This year the Retecon Group of Companies celebrates the half-century mark, which all began with the establishment of Retecon Machine Tools in 1970. Burkhard Herrmann, who had emigrated from Germany to South Africa in 1967, was supplying imported tooling and accessories to the South African industry before establishing a company to sell machine tools and related equipment. Since then the Group has grown into one of South Africa’s leading suppliers to the metalworking industry, covering all disciplines of metalworking.
The 1970s started off promisingly from a technology standpoint. Manufacturing was starting to see the benefits of computer control. In 1970 the US machine tool exhibition IMTS had over 50 machines featuring Numerical Control (NC) and Direct Numerical Control (DNC). In fact, according to the AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, this and other technologies were expanding so rapidly that the show switched from a five year to a two year cycle after that.
That same year a company was established that arguably would become South Africa’s most successful machine tool, metalworking equipment and related equipment supply company.
Retecon (Pty) Ltd began operating as a machine tool importer, supplying equipment to the South African engineering industry, but would subsequently expand and include measuring and other related equipment in its portfolio. The company was established by Burkhard Herrmann, a young German entrepreneur who had arrived in South Africa in 1967 after completing his apprenticeship as a commercial trader at Alfred C Toepfer, a large German trading house based in Hamburg that provided various commercial, shipping, logistics and administrative services.
Founder Burkhard Herrmann
Prior to starting Retecon – an abbreviation for REliable TEchnical CONsultants – Herrmann first established Traconsa (TRAns-CONtinent SA) (Pty) Ltd in 1968, a company that imported and marketed cutting tools and thread rolling equipment. Herrmann had seen the potential of supplying the engineering industry in South Africa with quality products imported from Europe and in particular his home country Germany.
The natural progression into also importing the equipment that the tooling is used on did not take long. Herrmann had built up a strong relationship with Helmut Toepfer (grandson of Alfred C Toepfer) while working in Germany and after Toepfer visited South Africa the two of them became partners in the new business, which they registered as Retecon. Through Toepfer’s contacts and network, Herrmann had quick access to overseas machine manufacturers, which helped in securing some reputable and well-known agencies that the company still represents today.
Chairman Hans-Peter Neth
At the time the partners could not have envisaged how computer numerical control (CNC) would influence and impact the equipment that they were importing, into South Africa. But the companies that they decided to represent in South Africa in those early days would become leaders in the technology and today manufacture the most advanced equipment available.
The first sole agency agreement that Retecon signed was with Bavarian company Maho, selling and servicing their universal milling machines in the South African market. This company is still linked to Retecon but through acquisitions is now part of the DMG MORI Group. Retecon would go onto to sell over 1 000 of Maho’s machines and would sell the company’s first NC machine in South Africa to Wits University in 1978. Today the products from Maho are manufactured the company’s Pfronten, Germany plant and are largely full 5-axis machining centers and are amongst the leading machines in the world, due to their efficiency and accuracy.
Managing Director Chris Kroeger
One of the other early German manufacturers that Retecon would sign up with to represent in South Africa and still represents today is the company Fette (Now known as LMT Fette), a manufacturer of thread rolling attachments.
A number of well-known personalities in the South African machine tool, tooling and metalworking industries have worked at either Retecon or the associated company Traconsa. One of Herrmann’s first partners in this company was Karl von Langermann, who has retired and has now returned back to Germany. Before retiring in 2008 von Langermann headed up Traconsa for over 30 years, a company that continued to specialise in selling tooling and related equipment imported from all over the world. The name Traconsa would eventually be dissolved in 2008 when a group decision was taken to consolidate all the companies under one name. At the same time it was decided to end importing and selling tooling such as cutting tools and rather concentrate on the metalworking related equipment as well as measuring and testing equipment and accessories.
Other early director and management names include Helmuth Toepfer, Werner Seybold, the late Alfred Grau, Meryl Williams, the late Vic Sansoni and Clive Stacey. Paul Faulhaber started the service department at Retecon in 1976 and he would later be joined by Swiss citizen Heinz Bolt.
Sales Director Mike Lee
Current Chairman Hans-Peter Neth joined the company in 1978 in the service department, having qualified in Switzerland. He moved to Cape Town in 1981 to oversee the implementation of equipment at Atlantis Diesel Engines (ADE), an engine machining and assembly plant that was built in the early 1980s, to manufacture Mercedes-Benz and Perkins diesel engines for the South African commercial and agricultural markets.
Neth would subsequently become the company’s Technical Manager before moving into sales and also becoming a shareholder.
Separate machining lines were setup for the Perkins side and on the Daimler-Benz side in order to protect intellectual property and brand identity and components included blocks, heads, cranks, cams and conrods, alongside other parts such as sumps, supplied by Atlantis Aluminium (Atlantal) and flywheels by Leyland Motors and other suppliers. Machining lines were equipped with state-of-the-art equipment manufactured by Tiefbohrtechnik (TBT), Stama, Naxos Union, Diedesheim and Heller.
