Doing it the Weir way

Heavy Bay foundry in Port Elizabeth takes shape.

Weir Minerals Africa has procured their castings from local foundries or imported them from Weir Minerals foundries located elsewhere in the world since 2006. This arrangement worked well in some respects, however, it also had its drawbacks. First and foremost, the company did not have sufficient control over the quality of material used or the processes employed at the contracted local non-Weir Minerals foundries. The obvious problems such as overall quality of castings, erratic delivery and lead times would frustrate the company no end. Importing castings from Weir Minerals in-house foundries abroad added unnecessary shipping costs, and the logistical problems made it very difficult to support response times required by the Weir Lean Manufacturing systems that were in place. Weir China was considered as an alternative but this would still have resulted in prohibitive lead times, and potentially the loss of local employment opportunities.

As a result of the above mentioned, as well as the commitment to customers in Africa and in particular South Africa, it was decided by Weir Minerals to invest in the manufacturing capacity of the African organisation. One of the first initiatives targeted by the company was to commission a greenfields foundry at its South African operations in Isando, Gauteng.


Management at Weir Minerals Africa: Rob Fawcett Sales, Marketing and Engineering Director (Africa and Middle East), Gavin Dyer Regional Managing Director, Johan de Lange Regional Financial Director (Africa and Middle East) and Chris van Rensburg, Plant Manager Heavy Bay Foundry in Port Elizabeth

The opening of the foundry took place in November 2006 with an initial investment of R12 million. The introduction and location of the foundry was ideal in that it would fulfil all Africa’s needs and also be of sufficient capacity to export medium size castings, whilst creating jobs and supporting the local economy. An additional bonus was that the company already had a large machining shop on site.

Subsequent growth in the company led to more investment in the Isando foundry, and today this facility produces in the region of 15 tons of castings per day comprising of 70% white irons and the remainder is a mixture of SG and cast iron. This however, is only a fraction of the castings required by the organisation.

Weir Minerals Africa
Weir Minerals Africa specialises in the delivery and support of a wide range of minerals equipment solutions including pumps, hydrocyclones, valves, dewatering equipment, wear-resistant linings rubber hose and sheeting, screening machines and crushers. Its broad portfolio of highly engineered core mill circuit products finds application in critical customer processes and is backed throughout the product life cycle by high levels of aftermarket support.


A view of the main foundry at Weir Heavy Bay Foundry

To help companies in the mining industry achieve increased operating efficiencies and throughput, Weir Minerals Africa supplies high-performance equipment, including the latest materials science has to offer. The ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ theme underpins the design of all equipment with emphasis on issues around engineering, hydraulics and the range of materials, as well as ease of component change-out, repair and maintenance. Its comprehensive portfolio of high performance pumps and superior minerals processing equipment is designed and manufactured to meet the highest specifications – for robust and reliable use in the world’s most demanding environments.

All this is backed up by a service and support programme – including installation and commissioning, condition monitoring and plant optimisation, emergency repairs, on-site or in-shop servicing, customer training and asset management expertise.


Weir Heavy Bay Foundry installed a new 20 ton an hour continuous mixer supplied by Lauds Foundry Equipment

A massive focus on boosting its service business has produced service models that enhance customer experience through a greater understanding of their operations. Customer service is also elevated by extensive ongoing investments into Weir Minerals Africa’s manufacturing and service infrastructure, and by adopting a highly flexible approach to designing service packages for customers.

Weir Minerals Africa places value on collaboration to gain a better understanding of the markets it serves, as well as the specific technology and support requirements of customers in these markets. This reflects Weir Minerals Africa’s commitment to designing and manufacturing the most appropriate solutions for customers, a philosophy that also enhances its own and supplier operations.

Investment in Heavy Bay foundry in Port Elizabeth
The benefits of the investment in the Isando foundry had an immediate impact. Customers have the assurance that quality issues are resolved at source; there has been a reduction in lead times and a dramatically improved response time to customer demand.


A component that has been shot blast

However, with respect to the profile of the Isando foundry, Weir Minerals Africa was still limited to the size of casting manufactured. The Isando foundry relies on two furnaces, each with a capacity of two tons per melt. Not operating in a dual melt situation has restricted the foundry to producing castings up to two and half tons per casting, and today Weir Minerals Africa offer product that can weigh up to 42 tons once fully assembled. Individual castings can weigh up to 18 tons.

In line with its policy of controlling the quality and service for its supply chain, Weir Minerals Africa looked at investing in facilities that would be capable of not only producing the company’s requirements from an African perspective, but also having sufficient capacity to supply other businesses within the Weir Group globally, as well as offering a large, heavy casting service to third parties.


