GJ Smal Engineering is a general machining and light fabricating shop that serves a variety of industries but with companies serving the mining and related industries making up the bulk of the order book. The extent of the client list and with close to 6 000 drawings of various components on hand, gives the company enough scope to lesson the effect on production if one area is experiencing difficult times.
Essentially the company processes raw material, whether it be sheet, plate, castings or block, adds value and ultimately ships a usable component or product to a waiting customer. It’s a very simple formula that should be followed by every job shop.
Management also appreciates the importance of keeping the customer happy. Over the years they have learnt that this requires an in-depth understanding of jobs the shop should and should not quote on.
Furthermore they understand that although the company is flexible in many aspects they have not been flexible enough to engage in other offerings such as assembly, painting, coating or testing. This is not the company’s area of expertise – machining and fabricating is.
Founded in 1984 by the late Johan Smal, GJ Smal Engineering had a tough beginning. Johan had been through a number of different positions at various companies before deciding at the age of 36 to see if he could qualify as a tool and diemaker. This he did four years later and could not wait to set up his own business.
With no experience or clients he went ahead and purchased a second hand conventional lathe, a couple of universal mills, a surface grinder, a bandsaw and some other general engineering equipment. He set up shop in a garage on a farm in the Mapleton area, south of Johannesburg. For a relatively young Johan life looked exciting. He had a qualification and had started his own business after years of struggling. Then came a hammer blow. The deal that he thought was secure when he purchased his equipment went sour and he lost what was a sizeable amount of money in 1984. Somehow he managed to refinance the equipment and got going.
Initially he would gratefully accept any type of work that came his way. These were mainly one-offs but they were helping to pay the bills. With a young family to support there were no extras. In time, the number of customers increased from a couple to several, and some of the small components that the company had machined opened doors to larger ones. The company had started off as a job shop operation and today this is still its philosophy. Small production runs are performed but these usually do not exceed 100. Milling, turning, drilling, slotting and tapping, as well as pre-machining and finishing are the main operations carried out on the machining side. Fabrication of plate and sheet was only added to the company’s offerings much later in its history.
Having set up shop in the Vaal Triangle area, which as we know has a strong mining presence, it was only natural that many of Johan’s clients came from the mines themselves and companies supplying into the industry. These relationships were cemented early on and today many of those clients still form the nucleus of the company’s order book.
First-born son Lawrence (40) joined the company once he had finished school. “The company was on its feet when I officially joined. I had always tinkered around in the shop before joining Dad so had some experience of the company and the type of work it was involved in, but that was very limited. At the time we could not afford to send me for formal training so I learnt as we went along, and really when I look back I could not have had a better education,” said Lawrence.
Second son Jeffrey (35) joined the company in 2000 but only after completing his apprenticeship as a millwright. “When you think about it millwrights install, dismantle, repair, reassemble and move machinery in factories, power plants and construction sites, for example. The trade had nothing to do with machining but it still gave me valuable experience in the mechanical arena and certainly has helped me over the years,” said Jeffrey.
Satisfied that he could leave the business in good hands Johan retired in 2002.
The company had in the mean time grown sufficiently to move from the farm into a rented factory in the Roodekop, Alrode area. Better business conditions also led the company to purchase its first CNC lathe, a Daewoo Puma, in 2001.
“This was a big step in the company’s history and also a big learning curve for us,” said Jeffrey. “However, we would not have seen the growth in the company had we not gone the CNC route. That first CNC has only just been scrapped after churning out many components.”
Another machine that the company has had long service from is a Haco FAT TUR 630 x xxxx mm universal CNC lathe supplied by Machine Tool Promotions.
The company has subsequently purchased two more Haco FAT TUR 630 x 2000 MN conventional lathes from Machine Tool Promotions.
Other CNC machines include a Tongtai TMV-1050A II CNC vertical machining center with a XYZ axis stroke of 1050 x 600 x 530 mm and a Tongtai TMV-720A CNC vertical machining center with a XYZ axis stroke of 720 x 480 x 530 mm, both supplied by PBS Machine Tools together with a couple of Robodrills.
On the bigger side GJ Smal Engineering purchased a Hartford LG1000 CNC high speed machining center with a 10 000rpm belt drive spindle and XYZ axis stroke 1000 x 500 x 630 mm. The machine is equipped with 20 bar through spindle coolant and linear guideways and was supplied by Redman Engineering Supplies.
Heavy engineering – investing in a heavyweight
The size and/or weight of components required for heavy engineering projects means only those having machines of sufficient physical capacity can compete for forthcoming contracts. Large machine tools rarely come cheap, so making the right investment choice is vital in the interests of business prosperity at any manufacturer.
