Design, development, fabrication and sales of products and components for automotive and truck applications.
For most truck owners the term replacement part is unwelcome at best. Who wants to shell out hard-earned cash to replace radiator grilles, bumpers, headlights, windscreens and other front-end components and accessories to an asset that is the income source of the company. These products are expensive to replace and besides, the unplanned repair events also cost the company much needed revenue while the asset is off the road, in a very competitive market.
There are the cynics that say that the design of modern heavy-duty trucks today seems to be less about getting the required cooling air to the radiator and more about creating a massive, brutal face of rage and intimidation. And when you add a bull bar or a nudge bar to the front end of a cab it looks even more frightening.
Commercial Auto Components manufactures a bull bar for every heavy-duty vehicle that is either assembled here or imported
Cameron Abbott, founder of Commercial Auto Components (CAC) with General Manager Richard Thompson
Despite these sentiments road transport of goods has become big business in South Africa. Rail transport in South Africa is said to be an important element of the country’s transport infrastructure and all major cities are connected by rail. However, it has been described as a ‘completely dysfunctional rail system’. It has been quoted that passenger numbers on the rail system have dropped from 55 million a month in 2009 to 20 million last year. The government’s endeavour of getting rail-friendly cargo back onto the train tracks has not been successful with reliability, unpredictability and security being the contributing factors as to why big business and private companies are hesitant to use the service. This is in addition to the widely reported allegations of corruption amongst the leadership and looting being the order of the day at the SOE.
This vacuum left by the inept service operator has led to the proliferation of road transport companies, operators and fleet owners. At the same time this growth in the industry has created new challenges and enhanced the existing problem – the road infrastructure and its maintenance. The Department of Transport says government has no money to finance the maintenance of existing roads or to build new roads. When you consider the size of South Africa and where people are situated this is a huge problem for those that send their main asset – a heavy-duty truck – on the long and winding roads of South Africa that are slowly deteriorating.
On the polishing side Commercial Auto Components have installed a MEPSA robotic surface finishing and polishing cell
The robotic surface finishing and polishing cell has a Yaskawa Motoman robot as the main material handling contender
Positively, the situation has also created opportunities for companies that supply and service the road transport industry – and these are many. Whether it be financing or leasing companies, freight forwarding and clearing agents, those that cover the service and maintenance aspects and others that supply components and products that need to be replaced due to wear and tear so as to keep the vehicle roadworthy and within the safety requirements, there are opportunities aplenty. Fleet owners also need access to the newest truck technologies, which reduce maintenance costs and fuel consumption, as well as those accessories that are going to lower their repair and collision bills.
Bull bars, nudge bars, windscreen stone guards and headlight protectors are no longer regarded as a cosmetic accessory to these fleet owners and managers. Additionally, access to advanced business analytic software, new truck technologies and corporate directives to equip trucks with the latest safety features are motivating factors supporting the move to reduce costs and to determine the optimum equipment lifecycle. As a result fleet managers are experiencing better driver retention, an improved corporate image and overall increased productivity.
Cameron Abbott, founder of Commercial Auto Components (CAC), recognised these opportunities in 2006 when he established his company to initially act primarily as a distributor of truck accessories.
Installed last year was a 6kW Trumpf fiber laser. It has a working range of XYZ 3 000mm x 1 500mm x 115mm and can cut mild steel up to 20mm, stainless steel up to 12mm and aluminium up to 8mm. The machine was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
Commercial Auto Components has a Yaskawa Motoman welding robot
“I knew from the beginning that the only way forward for me and my company would be to set up my own manufacturing facility whereby I could be in control of product development and manufacture. This does not happen over night and it took another seven years before I was able to start manufacturing my own products. It was essential that our product design would not only be unique but also offer durability and functionality while also enhancing vehicle styling,” said Abbott.
“The commercial automotive component market is huge, relatively speaking, and has a widespread base of suppliers including global first tier suppliers and many other second, third and fourth tier suppliers to the OEMs and the aftermarket. To try and set up and compete in this area, whether it is supplying components or original equipment, you would need a huge capital investment. Besides many of the first tier manufacturers were already well-established locally and had their networks in place.”
“Unlike the commercial vehicle market where there are 22 companies involved in the production of cars and commercial vehicles in South Africa with seven of them having OEM manufacturing plants according to the regulating body NAAMSA, the heavy vehicle trucking and bus industry in South Africa has 14 companies involved in the production or assembly of this equipment with only one OEM, which is Bell Equipment. However, the Road Freight Association of South Africa figures indicate that there are more than 500 000 commercial vehicles in use on South African roads and there are around 15 000 truck fleets in South Africa that have five and more trucks representing agriculture, mining, quarrying, manufacturing, and many others including 3 100 transport companies.”