Weir Heavy Bay Foundry can cast large castings. This is one half of the pattern for a DN 1800 valve gate

In May 2013 an agreement was reached with John Exley, a prominent businessman in Port Elizabeth to acquire the plant, equipment and buildings of Xmeco Foundry, a specialist large casting foundry based in Markman Industria Township, Port Elizabeth, South Africa from the Xmeco Group.

The Weir way
Xmeco Foundry has been manufacturing large, heavy castings in SG, high chrome and various alloyed steels since the early eighties. Run as a family owned business until its acquisition by Weir Minerals Africa it supplied general engineering castings, including pump components to Weir. The foundry has also been one of the few foundries in South Africa to undertake the supply of large bells and these can be heard ringing throughout South Africa.

The foundry has been supported on the machining side by an associated company, Xmeco Heavy Engineering, which is located on the same site. This arrangement is still in place thus ensuring that all castings leaving Weir Heavy Bay foundry will be machined to customer requirements.


The patternshop has installed a Haas GR-712, which is a gantry-style router with 3 683 x 2 159 x 279mm travels and a 40-taper milling head

The Weir Heavy Bay Foundry occupies a 5.2 ha site that is situated less than eight kilometres away from the Port of Ngqura, the heart of the Coega Industrial Development Zone.

“The site is big enough to allow us to develop the facilities to cater for future planned growth and market demand,” said Rob Fawcett, Sales, Marketing and Engineering Director (Africa and Middle East) for Weir Minerals Africa.

“However since we acquired the Heavy Bay Foundry just over a year ago we have concentrated on transforming the facility to align with the Weir way.”

“The Weir Group has a system of engineering excellence which includes global best practice sharing, Design Centres of Origin and Group specific Environmental Health and Safety Management systems which adhere to both local and international codes of best practice.”


Weir Heavy Bay Foundry has its own coreshop

“Quality is a central philosophy at Weir Minerals and its quality strategy has brought about a fundamental shift from quality control to quality assurance. While quality control calls for an inspection at the end of a process, quality assurance focuses on redesigning the elements of a process in order to ensure that the quality of the product is 100% when it reaches the customer.”

“The focus is to continually introduce world class quality principles to the business. The quality strategy is applied to the total supply chain, from the supplier base to final delivery, and internal manufacturing Standard Operating Procedures are reviewed and updated regularly.”

“The Environmental Health and Safety Management system that the Weir Group employs is equally important. The responsibilities of Weir leaders and managers in relation to creating safe working environments, is fundamental. Nobody working for Weir needs to be reminded of the critical importance of safe workplaces. But beyond that, continuously reminding ourselves of the important role we can each play as individuals in ensuring these safe workplaces to safeguard that colleagues, clients, suppliers and friends are not injured on a Weir site.”


Prior to the acquisition, manual measurement and templates were used to see if the castings were in specification. Weir Heavy Bay Foundry purchased two Romer 7-axis arms from Retecon Machine Tools, which have been integrated with an RS1 laser scanner. Weir Heavy Bay Foundry are now able to deliver 3D scanning solutions for a variety of applications, use it for feature inspection to CAD, free-form surface inspection to CAD and reverse engineering. The Romer 7-axis arms are portable arm systems and this gives the company complete accuracy of measurements, no matter how complex they are

“While we have robust systems and processes in place to manage safety, what’s equally important is the responsibility that we share in pointing out unsafe practices or acts whenever we see them. From top to bottom each employee is constantly reminded of the accountability and the understanding that it is their duty to implement improvements on a regular basis.”

The buy-in at the Heavy Bay Foundry
“I was tasked to implement the Weir way at this facility and I can proudly say that we have had employee buy-in from the beginning. The biggest task has been changing the facility to one that complies with Weir’s standards, which is no mean feat. This is ongoing, but we have now reached a point where our standards are being met, however we will not be content until everything is completed. Going forward it will be the responsibility of local management to implement all the identified changes – from infrastructure to the processes that we believe is necessary to ensure that Weir HBF becomes a best in class foundry.”


One of the melting stations at Weir Heavy Bay Foundry in Port Elizabeth

“I will give you some examples that have transformed the foundry. Externally and internally most of the buildings have been upgraded. Polycarbonate sheeting has replaced small and broken windows thus allowing natural light throughout. All the power cables have been replaced and enclosed to adhere to regulatory standards. All walkways are now demarcated and clear signage has been erected. There are many other safety improvements that have been made like installing screens, railings and covers.”

“Storage areas have been upgraded. The gas, flammable liquids and chemical areas have new compliant enclosures that, as an added bonus, have also contributed to efficiencies and cost savings.”

“Even the sand silos and storage bins have been refurbished and now look like new. The dust extractor units have been upgraded to bag filter systems. And many other aspects throughout the foundry have been attended to.”


