General Hinges and Aluminium Frames thrives by combining old and new metalworking equipment with an emphasis on the new.
Fabrication and machining involves numerous steps, ideally accomplished with the goal of cost savings and production efficiency. From product design and material selection to fabrication or machining technique, each step requires choosing the most effective machine to manufacture the components to guarantee a successful outcome.
General Hinges and Aluminium Frames (Pty) Ltd started operations in 1974. It has now grown into one of Southern Africa’s leading suppliers of alumimium windows for caravans, commercial vehicles and buses, as well as all types of hinges and general metal pressings.
The company was formed when three friends – Antonio Barreira, Peter Wade and Victorino Barbosa got together to establish the general engineering company that today has machining, laser cutting, bending, riveting, pressing, welding, Wire EDM, aluminium bending and forming, pipe bending and plastic injection moulding processes at its disposal and carries out most of them on a daily basis.
José Barreira and Mike Wade with Peter Wade, one of the founders of General Hinges and Aluminium Frames, in the centre
The introduction of a 3kW Trumpf TruLaser 3030 laser has opened up a new area of metal processing for General Hinges and Aluminium Frames, an area that the company had not been in before. The Trumpf TruLaser has also dramatically increased the company’s ability to enter new markets and manufacture different products
In the beginning the primary focus of the business was to manufacture cab sliders, conversion windows and window components. But as the company progressed the need for other accessories such as brackets, air vent grills, throw over catches and latches, locks, handles, hinges, sliders and other necessary components for the industry became part of the mix that the company manufactured. This included both metal and plastic components.
Unique special purpose machines
Two of the original partners, Antonio Barreira and Victorino Barbosa, were responsible for orchestrating, designing and manufacturing some of the special purpose presses and other equipment that the company still uses today.
Barbosa left the company in 1990. This period coincided with the remaining two partners, Antonio Barreira and Peter Wade, introducing their sons into the business. Today two of Barreira’s sons and two of Wade’s sons run the very successful business, each of them cornering and running an arm of the business.
The first of the 2nd generation family to join was Antonio’s son Tony Barreira, who qualified as a tool and diemaker. He joined the company in 1986 and is today the Technical Director looking after the toolroom and manufacturing of the company’s moulds and dies.
Mike Wade, also a tool and diemaker, joined in 1989 and is today the Production Director. The second of the Barreira sons, Dr José Barreira, who has a PhD in Business Administration and still lectures at Wits Business School, joined in in 1994 and is the Operations Director. Darren Wade joined the company in 1996 and is the Financial Director and has his MBA.
General Hinges and Aluminium Frames has an organised bin system for all components before assembly
Piano hinges are one the products that General Hinges and Aluminium Frames manufactures and sells
“We have all the important areas of the business covered between the two families. All of us have been in the business 20 years and more and you could say that our respective fathers shared the love of metalworking and manufacturing with us. We all understand each other with regard to the goals of the business and the leadership shifts among the family members, and there’s no overwhelming need for any one person to be in charge. We have clearly defined responsibilities and skill sets and decision-making shifts according to the circumstances. However, we do, as far possible, collectively make the decisions on the bigger issues and the challenges that the business faces as it progresses,” explained José Barreira.
“The business is a family tradition of honour. It’s not motivated by money, but by family tradition and we are very fortunate that we have had the opportunity to carry on something started by our fathers. Succession planning is still in the distance as we are all relatively young.”
Getting control of operations and costs
With two of the Directors holding qualifications in business administration it is not surprising that General Hinges and Aluminium Frames has a system in place that allows the Directors, at the push of a button or keystroke, to analyse every aspect of the business.
“It costs money to run a business. And manufacturing a product or component for a customer costs money, too. Nobody would argue with those two facts. Where it gets tricky is linking the cost of running a business with the cost of manufacturing each component, whether it be a single component or a number of them that make up the final product,” said José Barreira.
“Making this link is important because what a business charges its customers has to include not only the costs directly related to that component or product but also some of the overall costs that are part of running a business. If all of these costs aren’t divided up properly, the business will end up either charging some customers too much or others not enough (or both). Charging too much will cause a business to lose customers. Charging too little will cause a business to lose money.”
The company has recently purchased a Rascamat tapping/drilling machine
Another recent purchase is a Dashin Major conventional lathe, supplied by F&H Machine Tools
“Already in 1995 the company introduced a computerised management information system and we have developed the system to include everything pertaining to a particular component or product and customer. This includes material costs, drawings, example component photos, production time, invoicing, dispatch and delivery notes and even every email communication.”
