I am often asked by industry if finding good news among current reports about the metalworking industry and, industry in general, is an easy task. The pessimists view is one of a combination of weakened demand for industrial products and components, the declining value of the Rand, a nagging shortage of trained workers and strong foreign competition having led to some serious concerns. While I do admit that business is tough and may not be at the levels that most of us want, my answer is always a resounding, “No!” And it is not because I focus on the so-called ‘islands of exception’. There are many examples of businesses focusing on what they do best and getting on with boosting their competitive advantage by increasing their productivity and service levels, investing in equipment and new ideas and, as a result, expanding.
One such company is Gauteng-based machining company JHPE Precision Engineering. The company specialises in CNC milling, turning and wire eroding for small and large batches in a wide range of materials to produce a variety of components. Post-machining services include inspection and quality checks and finishing.
Eugene Hugo with his father Jan
The 84 employee-strong company’s product range includes orthopaedic and dental devices, as well as high precision components for the defence and aerospace industries.
Established in April 2001, the BSI ISO 9001:2008 accredited company was originally set up specifically to machine and supply titanium medical implants for its client. The company has since diversified its product mix and now includes various stainless steels, aluminium, engineering plastics and other exotic materials. The shop machines these materials into complex components using a variety of CNC milling and turning machines.
However titanium still accounts for between 50 and 60 percent of JHPE Precision Engineering’s material mix.
“In recent years, titanium has become dramatically more significant as a workpiece material in machine shops. Two industries are driving this. One is aerospace. The latest aircraft designs use considerably more titanium than planes of the past. The other is the medical industry. Titanium is a common material used for implants and devices used within the body. Titanium’s high hardness and low thermal conductivity make it more challenging to machine than other metals that most machine shops are accustomed to facing,” explained Jan Hugo, the founder of JHPE Precision Engineering.
Various high precision components manufactured by JHPE Precision Engineering
“Because it’s less affected by cyclical fluctuations in consumer and government spending than other manufacturing sectors, medical machining continues to enjoy strong and steady growth. Furthermore, the international demand for high-quality medical devices and products marketed by our clients, promise to make medical machining a very strong business for years to come,” says Jan Hugo.
High precision for aerospace
“Similarly, we can say the same about the defence and aerospace industries. We diversified our product mix a few years ago so that the company was not locked into one industry. But we made a strategic decision to focus in on the upper scale of the high precision machining sector, where there is no room for error,” continued Hugo.
Today the company has a 50/50 split between medical and defence/aerospace components and products that it machines and manufactures for its clients.
The new Haas VF2 mill that is equipped with a 4th axis, coolant through spindle and has a Renishaw probe on it and an expanded memory that allows the company to machine more complicated components that require a longer machining time and programme at a higher speed
“Aerospace and defence components are always a challenge because they require high precision, but they are also a small volume business. There are certain components we make more frequently than others, but we still have to run at tolerances that push all of our machines to the limit. More sophisticated processes and more complex machines mean more unusual machine problems, including wear and tear, compared with a traditional job shop or high volume shop.”
Larger, more efficient manufacturing facility
While the company was steadily growing, maintaining this momentum required a better, more efficient manufacturing approach as JHPE Precision Engineering expanded.
“We are a typical machine shop that started off in a garage with a couple of machines, then moved into a facility that at first we thought was too big for us but, as we added more CNC machines and other supporting equipment, it soon became like a rabbit warren.”
In 2010 the company was forced to rent a further 300m² but this facility was off-site, which is not ideal for many reasons and has led to JHPE Precision Engineering purchasing a site in Kruger Avenue, Lyttelton, Centurion, Gauteng.
Machines have been organised at JHPE Precision Engineering so that the same type of machines form a cell
“We had to completely renovate the building before moving in but it gave us the opportunity to set it up according to our needs. This we did in January 2016. We now have 800m² at our disposal.”
JHPE Precision Engineering has seen fairly rapid growth in recent years. An example of this is that the staff compliment in 2013 numbered 57 employees and today this figure is 84. Annual turnover has grown correspondingly and in the last five years there has been a 132 percent growth in that turnover.
Preparing for tomorrow
“Referring to our staff compliment, we have attended a number of industry seminars recently and what we have learnt is that those companies that are doing well have employed high caliber staff and set up training programmes for existing employees. Training has always been a very important component in the success of JHPE Precision Engineering, and every year we take on new apprentices so that they can qualify as artisans. We regularly have two to three apprentices qualifying every year.”
“We also now employ two degree qualified industrial engineers in the planning and drawing office, where we have three seats of SolidWorks, and in our certification and quality department we have employed an accountant. This is important to us because we are demonstrating that our machining operations and services will meet the expectations of our clients. We have been ISO 9001 certified for many years now and are currently implementing ISO 13485, a certification standard for medical devices.”
“Producing quality components and products isn’t good enough in today’s market. You have to do so while following regulatory standards in a way that remains cost competitive.”
Inspection, measurement and quality are key factors at JHPE Precision Engineering
“Additionally my son Eugene, who is also degreed in accounting aspects, joined the company 18 months ago specifically to manage the implementation process of JobShop software to improve our manufacturing and production processes. He is also part of my succession plan.”
Standardising on CNC equipment – Additions made to the line-up of Haas machines
“Advanced manufacturing applications are placing even greater demands on machine tooling and components, with equipment expected to operate faster, more reliably and with increasing efficiency. The move to the new facility has allowed us to set up the machines in cells depending on the requirements and complexity of the components being manufactured. Some components can be milled and turned, then turned again, then wire cut and finally milled again. As one can imagine close tolerances are needed for medical components so there are a number of intervals for inspections. In some cases there is even broaching involved.”
A recent addition to the shopfloor is a Haas SL 10 CNC lathe
“On the floor we have a total of 20 Haas CNC machines, a further two Takisawa lathes, a Doosan mill turner and three wire cutters. We have standardised on Haas equipment because it helps us to maintain a close relationship with Haas CNC Machine Tools South Africa. As a result they are able to handle any ongoing needs, and because each department uses machines of the same brand many parts are interchangeable. This lowers the cost to stock spare parts and helps reduce downtime when repairs or maintenance is necessary.”
The latest machine to be installed, earlier this year, was a Haas VF2 mill that is equipped with a 4th axis, coolant through spindle and has a Renishaw probe on it and an expanded memory that allows us to machine more complicated components that require a longer machining time and programme at a higher speed. One example I can give is that of a component that was previously done on mini-mill, now being done on the VF2, where we are realising a 50% saving in machining time.”
JHPE Precision Engineering has 20 Haas CNC machines on the floor
“Going forward it is our aim to replace older machines with the latest equipment available, but still with the same supplier.”
“We regard ourselves as a contract machine shop and intend to keep it that way. We have grown because of obtaining more contracts from our existing clients. We will also be looking at obtaining some international contracts because the Rand is very favourable toward exporters currently.”
“We believe we operate in a very niche space that not many are prepared to venture into. There is definitely a shortage of high precision operators with all the systems in place to make them stand out.”
Bottom line: JHPE Precision Engineering is today one of the most organised manufacturing facilities you’ll find anywhere, and that is credited to their ability to meet demanding customer standards.
For further details contact JHPE Precision Engineering on TEL: 012 667 5580 or visit www.jhprecision.co.za