For decades brass and copper have been used in a variety of industries. From plumbing to aerospace, from hardware to the automotive industry and beyond. The challenge lies in finding a supplier with the skill to identify and produce the best solution for your specific requirements.
Copalcor is South Africa’s largest manufacturer of copper, brass and alloy-based semi-finished products and turnkey busbar solutions.
Established in the Johannesburg, Gauteng area in 1948, the company has undergone various name changes from McKechnie Brothers, Brass Extruders (BESA) and Copalcor Rolled Metals (CRM) to the current Copalcor Group.
Copalcor offers solutions incorporating a wide range of extruded, rolled and forged non-ferrous metal products for local and international markets.
Through ongoing development and expansion the company maintains its position as a leader in the field of service to South African strategic industries and continues to grow as an exporter worldwide.
Recognising the onset of a harsher economic climate, the Copalcor Group streamlined itself during 2008 to embrace the growing industry demand for customised and cost-effective solutions. In the subsequent years it has invested in numerous areas of the company, with a particular emphasis on new equipment to increase and modernise its production facilities.
One of the bigger machines that Copalcor invested in last year was a Tongtai Topper TMV 610A vertical machining centre with a six metre bed, which arrived in November 2013. The machine was specifically purchased to do slotting and drilling operations on copper busbar plates. Although the company can manufacture busbar plates up to 10 metres in length the majority of their requirements are six metres and below. The Tongtai Topper machines were supplied by PBS Machine Tools
At the same time management took strategic decisions which have resulted in the company not just being regarded as a convertor of copper and brass.
In 2010 Copalcor installed a state-of-the-art 1000 kW Inductotherm VIP® Induction Power Supply unit that increased its melting capacity in the non ferrous foundry division of the company. At the time it was the first major investment the company had made in capital equipment for a number of years.
The Inductotherm power supply unit that Copalcor installed supplies power for the melting of commercial brass and copper alloys for a three ton furnace. The furnace is used by the company to supply metal for a continuous vertical casting process. The metal is cast into rounds and a flying saw procedure is used to cut the billets to size in seven and nine inch diameter. These billets are then extruded into coil form, drawn through a die for final size, cut-to-length and then packed for the international welding industry.
The Tongtai Topper TMV 610A vertical machining centre with a six metre bed had been set up with six one metre stations and was performing operations on both ends of the one metre length busbars
The existing 1000 kW Inductotherm power supply unit was stripped, refurbished and upgraded and then installed to compliment the new power supply unit. Once all three furnaces located in this division of the company were fully functional, it then had the capacity to melt over 400 tons of non ferrous metal alloys a month.
Several plant upgrades to increase company’s capacity and production
Copalcor then installed a 1600 kW induction heating system for both sawn and sheared brass and copper alloy billets. The billets are heated via a coil to 850º C before being transported by means of the existing mechanical handling system, which was modified and upgraded to suit the new heater, to an extrusion machine that is located next to the billet heater. Designed to heat 35 billets an hour, the Banyard heater replaced two existing lines.
At the same time Copalcor also upgraded the extrusion machine, including the hydraulics.
Using computer modelling and simulation software, Copalcor can predict what to expect during initial tool design and production. A professional design team works with every customer to explain the entire process, with all the advantages in cost and time clearly explained. It all adds up to significant savings in both time and money.
Copalcor continuously augments its sophisticated stable of technology, expertise, project and machining capabilities by making their own tools and dies in-house. All of which are designed to keep costs to a minimum and maintain quality control while meeting today’s demanding delivery requirements.
The first of the eight new CNC machines that Copalcor has so far invested in for its new machine shop, which was specially constructed, were two Tongtai Topper TMV 510 CNC machining centres, both equipped with pallet changers
Effective project control is facilitated by having most manufacturing operations centralised at Copalcor’s production facilities, situated on a 40 hectare company-owned property in Wadeville, Germiston. The company has a well-established network of local and international sub-contractors and suppliers who can supply any specialised components and materials.
