
“The trick is to learn from these encounters and then implement them in your own business. You have to be adaptable so that you stand out amongst the competitors and become a more valuable supplier to your customers. And part of it has to do with technology. Let’s face it, technology helps get more out the door.”
“We are not prepared to get into a price war – that is not beneficial to anyone. We would rather offer more. Equally it is not a case of relying on a network of subcontractors. And of course an operation like ours is only as good as the on-time deliveries we promise.”
After a deal on a used machining centre fell through, SPP acquired a Leadwell V40 from WD Hearn, the same year the company was established, and later a couple of conventional machines to carry out sporadic machining requirements for the company and some of their clients. Stainless Plate Products has since added six Leadwell CNC machines supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools.
Proudly standing in one corner of the shop is a Webster and Bennett vertical turning and boring machine. The machine is capable of handling component sizes up to maximum turning diameter of 2000mm and a turning length of 2500mm
Stainless Plate Products has since added six Leadwell CNC machines supplied by WD Hearn Machine Tools. The machines comprise of three CNC machining centres and three lathes. The company now offers CNC turning, milling, tapping and drilling operations with a maximum turning diameter of 450mm and maximum length of 1000mm on the turning side, and a maximum bed size of 1500 x 1000mm on the machining centre side. The majority of the machines are equipped with Siemens controls
The machines comprise of three machining centres and three lathes. The company now offers CNC turning, milling, tapping and drilling operations with a maximum turning diameter of 450mm and maximum length of 1000mm on the turning side, and a maximum bed size of 1500 x 1000mm on the machining centre side. Additionally Stainless Plate Products has purchased two CNC Robodrill machines for milling, drilling and tapping operations. The majority of the machines are equipped with Siemens controls.
Proudly standing in one corner of the shop is a Webster and Bennett vertical turning and boring machine. The machine is capable of handling component sizes up to maximum turning diameter of 2000mm and a turning length of 2500mm.
“The machine and I have some history,” enthused Visser.
“When I was completing my degree at Stellenbosch University the machine was being used in the mechanical engineering department for research and development, and to give students like myself a basic understanding of machining. When I heard that the university wanted to get rid of it I jumped at the opportunity to purchase it. The machine had been used for a limited amount of hours because of the environment that it was in. It has learnt to be a workhorse since it arrived here.”
Similar plans to be different – introduction of laser cutting
Stainless Plate Products is continuing its efforts to be as different as possible from competitors. It’s mandatory. That’s life as an independent.
The company has now rolled out a Trumpf TruLaser 1030 fiber laser that has an X axis of 3000mm, Y axis of 1500mm and a Z axis of 75mm. The machine has a 3kW power source and can cut mild steel up to 20mm, stainless steel up to 16mm, aluminium up to 12mm and copper and brass up to 4mm.
“The management team is keeping an eye on new technologies that can offer customers something different while at the same time assist in keeping production costs down. This is precisely why we have purchased the TruLaser 1030. We always had to shop out our requirements for thin sheet cutting, which in the long run is costly.”
The CNC lathe department comprises three Leadwell machines
One of the more recent purchases by Stainless Plate Products is a Leadwell CNC T-8 turning centre
“If you consider that there were only about 10 laser machines in the Cape Town and surrounding areas a few years ago and now there are over 30 machines, it is a tribute to the industry in the Western Cape that it is growing. The number could be even closer to 50 machines.”
With all the right equipment and know how at its disposal, Stainless Plate Products has also designed and manufactured its own sheet loading and unloading system for the fiber laser.
“At this stage we do not need a fully automatic sheet loading and unloading system, with material storage options, but we recognise the advantages of such systems and will investigate options for automating material handling on the laser. These days we prefer to look at value added services for our customers, and that is precisely why there could be a CNC pressbrake complimenting the laser soon.”
“We have to make sure that we’re going in the right direction and have the right focus to remain independent if that’s what we elect to do, which at this point we have.”
“We still remain loyal to our original customer base, but this has shifted and increased somewhat over the years. We started primarily as a component supplier to the tank building industries and now have customers in the automotive/transport, construction, dairy, food processing, general engineering, marine, materials handling, mining, nuclear, petrochemical, plastics, pumps & valves, security, signage/shopfitting and wine production industries.”
“The different components we process on our machines are wide and varied, and at this stage we do not manufacture our own products although we do design and develop press tools. This might change though because we are in the process of developing a range of manlids for the wine tank and road tanker industries.”
Different businesses require diverse techniques
“Whether it means grabbing business at the right time, presenting the right portfolio to prospective customers, or just getting the word out, the most important action a new business owner can do is to be proactive while listening to your customers if your business is going to survive.”
Stainless Plate Products has purchased two CNC Robodrill machines for milling, drilling and tapping operations
The Leadwell CNC MCV-1500i vertical heavy duty machining centre has XYZ axis of 1520 x 760 x 720mm
“Many techniques and resources are available to help small businesses survive, and it’s important to seek them out to make the best business decisions possible.”
“You cannot know too much, and you cannot have too many sources. Research, along with the experience gained from starting a business, will give you the best idea about the decisions you need to make and the directions you need to take.”
“New business owners should join organisations that directly relate to what they do. By doing so, they gain exposure and make new contacts, as well as have a wealth of information and resources available to them, to help them learn and grow.”
For further details contact Stainless Plate Products on TEL: 021 948 2044 or visit www.sspsa.co.za