Components that have been cut on the laser machines that have either been welded by the Yaskawa Motoman welding robot or further processed in the bending department
Commercial Auto Components are supplying bull bars to fit the new Mercedes Actros
“Although not buoyant over the last few years forecasts indicate that the demand for freight transport will grow in South Africa by between 200% and 250% over the next 15 to 20 years, according to the Department of Transport. Some corridors, such as those between Gauteng and Cape Town, which amount to 50% of all corridor transport, will grow even faster.”
“Transnet’s downward spiral is contributing towards road freight growth and under current conditions it is not expected to be reversed for many years to come.”
“These figures are encouraging to a company like ours and have been one of the motivating factors why we have recently spent a sizeable amount of money on capital equipment and systems in our facility and on our production capabilities, with an emphasis being on automation.”
“When we moved to our current location in Westmead, Durban two years ago we doubled our production area and now have 5 000m² at our disposal.”
“A bull bar or push bumper (also known as (kanga)roo bar or nudge bar in Australia, a moose bumper in Canada, and push bar, brush guard, grille guard, rammer or ‘cattle pusher’ in the United States) is a device installed on the front of a vehicle to protect its front from collisions, whether an accidental collision with a large animal on rural roads, or an intentional collision with another vehicle in police usage. They range considerably in size and form, and are normally composed of welded steel, stainless steel or aluminium tubing, or, more recently, moulded polycarbonate and polyethylene materials. The ‘bull’ in the name refers to cattle, which in rural areas sometimes roam onto rural roads and highways.”
Bull bars ready for packaging
The CSM pipe bending machine
“We manufacture our bull bars in stainless steel and mild steel, which are then powder coated. 60% of our bull bars are manufactured in stainless steel and the remainder in mild steel.”
“We are proud to say that we manufacture a bull bar for every heavy-duty vehicle that is either assembled here or imported. These are for all the major manufacturers including Volvo, Scania, Mercedes, MAN, UD, Freightliner, Iveco, Hino (Toyota), Isuzu, FAW, International, Powerstar, Renault, Fuso and VW.”
“Our production is made up of 40% under contract to the OEMs and 60% going to dealers and aftermarket.”
“A successful aftermarket design does more than merely bolt on. It has to conform to the vehicle’s contours and it cannot interfere with any other features or accessories as this can have implications on the warranty. Each bull bar is designed and tailored to each truck model and each OEM manufacturer has a number of variations. Still, this doesn’t mean that every component that goes into every bull bar is unique. We do manufacture a few universal components and incorporate them into to each OEMs design and specification.”
A Yaskawa robot plasma cuts tube to size
Stainless steel tube ready to be assembled
“In general, stainless steel costs more than aluminium and carbon steel and so may not appear to be a cost-effective material. However, when stainless steel’s high strength-to-weight ratio is considered, it may be possible for lighter, thinner-gauge stainless steel to be substituted for a thicker-gauge carbon steel or high-strength aluminium alloy. In addition, stainless steel’s potentially increased corrosion performance may make it a cost-effective material over the life cycle of the product.”
“As the use of stainless steel has expanded into new applications, many tube fabricators are finishing stainless steel for the first time. Some are just experiencing its hard, unforgiving nature, while also discovering how readily it is scratched and blemished. In addition, because stainless steel is priced higher than carbon steel and aluminium, material cost concerns are magnified.”
“Because stainless steel is inherently corrosion-resistant, no additional coatings or finishes are needed. Stainless steel tubular parts, such as handlebars, subway grab bars, and hand railings, are installed in high-visibility areas, so the tube’s OD needs to exhibit a smooth, blemish-free appearance.”
A stainless steel bull bar in the assembly department
Commercial Auto Components also manufactures mild steel bull bars, which go through a treatment and coating process
“One big challenge in stainless steel manufacturing and finishing is the growing expectation for the surface finish. While a simple brush finish was enough in the past, nowadays customers’ expectations range from hairline to mirror finishes. This has led to the development of completely new grinding, sanding, and polishing tools that enable the fabricator to achieve perfect surfaces on stainless steel tube in only a few steps and in a very short time.”
Automation: Robotic surface finishing and polishing cell
“The accessory market is becoming very competitive, whether it be for your main line freight trucks, light commercial vehicles or your SUVs and bakkies. At this stage we are not manufacturing any product for the smaller vehicle market but that could change in the future.”