Essentially, a booming order book urgently demanded extra spindle availability for GJ Smal Engineering – “and Redman Engineering Supplies was the only machine tool supplier which could meet that demand with a machine of suitable specification and at the right price,” says Jeffrey. “Before buying the machine, we travelled to see a similar model in action at another Redman customer. We were impressed with what we saw and with the views of the user. Since the Hartford was installed, it has literally made a big difference to the size of components we can handle.”
“The machine we purchased was a Hartford model Super Tornado HCMC 2082 heavy duty machining center equipped with a GSA 320 mm CNC rotary table, 6000 rpm gearbox drive spindle, XYZ axis stroke of 2060 x 820 x 660 mm, 20 bar through spindle coolant, box slideways and we added the 4th axis,” explained Jeffrey.
“We know it is not the biggest machine around, but for the type of work that our clients were asking us to do it certainly can accommodate our requirements and also give us the scope to chase work that involves larger components. An example is a 16 mm plate where, once it is cut to size on our profiling side, we have to carry out drill, tap and bore operations and the Hartford can more than handle it.”
Stepping up to the plate – Profiling
GJ Smal Engineering has traditionally been a machining shop since its inception and where it was required, shopped out any profiling requirements. However, demand for faster deliveries of cheaper parts, and lack of service by outside suppliers in this area led the company to make a decision to invest in their own equipment.
This decision took place in 2011 when the company invested in two plasma profiling machines and one comes equipped with an oxyfuel cutting option.
“We don’t intend to become a service centre. The machines were installed purely for our in-house requirements. One machine has a bed size of 5 x 2,5 metres and the other one takes 3 x 1.5 metre sheets. We can cut up to 100 mm thick plate but it is very rare that we get such a request,” explained Jeffrey.
“We have also purchased some press brakes with the largest being a 200 ton with a bending length of 3.2 metres.”
“It is a service that we have offered but never had control of until we invested in our own equipment. In this area we can do production runs. One example is foot rings where we fabricate between 2 000 and 3 000 a month, depending on the client’s requirements.”
Growth in the business saw the company purchase its own 900 m² factory in 2006. This has now increased by a further 1 000 m² with the completion of a new purpose built building.
“The new building, which is across the road from our current building, houses all our machining operations and the original building houses the plate and sheet operations. We not only needed the extra space but also needed to separate the two disciplines.”
The company staff compliment is now at 44, working six days a week and it has a night shift operating for five of those days. It makes use of SolidWorks, Sigmanest and Mastercam software programmes and machines most types of metals including stainless steel, copper, phosphor bronzes and the hard wearing metals. The company machines from block and to a lesser extent castings. Currently the mix is 70 percent machining and 30 percent light fabrication. Components are numerous and these include bosses, bushes, shafts, end shields, bolts, clamps, sockets and pump components to name a few. It also offers TIG and MIG welding. It has some big name mining supply companies on its client list, with some that have been associated with the company since its inception.
“Through our continuous improvement programmes and investment in new technologies and equipment, we are now better prepared for the future and can focus all of our resources on delivering high quality components, on time and in budget,” concluded Jeffrey.
For further details contact GJ Smal Engineering on TEL: 011 865 1907.
The new Hartford model Super Tornado HCMC 2082 heavy duty machining center supplied by Redman Engineering Supplies
Lawrence and Jeffrey Smal
The Haco FAT TUR 630 x xxxx mm universal CNC lathe supplied by Machine Tool Promotions
The Tongtai TMV-720A CNC vertical machining center with a XYZ axis stroke of 720 x 480 x 530 mm supplied by PBS Machine Tools
The company machines many components from block
A component that has been machined from block, which can be seen in the background. Pre machining, slotting, helical milling and final machining operations are performed on the 400 Kg block and the final component weighs in at about 100 Kgs. The total machining time is between 16 and 17 hours
A hub that has been machined
The first Hartford LG1000 CNC high speed machining center that the company purchased comes with a 10 000rpm belt drive spindle and XYZ axis stroke 1000 x 500 x 630 mm. The machine is equipped with 20 bar through spindle coolant and linear guideways and was supplied by Redman Engineering Supplies
The Tongtai TMV-1050A II CNC vertical machining center with a XYZ axis stroke of 1050 x 600 x 530 mm supplied by PBS Machine Tools
An overhead view of the machine shop. The new Hartford model Super Tornado HCMC 2082 heavy duty machining center supplied by Redman Engineering Supplies can be seen in the right foreground. The machine is equipped with a GSA 320 mm CNC rotary table, 6000 rpm gearbox drive spindle, XYZ axis stroke of 2060 x 820 x 660 mm, 20 bar through spindle coolant, box slideways and a 4th axis
An example where 16 mm plate is cut to size on the profiling side, then the company carries out drill, tap and bore operations on the Hartford
One of the profile cutting machines
The company also has a press brake in its fabrication section
Plate being cut