Toolrooms play crucial roles in supporting the daily production of many machine shops. But while a shop’s main production area may be bright, clean and equipped with the latest CNC machinery, the toolroom typically houses older, manual equipment in an atmosphere that is suggestive of metalworking’s primitive roots.
Because they serve primarily in backup roles, toolrooms can become almost invisible features in many shops. For this reason, the toolroom’s inherent capabilities are usually taken for granted. These capabilities include substantial versatility that derives chiefly from the increasingly rare talents of skilled, conventional tooling tradesman. But when the company in question that was until recently part of a corporate group that has been dealing with the interfaces in the flow of electricity ever since it was founded back in 1921, the role of the toolroom becomes a central core to the success of the other manufacturing departments within the company.
The majority of the Pfisterer’s products require a die or a mould, some more complicated than others, to manufacture the various components that are then assembled into final product
On average the Pfisterer toolroom will produce a new mould once every two weeks. That is one of the multi-cavity injection moulding moulds – less complicated tooling, moulds or dies are done in a shorter period. It employs 19 staff with 13 of those being toolmakers and machine operators. The toolroom also has four designers working full time
Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd is a high voltage electrical hardware developer and manufacturer situated in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. As a leading manufacturer of high quality electrical power transmission and distribution products locally and internationally, Pfisterer in South Africa is unique in that it virtually has all the manufacturing processes needed to produce its own final product operating under one roof.
Pfisterer was established as Hardware Assemblies in 1978 and has served the South African and export markets for more than 40 years. The acquisition of Hardware Assemblies by the German-Swiss Pfisterer Group in 2003 further propelled the research and development at the local factory resulting in an expansion of the comprehensive product ranges. Over the decades, Pfisterer in South Africa has grown into one of the largest manufacturers of composite insulators and line hardware on the African continent with the most complete product offering.
In line with the adoption of a new corporate image by the Pfisterer Group, Hardware Assemblies officially changed its name to Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd on the 1st January 2006. To keep up with the progressive legislation in South Africa, which is to encourage local content and ownership, the Pfisterer Group decided to embark on a mutually beneficial sale agreement with a 100% black owned South African investment company, The Thesele Group. As of 26th July 2018, The Thesele Group acquired 100% ownership of Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd shares making Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd a proudly South African owned manufacturing entity that now has a Level 2 B-BBEE score rating.
The toolroom is equipped with five CNC vertical machining centers with a maximum table size of 1 500mm x 1 800mm, two CNC lathes with a maximum of 1 500mm between centres
Central to the toolroom is a DMG MORI HSC 75 linear – a highly dynamic 5-axis machining center supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
Like any toolroom Pfisterer has a wire cut machine – an AgieCharmilles CUT 20 supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd prides itself in operating a fully vertically integrated manufacturing facility, converting raw materials directly into completed products through efficient in-house processes and technologically driven machinery. Some of the key manufacturing processes include high pressure injection moulding machines for cutouts and insulators, a gravity die cast foundry producing aluminium castings, a sand foundry casting SG iron castings, a helical wire-forming plant, a fiberglass rod pultrusion plant and the tool and die making facility.
The comprehensive in-house technologies have ensured that Pfisterer is a market leader in the field of OHL products on the African continent, notably being the first African company to 100% locally manufacture and supply 400kV polymeric insulators to Eskom and other African utilities, in addition to successfully exporting these products to Europe. In 2018, Pfisterer has also added another historical milestone in their product offering through the launch of Africa’s first 765kV polymeric insulator manufacturing in their portfolio of products.
Global energy requirements are growing at an ever-increasing speed. Revolutions are underway all over our planet, causing the demand for electrical energy to increase even further. Be it a growing number of megacities, the boost to the international transport industry, the development of information technology, or the closer relationship between societies and industry, the direct result is the same. The world needs future-ready power grids to guarantee a safe and efficient supply of energy.