Copalcor is the leading manufacturer of busbar systems in Southern Africa. The operations of casting, rolling and busbar fabrication are all fully integrated and offer clients a complete solution from design to manufacture, through to installation. Copalcor prides itself on close customer consultation regarding all technical, scheduling, shipping and installation arrangements.
The Tongtai Topper HS-22M CNC lathe is fitted with a robotic self loader/unloader, a 14 pallet system and driven tools
Copalcor is also experienced in the design and supply of all steelwork and insulation material for supporting busbar systems, and has extensive experience in managing the shipment and installation of busbar systems worldwide, including the provision of all installation manuals and drawings.
Copalcor has implemented turnkey solutions for chemical corporations, electroplating copper foil plants, mining and mineral beneficiation companies, and companies in the metals furnace and smelting industries amongst others.
Further plant investment – new machine shop
In 2012 Copalcor recognised that there were further challenges to face but also numerous opportunities to take advantage of. Expansion into niche markets and new product launches was a main focus area for Copalcor. Another was to maintain close personal contact with its customer base, allowing their immediate and future needs to be catered for.
However when the company started losing jobs to cheap imports from low-wage countries, it looked for ways to replace the lost business.
The 14 pallet system which is fitted to the robotic self loader/unloader
Some companies that lose work to cheap imports and low-wage countries react by freezing spending, laying off employees, going to shorter hours and, in general, doing what they can to hang on until business conditions improve. Other companies react by taking steps to replace the lost business with new business that is less vulnerable to cheaper labour rates and looking within at ways of becoming more cost effective. Sometimes those steps lead to substantial investments in newer, more productive equipment—a scary path in what are uncertain times. However, the new equipment and the increased capabilities that it provides may be just the key to generating new and more profitable business.
One such area Copalcor looked at was its machine shop and machining requirements. It was equipped with a few aging machines but more importantly the company was farming out most of its machining requirements. They realised that if other machine shops could produce work and prove profitable, they should be able to improve the processes and do as well themselves. In other words if they could add the beneficiation process in this area to their services, by bringing it in-house, they could be in control of their costs as well as their delivery times.
Barney Barnard, Executive Manager Group Manufacturing of Copalcor with Bennie Visser who is the Production Manager for the forging shop and the new CNC machine shop and Bernard Griffon the CNC machine shop foreman
What they did not realise was the whole host of other benefits it would bring.
After a few months of planning and discussion, Management decided it was time to invest in the machine shop. However, starting a new machine shop can take a lot of time, money and work, and even so, there is no guarantee of success. This is when Copalcor approached PBS Machine Tools.
They had seen that PBS Machine Tools had been involved in a number of turnkey projects and decided to call on their expertise.
PBS Machine Tools also supplied the Poly Gim CNC lathe that is fitted with a bar feeder
“Not only did we have limited experience in the machining field the type of machining we were involved in was very basic,” said Barney Barnard, Executive Manager Group Manufacturing of Copalcor.
“Our strategic plan was to focus on transferring the benefication into our hands and if we needed outside help to do this we knew that we would minimise the learning curve,” continued Barnard.
New Tongtai Topper machines
The first of the eight new CNC machines that Copalcor has so far invested in for its new machine shop, which was specially constructed, were two Tongtai Topper TMV 510 CNC machining centres, both equipped with pallet changers.
Copalcor can now machine thousands of copper and brass components a day
“These arrived in September 2012 and have been virtually working 24/7 since then. We chose them because of the quantities that are involved. After reviewing various time study options with PBS these machines were the best solution. They are machining a number of different components but two stand out. These are a 22mm and a 15mm brass compresssion nut, which need a few operations to be performed. Quantities are 350 000 and 500 000 per month respectively and we have got the machining time down to about 6.5 seconds per compression nut.”
“Another advantage is that with the two pallet system we are not restricted to machining the same component, which are all relatively small. Fixtures have been manufactured to suit a component and these are set up while machining takes place on the other table.”
The success Copalcor was achieving with these two machining centres soon led them to place orders for a further five Tongtai CNC machines, all of which arrived during 2013.