“The products that we manufacture for the main line freight trucks and light commercial vehicles include polished stainless steel bull bars and nudge bars, powder coated mild steel bull bars and nudge bars, windscreen stone guards, headlight protectors, anti-syphon devices, roof bars, under run bars, side steps, roll bars, fuel tank skirts, sensor covers, fuel tank straps, abnormal boards, fire extinguisher brackets, bracketry and other customised products on request.”
Mild steel bull bars emerging from the new baking oven
Other components that are about to leave the painting department
“The processing of tube is by far our most time consuming operation. First you bend the tube to the required shape and then we use a Yaskawa Motoman robot to plasma cut-to-size. Polishing in the case of stainless steel, and powder coating in the case of mild steel, follows these operations. Both of them are very time consuming. So in the last year we have addressed the situation.”
“On the polishing side we have installed a MEPSA robotic surface finishing and polishing cell, with a Yaskawa Motoman robot the main material handling contender in the cell.”
Stand out amongst the crowd
Robotic polishing has allowed us to achieve a far more consistent surface quality finish, leading to improved visual appearance on our products. As I said customers’ expectations these days are for a mirror type finish and with the automatic robot surface finishing and polishing cell, which was supplied by Retecon Machine Tools, it has allowed us to produce exceptionally high quality product. Even the slightest imperfections that were occurring when we did these operations manually have now been eliminated.”
“More importantly our processing times have dropped dramatically and we now stand out amongst the competition.”
New baking oven
“We have also installed a new baking oven in the powder coating department. Bull bars are not the only component travelling through this department. Brackets, down pipes, columns and many other components that make up the final product all need powder coating. Again this has been automated to maximise our processing time.”
CNC pipe bending
“The downside of increased automation in these departments has led to a headache in the tube bending department. We have a CSM CNC tube bender, which is fed and offloaded manually, and it cannot keep up with the hungry robotic polishing cell. We are looking at investing in an additional CNC tube bender in the new financial year to complement our current bending capacity”
“This automation is not the only automation that we are doing. When you next visit you will not recognise the production floor.”
Increasing capacity with a new Trumpf TruLaser 3030 fiber laser
Our original Trumpf CO2 laser has been working overtime. This has forced us to invest in this department to alleviate the bottleneck and add capacity for our anticipated growth. Installed last year was a 6kW Trumpf fiber laser. It has a working range of XYZ 3 000mm x 1 500mm x 115mm and can cut mild steel up to 20mm, stainless steel up to 12mm and aluminium up to 8mm.”
Commercial Auto Components still keeps its Trumpf CO2 laser very busy
The products that Commercial Auto Components’ manufactures are for the main line freight trucks and light commercial vehicles and include polished stainless steel bull bars and nudge bars, powder coated mild steel bull bars and nudge bars, windscreen stone guards, headlight protectors, anti-syphon devices, roof bars, under run bars, side steps, roll bars, fuel tank skirts, sensor covers, fuel tank straps, abnormal boards, fire extinguisher brackets, bracketry and other customised products on request
“We are not a laser jobbing shop but such has been our growth in recent years that we are keeping both our Trumpf lasers very busy just processing our own sheet metal requirements.”
“We manufacture a bull bar for virtually every heavy vehicle truck that you see on our roads. The majority of them are imported and they are not fitted with the accessories that we manufacture because, for example, in Europe it is not necessary. You don’t see cattle roaming the highways there do you?”
“Our accessories are designed to protect the front end of the cab, they are functional while at the same time stylish. Each OEM vehicle is unique and comes in a number of variations. Our accessories are therefore designed to match this uniqueness and are thus not simple bolt-on products.”
“We therefore offer an on-site fitment service whereby our technicians go to the assembly plant, the fleet owner’s facility or the individual’s factory to fit the accessories.”
“In recent times vehicle accessories have become popular as a cosmetic accessory, particularly in the larger four-wheel drive pickup and sports utility vehicles (SUVs) markets. A variety of trim packages make modern pickup trucks and bakkies about as varied as modern passenger cars. Even so, pickup owners are looking for additional or replacement parts to add a unique touch or two – winches, fog lights, toolboxes, storage racks, and the list goes on. If we want to expand our business we will have to consider getting into this segment.”
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and for travelling the back roads of South Africa, where animals outnumber people, vehicle protection is a necessity. The chances of truck-meets-animal incidents are high. Additionally, we have a very high accident rate on our roads in South Africa. Repairs and replacements of these vehicles will always be required.”
For further details contact the Commercial Auto Components on TEL: 031 705 5024 or visit www.sabullbars.co.za