Concentrating on the little things

Davox stands out in an industry where one metal fabricating shop is rarely an exact copy of another.

A war on emissions has been raging for the best part of 40 years, with governments coming down hard on the automotive industry. The cries of ‘blackened buildings and choking streets’ are reducing but still very real. The advent and introduction of the automotive catalytic converter has been a big step forward and in most industrialised countries it is compulsory that vehicles are fitted with the pollution-reducing units, which turn the harmful chemicals in vehicle exhausts into harmless gases such as steam.

These days fabricating components for automotive catalytic converters is no big deal as there are many metalworking engineering companies that are involved in one way or another, supplying the components that go into the final product that ends up on the exhaust system for a car, bus or truck.

Sleeping hero Holger Danske

In a catalytic converter, the catalyst’s job is to speed up the removal of the toxic gases that pass from the combustion engine via the exhaust system and thus reduce the pollution in the atmosphere. The catalyst is made from platinum or a similar, platinum-like metal such as palladium or rhodium. The determination of the exact amount of these precious metals (platinum, rhodium and palladium) that are used in the manufacture of the automotive catalytic converters is more important than the fabricating and machining aspects.

Besides the precious metal and the ceramic monolith honeycomb structure inside the converter, there are many other components that make up the converter. They include the stainless steel body, heat shields, exhaust manifolds, couplings, clamps and many others. Some are pressed, some are cast and machined, and some are stainless steel or a ferrous metal. Assembly of these components to make up the converter, before being supplied to the automotive OEM, is usually done by companies such as Faurecia and Eberspacher, both of which have plants in South Africa.

Davox has developed and manufactures cabinets for press brake tooling

Because of the demands of the automotive OEMs these companies are generally under pressure to supply, even before the negotiated deadline in some cases. The ripple effect then goes down the line to all the component manufacturers as it is very rare these days that a catalytic converter company, or assembler, will have all the equipment and processes necessary to manufacture all the components that make up a converter.

Some of these suppliers to the catalytic converter manufacturers can be either third or even fourth tier suppliers. Sunderland Ridge, Pretoria based Davox was established as a result of an opportunity to become a third tier supplier to a well-known manufacturer of pressed components for the automotive catalytic converter and OEM markets.

The company was originally established as a partnership between three directors and went through a couple of name changes before the partnership terminated and the current owner – Stig Rasmussen – took control in 2016.

The original contract that the company was established on in 2004, which was for the manufacture of a perforated plate screen component used in the manufacture of catalytic converters, is still one of the mix of products that Davox manufactures every month but at greatly reduced numbers.

“When the company started we concentrated on manufacturing these screens only. The numbers in those days were approximately 200 000 per year. This number is now down to a projection of 5 000 per year. This cutback is because of labour unrest and the subsequent disinvestment in South Africa,” explained Rasmussen.

On the machining side Davox has a Doosan CNC milling machine

On the sheetmetal side Davox has perfected the manufacture of special screens that are used in the food and grain processing environments, as well as for a number of mining applications

“The screens are supplied to our client who will roll them and then weld them and then supply them to their client. There are seven different versions and the material is a stainless steel 904L. Each component has about 400 holes punched in them and this is all done on our
Trumpf TC 500R punching machine. We have adapted the Trumpf machine’s software so that it allows us to do two components virtually simultaneously.”

“Over the years we have learnt a few tricks so as to up our production output. When you consider the numbers we were producing we had to look at ways of improving our productivity levels without incurring extra capital expenditure costs. It has worked for us and is one of many different tricks that we deploy in the shop.”

“The downside of the numbers dropping is that pricing of the material changes. A minimum order for the type of material that we process is a 20 ton coil. It still arrives slit and cut-to-length but we are not processing anywhere near this tonnage.”

“The final product is mainly used in the aftermarket on trucks such as MAN and Volvo. The production of the catalytic converters that were used on the new trucks and buses was moved to Europe and that cost about 450 jobs in the local industry.”

Leveling and straightening machine
“Although material arrives cut-to-length and in a level state punching a large number of holes in thin sheet metal without distorting the panel is not very plausible due to the compressive and tensile stresses caused by the punching process.”

“Our answer to this was to acquire a leveling machine which is situated alongside the punching machine. We are one of a handful of companies in South Africa that has this type of machine and it does give us an advantage because we can supply processed material that is level and completely flat.”

Processing sheet into different shapes of screens is a speciality of Davox

The company also has a Miyano 8 axis CNC lathe with two turrets and live tooling

“Nowadays you do get a Trumpf machine that incorporates an integrated flattening concept that eliminates the additional step to even out the material but at the time when we acquired our machine this was not available. Besides it limits you to work processed on the Trumpf machine unlike us where we have options.”

Rasmussen was trained as a fitter and turner at the Danish Invention Centre in his native country of Denmark, completing his studies in 1987. He then decided to see a bit of the ‘university of life’ in South Africa before returning to Denmark to tie up loose ends.

“I fell in love with the country and decided to make it my home. After bouncing around for several years in Cape Town, I was offered a position by Retecon Machine Tools but had to move to Johannesburg. This was in the early 1990s and I spent 14 years with the company before leaving in 2008. I was responsible for sales in the sheet metal division and at the time introduced a number of companies to their first laser machine. Punches, presses, press brakes, all mainly from Trumpf, were my specialty and I got to know the machines very well which would help when I started my own fabricating business.”

“The split from the partners or ‘business divorce’ was as a result of the lack of foresight and will to grow the business. I don’t want to grow the business at all costs but you have to diversify not only the services that the business offers but also the range of clients. We were too top heavy relying on three clients and in hindsight I have been proven correct.”