Conventional mills are also necessary equipment used in a toolroom. Pfisterer has 10 on the floor
The latest CNC machine to arrive is a Jingli CK6150-1500 lathe that was supplied by MJH Machine Tools. The flat bed lathe has a swing over the bed of 500mm with a distance of 1 500mm between centres, a spindle bore of 82mm and a bar capacity of 65mm
The Pfisterer toolroom is definitely not a production setup. The company has a separate machine shop that houses four CNC machines (two CNC lathes and two CNC mills) for that side of the business. The emphasis in that machine shop is repetitive machining of the hundreds of components that need final machining, drilling or tapping operations, for example. However the toolroom will still be called upon to supply the jigs and fixtures for these machines
Pfisterer’s toolroom operation developed in response to its vast array of different processes and products that the company manufactures. At the same time, the toolroom has the capability to design, fabricate and maintain the firm’s highly specialised production machinery by machining and replacing wear parts where possible.
Initially you assume that Pfisterer’s machining needs would be comparatively simple. But this impression is soon changed as you are shown around the company’s manufacturing facility.
Agility plus precision
The centrally located toolroom is run like a business. While creating an internal toolroom might not be feasible for many mass-production manufacturers, this strategy is well suited to support Pfisterer’s product portfolio and the technologies deployed to manufacture them.
“My department is like a business within a business. We view the other departments in this company as our customers, because our shop exists to serve their needs,” explained Steven van der Walt, the Toolroom Manager who has been with the company for two years and is a toolmaker by trade with over 10 years’ experience in the tool making industry.
The majority of the Pfisterer’s products require a die or a mould, some more complicated than others, to manufacture the various components that are then assembled into final product. Therefore, a significant portion of the toolroom’s work involves meeting the constant demand for new moulds to supply the company’s production facilities.
Pfisterer has an Awea milling machine in the toolroom
Toolroom Manager Steven van der Watt with General Manager Thabani Nene
Pfisterer has its own wire-forming plant
An example of this is the aluminium gravity die casting production facility that is casting over 150 different aluminium components the numbers of which can run into tens of thousands per component. This department produces nearly 80 tons of castings per month and with a component weighing not more than two kilograms, this is a huge amount of castings that the company is producing. The gravity die casting moulds are therefore in constant use and need to be maintained regularly. The toolroom takes control of this operation as well.
However, it is not just about dies and moulds that the toolroom has to manufacture and maintain. The company has a section that houses five hydraulic presses and all the press tooling emanates from the toolroom.
Another important priority for the toolroom is to build rubber injection and compression moulding tools. While items requiring maintenance or new ones to ramp-up production always take precedence, the toolroom’s normal workflow is dictated chiefly by due dates, material availability and overall resources. But, according to van der Walt, normal workflow can be difficult to define in a toolroom geared for flexibility which is responding to immediate needs.
Typical of machine shops that produce multi-cavity moulds for plastic components, Pfisterer’s toolroom must maintain precision tolerances while working with some extremely hard metals. Although many of its products are small and apparently simple, van der Walt cautions that even tiny variations in tooling can have serious ramifications. Because Pfisterer’s components are produced by mass production, operations can be disrupted by even small variations in size or shape.
Equipped for efficiency
The personnel and equipment selected for Pfisterer’s toolroom reflect its extraordinary role in the company’s operations. Although this shop can shift gears quickly to produce a wide variety of parts and moulds, much of its machinery compares favourably to that found in a high-production machine shop.
It is not just about dies and moulds that the Pfisterer toolroom has to manufacture and maintain. The company has a section that houses five hydraulic presses and all the press tooling emanates from the toolroom
HYV silicone housings and insulators – the toolroom manufactures the moulds to manufacture these products
Pfisterer has its own fiberglass rod pultrusion plant
The toolroom is equipped with five CNC vertical machining centers with a maximum table size of 1 500mm x 1 800mm, two CNC lathes with a maximum of 1 500mm between centres, an AgieCharmilles wire eroder, 10 conventional mills and four surface grinders.
The latest CNC machine to arrive is a Jingli CK6150-1500 lathe that was supplied by MJH Machine Tools. The flat bed lathe has a swing over the bed of 500mm with a distance of 1 500mm between centres, a spindle bore of 82mm and a bar capacity of 65mm.