“We manufacture 1657 different components that make up our products and on average we will manufacture 55 000 components in a month. Component runs range from one piece to many pieces, over a variety of materials.”
“This is a computer based information processing system which supports the operations, management and decision making functions of the company and it has been developed by ourselves.”
“Everybody makes good decisions if they get good information.”
“It also allows us to control our inventory in a more accurate and efficient manner. With the business not being a general engineering job shop, but rather one that manufactures its own engineering products and then distributing directly or through appointed agents, we have to keep stock of the various components that make up a final product.”
“Here we have an organised bin system, and staff in the assembly area get computerised instructions on size, number and any other relevant information and then source it from the relevant bin. This material handling and assembly process does not require automation because we are not in the league of international companies that can get orders for many thousands of a particular product.”
“Additionally there are many products that are fast turning and are made up of one component with maybe a variance in size so we need to keep a number of these in stock. Our system keeps us abreast in forecasting stock numbers.”
General Hinges and Aluminium Frames operate from two facilities in Alberton, Gauteng. One houses the sales, administration and assembly aspect of the business and the second houses the production activities. Both cover an area of 2 500m² each and currently the Directors are seeking a solution that will bring both together under one roof.
The production and manufacturing services of General Hinges and Aluminium Frames are wide and varied because of the components and products that the company manufactures. Added to this is the company’s policy of wanting to manufacture, where feasibly possible, all the components it requires for its products.
“We don’t manufacture items such as washers, springs or screws – these we will outsource. Otherwise we are very self sufficient,” explained Production Director Mike Wade.
“As a result, because of the mix of our products that we manufacture and supply, we do have a number of different operations that we perform on a daily basis. This includes machining, grinding, laser cutting, press brake and pipe bending, curling, both hydraulic and eccentric pressing, welding, riveting, wire cutting and injection moulding.”
“In total we have 60 machines on the floor, with the majority of them made up of metalworking machines, and one Arburg plastic injection moulder.”
Riveting is done on an AMCO machine supplied by Toolquip and Allied
The standout machine on the machine shop floor is the Okuma Genos L300E-MY CNC turning center with an OSP P200 L-R control, C-Axis headstock and has the facility of driven tooling from the turret. The machine was delivered to the company by F&H Machine Tools two years ago and has been working non-stop
“The company also processes a variety of materials including mild steel, tool steel, stainless steel, extruded aluminium, brass and polypropylene.”
“The floor is organised so that the various production disciplines are kept together and because we make our own moulds, dies and forming tools we even have a separate toolroom area that houses a Chmer wire EDM, a Chmer spark eroder and a Victor VCenter A110 vertical machining center.”
The old and the new
When walking onto the shop floor at General Hinges and Aluminium Frames you can readily see the various machines in operation but what strikes you is the mix of the old and the new.
Enquiring about the glaring difference Mike Wade explains that two of the original partners, Antonio Barreira and Victorino Barbosa, believed in designing and manufacturing their own processing equipment and they built them so well that they still produce components every day and only stop when they need to be serviced.
“They built four hydraulic presses and three curling machines. We have even had international manufacturers visit our factory and want to buy them off us, but they are not for sale.”
General Hinges and Aluminium Frames manufactures its own moulds, tools and dies and has a separate toolroom area that houses a Chmer wire EDM and a Chmer spark eroder for this purpose
Also housed in the toolroom is a Victor VCenter A110 vertical machining center
“Curling deforms metal into a tubular radial profile. Door hinges are a good example of parts that are made using this process. Curling is also used to smooth edges and add strength and rigidity to a part. Although some curling can be done in dies, like necking, it can also be performed using rotary curling machines, which are ideal for curling round part edges.”
Today this kind of operation isn’t unusual. But if you notice a collection of unusual tools, you’ll see what sets this fabricator apart. It all hinges on, well, hinges.
The company has built up quite a collection of hinge tools after more than 40 years of experience in the business. It’s an uncommon niche that for General Hinges and Aluminium Frames has served as a path for growth. Today the company still produces thousands of hinges, but it also fabricates the sheet metal parts that connect to those hinges, along with various other components and subassemblies.
“Hinges are anything but low-interest products, considering that quite a bit more is expected of them in many applications than simply to be the axis of rotation for flaps or doors. If doors are expected to engage at different opening angles, be fixable in any position, or require a variable operating force, they then become a focal point.”