“We now have a Mazak CNC lathe, a Doosan CNC milling machine and a Miyano 8 axis CNC lathe with two turrets and live tooling, besides the Trumpf punching machine and Arku straightening/levelling machine.”

“Having this equipment at our disposal has been beneficial for a number of reasons.”

“We now regard ourselves as an industrial design and manufacturing company. We like to do R+D work with our customers to improve their products and improve our processes so that we have a more productive and profitable manufacturing base.”

Davox manufactures screens for a client in the catalytic converter industry: “Screens are supplied to our client who will roll them, and then weld them and supply them to their client. There are seven different versions and the material is a stainless steel 904L. Each component has about 400 holes punched in them and this is all done on our Trumpf TC 500R punching machine. We have adapted the Trumpf machine’s software so that it allows us to do two components virtually simultaneously.”

Turning operations are done on a Mazak CNC lathe

“Secondly we have been developing products that enhance the manufacturing process. Even though they are our own products they are not aimed at the mass market but rather at our clients and companies that have similar equipment to us so that they can improve their processes.”

“I have many years of experience in the sheet metal processing industry and have observed and thought about a number of ways to improve production processes.”

“To help with the design of these products and improve customer designs I have employed a design engineer. We use SolidEdge as our proprietary software.”

Development of magnetic side stop for press brakes
“One product that we have developed is a magnetic side stop that is used on press brakes. I was watching a video of a customer who was demonstrating the bending of a long narrow component on a new press brake that he had just purchased. The operator was struggling to keep the component square to the press die.”

“I thought that there has got to be an easier way of performing this operation and one that would be more accurate. It was the beginning of the development of our patented magnetic side stop.”

“Because of the unique design we decided to take out a design registration for South Africa and for the European Union, which was granted last year. We are also implementing the same for other areas in the world, wherever there are manufacturers of press brakes.”

“We have up to now supplied three of the leading press brake manufacturers in Europe and expect three more companies to order the side stops soon.”

“At this stage we are only manufacturing one size of the product. The make up of the product consists of a machined aluminium block that is anodised. It incorporates magnets in the universal design and allows for branding with a manufacturer’s or supplier’s logo. The cost of the product is not exorbitant and can be used as a marketing tool as every press brake and press brake operator should have one of these.”

Product bundled and ready for delivery

Having a leveling and straightening machine on the shopfloor is an advantage to Davox

“As is usual with a new product it does take convincing to accept it. However, now that we have been granted vendor numbers at three of the leading press brake and other sheet metal equipment manufacturers in Europe we expect an increased interest in the product. You could say that this exercise has been a ‘door opener’ for us.”

“We are also working on further developments for this product and others, all of them productivity related, and will be revealing them in the near future.”

Cooperation, development and outsourcing
“We were able to do the development and testing of this product because we are not just a service centre with forming and fabricating services. We have three CNC machines that are all metal shaping related and this product does involve machining.”

“However, my business does not have all the equipment that I would like to have, for example a laser or a press brake or a plasma cutter. For this reason I have set up an informal ‘cluster’ with other engineering companies whereby we are each others clients. I can’t offer laser cutting or bending services directly but have a cooperation agreement whereby I offer my machining and punching services in return because my provider does not have this type of equipment.”

“In other words we are outsourcing certain operations but at the same time we are optimising the utilisation of our equipment. This gives each individual company’s clients a better service in terms of processes we offer and of course ultimately a better price. It is working well for our group and will continue in this fashion going forward.”

“Ultimately what we say is – work smarter not harder.”

Export development
“Although the company has always been regarded as a local manufacturer processing metal for the local industry it has become a bit frustrating in recent years with the implementation of local rules and regulations, and I am particularly referring to the BBBEE regulations.”

“My company qualifies as a micro SMME but we still get ignored by the SOE and parastatal organisations because we do not have any black shareholding. These governmental organisations are forcing this issue on local companies now and would rather pay a premium for a product or import from China. This attitude or policy is putting local manufacturers under huge amounts of pressure and forcing us to look at alternatives. Let’s not mention the cost to the taxpayer and the devastating affect it is having on employment as it is only benefitting a few.”

Davox have developed a magnetic side stop for press brakes that is now being exported to OEM press brake manufacturers in Europe

Owner of Davox Stig Rasmussen

“We are now focusing on developing our network and customers in Europe and the USA. After a recent visit to Germany and Denmark late last year we have had very serious interest in our products. We are now exporting to Austria, Switzerland, Spain, France, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the UK.”

Product mix
“Besides the products and components that I have mentioned we are manufacturing a number of other components for our 20 odd clients. Diversification has been key to the company’s progress and we now have a mix of 65% sheetmetal type components and 35% machining type components.”

“On the sheetmetal side we have perfected the manufacture of special screens that are used in the food and grain processing environments, as well as for a number of mining applications.”

“We are also manufacturing components that are used in medical and military applications. These are very specialised components and do not entail large orders but are still an important part of our product mix.”

“I have been in South Africa for 30 years now but still retain close links with my country of birth, Denmark. This is evident by us using the sleeping hero Holger Danske in our logo. Legend has it that, the Viking warrior who never died and sleeps in the dark cellar of Kronborg Castle at Elsinore, Denmark – the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – will wake up and help Denmark sort out the problem with the aid of his magical sword that helped him become invincible, if the country ever gets into trouble.”

“I believe that concentrating on little things leads to big success. Take our development of the magnetic side stop. The cycle time to produce components, whether it is on a press brake or a machining center, is ever more demanding. The side stop, an inexpensive operating tool but an essential addition to press brake work, is certainly going to help increase productivity and accuracy.”

For further details contact Davox on TEL: 082 966 1662