Additionally the toolroom has its own heat treatment plant that can treat components or moulds up to 10 kilograms.
The Pfisterer toolroom is definitely not a production setup. The company has a separate machine shop that houses four CNC machines (two CNC lathes and two CNC mills) for that side of the business. The emphasis in that machine shop is repetitive machining of the hundreds of components that need final machining, drilling or tapping operations, for example. However the toolroom will still be called upon to supply the jigs and fixtures for these machines.
On average the toolroom will produce a new mould once every two weeks. That is one of the multi-cavity injection moulding moulds – less complicated tooling, moulds or dies are done in a shorter period. It employs 19 staff with 13 of those being toolmakers and machine operators. The toolroom also has four designers working full time. Design services have mainly been restricted to in-house requirements but like the toolroom outside work are now allowed to supplement these services.
“We have all the equipment, systems, know-how and design services so why not offer our expertise and machining capabilities to outside companies. The toolroom is not running at full capacity and we do like to run at a profit in this department. Currently the mix is 90% internal work and 10% external work. Internal work will always be given a priority though,” explained van der Walt.
“We are also very committed to training students and participate in the local TDM programme. At any time you will find two apprentices on our floor gaining experience and learning,” added van der Walt.
Pfisterer have recently developed a method to manufacture a six metre long rod insulator
Long rod insulators
Pfisterer’s aluminium gravity die casting production facility casts nearly 80 tons of castings per month
The effectiveness of applying advanced technology in a toolroom is well illustrated in Pfisterer’s toolroom. Not only do the company’s products have to perform at the highest level but so does the equipment that manufactures these products. Insulators for overhead line construction are subjected to huge mechanical loads on a daily basis. The towers for transporting electrical energy are typically 500 metres apart, meaning that the insulators have to carry heavy lines. They also have to withstand these forces for a number of decades without losing any of their operational safety.
Pfisterer’s product line comprises overhead lines, cable systems, railway catenary systems and other components, all for the high voltage electrical power transmission and distribution industries.
Product is used in the German Rail system and now in the Swedish rail system with tension and cantilever insulators. A number of units have been exported for both the Spanish and Polish markets. The Spanish high-speed rail line Madrid-Segovia-Valladolid, was the company’s first high-speed project. Pfisterer have also supplied product to Network Rail (East to West) and Cross Rail London, both of which form part of the London Underground, as well as the Euro Tunnel project.
Locally Pfisterer have been supplying Transnet for well over 12 years and they supplied all of the overhead insulators for the Gautrain project.
Pfisterer’s aluminium gravity die casting production facility that is casting over 150 different aluminium components, the numbers of which can run into tens of thousands per component
Pfisterer also has a sand foundry casting SG iron castings
Pfisterer (Pty) Ltd is an ISO 9001:2015 certified company having gained its initial certification through the German Accreditation Certification Company DQS back in 2001. This certification encompasses a full complement of personnel and capabilities to design, plan, manufacture, manage and execute complex OHL supply projects, providing total solutions by using their in-house expertise and high-quality products in the medium to high voltage sectors. Pfisterer is also one of the few companies able to offer complete string assembly solutions from hardware components through to composite insulators, tested and qualified up to the 400kV level. The 765kV insulator range is currently undergoing qualification testing at various international test laboratories.
The company is also not scared to invest in equipment to test its equipment. Currently being installed is a one meganewton pull tester for mechanical testing of insulators and string assemblies.
When companies upgrade equipment, the toolroom might be the last place considered for new investments. Demonstrating the great potential of a toolroom driven by the latest technology, however, Pfisterer’s toolroom strongly suggests that conventional assumptions are changing. The application of new technology is certainly no less potent in the toolroom than it is in the machine shop at large. Besides playing a supporting role for larger-scale metalworking operations, the modern toolroom also has the capability to step up to the plate.
For further details contact Pfisterer on TEL 033 397 5425 or visit www.pfisterer.co.za