A new Struers Tegramin material preparation system for grinding and polishing of specimens has been purchased for the laboratory

“All the changes may be small individually, but collectively they have contributed to this facility’s journey towards a world class foundry that provides customer confidence, both locally and internationally. While adopting and implementing our quality and environmental health and safety management systems, each employee goes through extensive training, and comprehensive records are kept in each instance. This allows us to monitor and have traceability and accountability.”

“To show our appreciation we have completely revamped the change room and ablution areas, and in September we inaugurated a new canteen in the name of the founder John Exley Snr.”

New equipment
“Besides implementing all the safety, process and cosmetic changes, the manufacturing area has seen some investment. This included purchasing new equipment, upgrading and refurbishing existing equipment and generally organising the various areas to streamline the operations.”


Taking centre spot in the laboratory is the new Spectro spectrometer

“Some of these changes included a new 20 ton an hour continuous mixer that has been installed by Lauds Foundry Equipment. Four new 20-ton driven moulding tables have been installed in the large casting bay to significantly improve the production rate. A new 160kW Ingersoll Rand compressor has replaced 4 old piston-type compressors that are now museum pieces.”

“We have one of the largest installed bases of Demag cranes in the Eastern Cape and the existing overhead cranes have now been serviced and are on a monitoring system for future services.”

“The 5000m2 pattern shop and storage facility, which is housed in a separate building, now has a racking system to ensure that patterns are correctly and efficiently stored. Every pattern, of which we have well over 1000 are now uniquely marked to provide complete traceability. Better still, we know exactly where they are in the storage area.”


The foundry has been supported on the machining side by an associated company, Xmeco Heavy Engineering, which is located on the same site

“A Haas GR-712, which is a gantry-style router with 3 683 x 2 159 x 279mm travels and a 40-taper milling head, has been added to this department. Its 10 000-rpm spindle and powerful 11 kW vector drive system provide the power for light machining and cutting. The machine, which was installed in September 2014, can cut and machine other materials. However, we have specifically purchased the Haas to assist in manufacturing new patterns and where necessary, refurbishing existing patterns.”

“We are busy moving certain of our furnaces in the melting department to make us more efficient with the workflow. The furnace controls have all been upgraded and we are looking at adding new furnaces to give us more capacity and efficiencies.”

“The heat treatment ovens have also been refurbished, which included the control panels being upgraded.”


All castings leaving Weir Heavy Bay foundry will be machined to customer requirements

“Prior to the acquisition, manual measurement and templates were used to see if the castings were in specification or patterns were correct. This is critical in most cast components, including pumps. To ensure that our customers have access to the best quality, however, we purchased two Romer 7-axis arms, which are integrated with RS1 laser scanners. We are now able to deliver 3D scanning solutions for a variety of applications, use it for feature inspection to CAD and free-form surface inspection to CAD. These are portable arm systems which give us complete accuracy of measurements, no matter how complex they are.”

“We have made some minor improvements to the fettling department, including the installation of four small fettling booths, with future plans to purchase much larger booths.”

New laboratory
“Our metals sampling and testing department needed upgrading to the latest technologies. As a result we have completely rebuilt our laboratory, inside and outside, and added a host of new equipment. Taking centre spot is the new Spectro spectrometer. Amongst the other new equipment is a Struers Tegramin material preparation system for grinding and polishing of specimens.”

“To ensure that our quality systems are aligned across the company and with Group and Divisional policies, we will be 14001 and 18001 certified by the end of the year, with 19001 being implemented next year.”


More castings waiting to be machined

“We now also have a seat of the Magmasoft casting simulation software, as well as Siemens NX design software and a CAD/CAM package. This puts us in a position to offer clients design, simulation, casting and machining services for as cast castings from two hundred kilograms up to 20 tons – the complete value chain. Not many operations can offer that service.”

“Another big advantage of this foundry, and indeed one of the main reasons it was chosen as an acquisition target, is its proximity to the deep water Port of Ngqura. Typically, one of our clients in the Canadian oil sands business uses very large pumps and pump components, and a single pour for a component or part could be up to 20 tons. Being so close to a major port will help us achieve significant savings in logistics costs when exporting.”


A finished pump component

“Currently we have enough capacity and capabilities to fulfil most of Weir Minerals Africa’s requirements within the target range of the two foundries, as well as to continue servicing external clients, no matter what their request. We currently produce up to 650 tons of castings per month, but intend ramping this up to over 1000 tons per month in the next three to five years.”

“During the whole takeover and the implementation of the Weir way, which incidentally goes further than the work environment, we have retained almost all employees at the time of acquisition. We have also reduced our scrap rate down to below four percent and are looking at improving that figure.”

For further details contact Weir Heavy Bay Foundry on TEL: 041 461 1407 or visit