The company has also brought its thread rolling operations inhouse
“We have been very specific in our choice of machine because of the number of different components that need to be machined and the various operations that need to be carried out,” explained Barnard.
“One of them is an Tongtai Topper HS-22M CNC lathe, which is not a unique machine. However what makes it special is that it is fitted with a robotic self loader/unloader, a 14 pallet system and driven tools. This machine arrived in September 2013 and is pushing out between 3000 and 4000 components a day having performed mill, drill and turn operations. The beauty of it is that you set the parameters, load the pallets and then it becomes operator free.”
One of the bigger machines that Copalcor invested in last year was a Tongtai Topper TMV 610A vertical machining centre with a six metre bed, which arrived in November 2013. The machine was specifically purchased to do slotting and drilling operations on copper busbar plates. Although the company can manufacture busbar plates up to 10 metres in length the majority of their requirements are six metres and below.
A billet that has been heated via a coil to 850 degrees C
The machine comes equipped with a Renishaw probe because when I visited, the machine had been set-up for six one metre stations and was performing operations on both ends of the one metre length busbars. Immediately after the operations had been completed the Renishaw probe would check that they were in spec.
The company has also brought its thread rolling operations inouse. “Again we looked at how we could control the add value scenario and although it is not a huge part of the overall operation we still have a number of transformer stems that we need to thread roll. At this stage we only operating with three dies and it is not operating anywhere near full capacity but in the future we can expand this,” explained Barnard.
“We have spent over R8 million on new equipment for the machine shop so far and we will be adding more machines in the near future. The project has created eight new positions and helped to reduce our cost per component drastically, which we pass onto our clients. However what we did not realise when we set off on this capital expenditure project was the possiblities it opened up for us. We are taking care of our own requirements but because of the capacity and modern equipment we have, we are now able to offer our machining services to our clients as well as being able seek outside work.”
The heated billet then enters an extrusion process
“It also gives us the opportunity to manufacture new products within the company. We are already manufacturing a wide range of rolled, extruded and forged non-ferrous metal products. Now we can add benefication – the possibilities are endless.”
Copalcor currently offers a wide range of products and solutions and in addition to the existing product offering, new products will be made available to cater for niche markets and satisfy the demand for custom-made options. Casting, rolling and fabrication are fully integrated and Copalcor offers turnkey solutions from design through to manufacture and installation. Available products include busbar and bustube, hanger bar, copper mould plate and cooling blocks, earthing products, profiles and custom extrusions, copper and brass rolled products, forgings, copper and brass foil, strip, disks, plate and sheets, copper and brass extruded products, roofing copper and ingots.
Mould plates, cooling blocks and contact shoes: Copalcor’s copper mould plate and cooling blocks (furnace sidewall coolers) are available in thicknesses ranging from 30mm to 150mm and widths of between 80mm to 695mm. They are ultrasonically tested and can be requested in any length. Through their partner industries Copalcor also supply fully recyclable, copper contact shoes.
Earthing products: Copalcor has been engaged in the manufacturing of competitive brass earthing and other forged components for the past 16 years.
Extruded round bar
Busbar: Copalcor specialises in the supply and installation of busbars and has implemented busbar systems and facilitated busbar project management across the globe. From design through to installation, every step is meticulously planned. Copalcor also has extensive experience in managing the shipment of busbar systems worldwide therefore ensuring that the projects are delivered on schedule.
Head office location
The Copalcor group’s head office and production facilities are situated on a 54 000m² company-owned property in Wadeville, Germiston, which is located near Johannesburg in South Africa’s Gauteng province. They also have branches in Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
The company is a Supporting Member of the CDAA (Copper Development Association Africa) and is active on the CDAA’s board.
Quality is extremely important to Copalcor. Standards are maintained throughout each process, from the validation of raw material to the final semi-manufactured product. This is achieved by adherence to ISO 9001:2008. They have DQS ISO 9001 IQNet certification and Eskom approval for their Earthcor product.
For more information regarding Copalcor’s products, solutions or events, please contact them on TEL: 011 821 0700 or visit the website at www.copalcor.co.za