A special purpose 1 000 ton hydraulic press, designed and built by two of the original partners, Antonio Barreira and Victorino Barbosa, is still in operation at the company today
“Our curling machines form up to 8mm mild steel and 4mm stainless steel and the hydraulic presses, which go up to 1000 tons press force, form components from 1.6 to 8mm in mild steel.”
“The act of making a hinge is actually not terribly difficult for an operator with the right tooling. By the time the job goes to the floor, all the machine loads and minimum radii have already been determined. The operator sets up the tools, the ram comes down and forms half the curl in one hit and the rest of the curl on the next hit, and he has a finished hinge.”
“Hinges form a big part of our business so we look after these machines.”
The latest equipment to arrive at the company is a Dashin Major gap bed center lathe supplied by F&H Machine Tools, an AMCO riveting machine supplied by Toolquip and Allied and a Rascamat tapping/drilling machine.
Okuma GENOS L300E-MY CNC turning center
But the standout machine on the machine shop floor is the Okuma Genos L300E-MY CNC turning center with an OSP P200 L-R control, C-Axis headstock and has the facility of driven tooling from the turret. The machine was delivered to the company by F&H Machine Tools two years ago and has been working non-stop.
The eccentric press department
Two of the original partners, Antonio Barreira and Victorino Barbosa, built four special purpose hydraulic presses and three curling machines. The company has had international manufacturers visit the factory and want to buy them, but they are not for sale
The Okuma Genos L300E-MY has a swing over bed of 520mm, maximum turning diameter of 300mm, maximum work length of 1050mm, XYZ travels of 235 x 100 x 1050mm, a C-axis with 360° swivel functionality, features a Y axis for off-center milling, drilling and tapping, live tooling, a 7.5 kW motor and rapid traverses of 20 m/min. and is also equipped with a Fedek barfeeder.
“Manufacturing has changed over the decades. Before CNCs, setups were time-consuming and therefore expensive. At the same time, material and storage space were relatively cheap. Technology turned this relationship on its head. After an operator programmes a component with a CNC machine, he stores the setup for later retrieval, so subsequent setups take little time and cost next to nothing. Material and space are now relatively expensive, so manufacturers work tirelessly to reduce the amount of material on hand, whether it’s raw feedstock or work-in-process (WIP) and conserve space.”
“A component might go through the stamping processes, then go to a machining center, then go to another machine to cut the holes. Every additional setup requires time. The handling between machines requires labour and time and using several machines means that component tolerances stack up. Now with the Okuma Genos L300E-MY we can do turning, milling, drilling and tapping operations all on one machine.”
Development with Edgecam and Trumpf TruLaser
But it is not just the Okuma Genos L300E-MY that has taken General Hinges and Aluminium Frames forward in developing its machining division, as well as introducing new products.
“We have managed to improve our turn-over time dramatically by purchasing Edgecam CAD CAM software for 3D milling, mill turn, multi axis machining and 3D machining and using both the machining and design capabilities of the package.”
“When we introduced the 3kW Trumpf TruLaser 3030 laser it opened up a new area of metal processing, an area that the company had not been in before. The Trumpf TruLaser has also dramatically increased our ability to enter new markets and manufacture different products, as well as hugely increase our manufacturing capability and prowess,” said Wade.
About General Hinges and Aluminium Frames
The General Hinges and Aluminium Frames owners describe the business as a light to medium operation serving the transport, refrigeration, rail and general engineering industries with transport taking up approximately 50% of production.
Pipe bending is done on a CSM machine supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
General Hinges and Aluminium Frames (Pty) Ltd started operations in 1974. It has now grown into one of Southern Africa’s leading suppliers of alumimium windows for caravans, commercial vehicles and buses, as well as all types of hinges and general metal pressings
“Commercial vehicle, caravan, bus and truck body and canopy building companies feature amongst our customers prominently. We supply them aluminium framed windows, locks, latches, hinges, brackets, air vent grills and many other accessories, drop side and mounting components,” explained José Barreira.
“Most of these are ‘catalogue’ products and components but with our manufacturing capabilities and experience we are able to manufacture custom specific products. We like to introduce about 50 new items a year, while at the same time continually look at improving our existing stock items.”
The main market for General Hinges and Aluminium Frames, a company that employs 50, is South Africa and the surrounds, it is ISO 9001:2008 certified and is a member of the RMI.
For further details contact General Hinges and Aluminium Frames on TEL: 011 907 1755 or visit www.general-hinges.co.za