Financial Director Wynand Wium
Retecon has subsequently supplied equipment and set up machining lines at all of the automotive OEMs in South Africa. Reference installations include equipment supplied for complete machining facilities for cylinder head manufacturing, turn-key project supplied for machining of all types of complex automotive components such as inlet/outlet manifolds, crank shafts, cam shafts, conrods, cylinder block machining, complete forging lines, gear and gearbox manufacturing cells and hardening plants.
Neth spent eight years on the project before moving back to Gauteng and was later appointed as a shareholder. He would subsequently be appointed as Managing Director in 2000, succeeding Robert Resch who emigrated to Australia. Resch was in the position for a couple of years, having taken over from Herrmann, who became Executive Chairman until his retirement in 2016. Neth would then be appointed Executive Chairman and Chris Kroeger would be appointed Managing Director. Both Herrmann and Neth have spent many years associated with the Machine Tool Merchants Association of South Africa, serving as Chairman and Deputy Chairman at various times.
The 10-year celebration of the company
A Cape Town branch was established in 1980, one in Port Elizabeth in 1983 that was run by Dave Sayer until his retirement in 2018 as well as one Durban in 1991. The Group has sales and service operations in Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg with a total staff complement of 150, comprising 32 on sales and 51 on the service side. The spares, tooling and consumables department stocks a large variety of products at all times.
The early days outside the office in Jeppestown
Other notable milestones in the company’s history include the purchase of Gildermeister South Africa (Pty) Ltd in 1991 and in 1995 the establishment of sister company Jamato (Pty) Ltd (Japan Machine Tools) enters the market with machines manufactured in and supplied from the Asian countries. That same year one of the current Directors of the company – Mike Lee – joined Jamato as sales engineer and he now heads up that company. Today the company trades under the name Puma Machine Tools (Pty) Ltd, which was formed in 2001 after purchasing local company Index Machine Tools from Keith Honiball. With it came the sole agency for Daewoo Machine Tools, today called Doosan. Over 1 000 Doosan CNC machines are now in operation in South Africa.
Fumanang Entrepreneurial Promotions (Pty) Ltd was formed in 2005, as part of the Group’s Broad- based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) strategy and in 2006 Retecon purchased local company Vite Machine Tools, a company specialising in the importation of tube and pipe machinery.
The Retecon Group represents a number of well-known international manufacturers including Trumpf, United Grinding-Studer-Jung-Mikrosa, GF AgieCharmiles, Kasto, DMG MORI, Ficep, Heller, Kapp-Niles, Hexagon Metrology Group, Schuler, DEA-TESA, Renishaw, Leica, Mahr and EFD.
Custom built building in Spartan
The variety of products marketed and serviced by the company cover all the disciplines in metalworking: Cutting, forming, shaping and removal. These include vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers, large boring mills, profile cutting and drilling lines, grinding machines, laser cutting systems, bending machines, punching and forming machinery, automatic sawing equipment, roll forming and tube bending machinery, manufacturing lines for tubes, presses, measuring equipment and much more.
Measuring and inspection equipment includes portable measuring arms, turned parts measuring, probing systems, laser measuring equipment, surface and form measuring, contact systems, fixturing, software, reverse engineering software, photogrammetry and white light scanner systems.
Retecon Service was one of the first machine tool sales related companies in South Africa to be awarded its ISO certification. In the photo the late Vic Sansoni and Karl von Langerman receive the certificate from a TUV representative
Retecon can supply complete machining facilities, manage and supply equipment for turnkey projects for machining of all types of complex automotive components such as inlet/outlet manifolds, crank shafts, cam shafts, conrods, cylinder block machining, complete forging lines, gear and gearbox manufacturing cells, hardening plants, to name a few but not limited to these areas.
The core of Retecon’s client portfolio is made up of companies, large and small, in the aerospace, automotive, tool and die, transport, mining, power generation, structural steel and service centre, defence, construction and general engineering industries.
The Atlantis Diesel Engines (ADE) engine machining and assembly plant that was built in the early 1980s to manufacture Mercedes-Benz and Perkins diesel engines for the South African commercial and agricultural markets. Retecon was very involved in the installation and implementation of the line
Retecon has a number of long-standing relationships with international machine manufacturers. DMG MORI is one. Another is German company Trumpf where the association dates back to 1981 with 1985 marking the year the first Trumpf laser machine was sold, a TC180LK punch/laser combination) that generated all of 750 Watt. As sole agent of Trumpf in South Africa, Retecon has installed numerous laser cutting machines as well as punching and bending machines for the company.
The company has many success stories to account. This includes corporate social responsibilities where it gives back to colleges and training centres and supports a number of charitable institutions. The company also believes strongly in skills development and training and is actively involved in apprenticeship and advancement training programmes as well as its own training programme on various attributes in the work environment for its own employees.
From a small 10m² office in Bosman Building, Johannesburg the company moved to custom-built premises in Spartan, Kempton Park in 1975, a building that the company still occupies but includes dedicated showrooms for the various disciplines of metalworking. The building also houses the only certified laboratory for calibration and verification of portable arms in Southern Africa.
Burkhard Herrmann and his colleagues have built the success of Retecon based on the philosophy of being able to back-up the products the company sold with excellent aftersales service and to nurture supplier-customer relations. Through his successors – Hans-Peter Neth and Chris Kroeger – the company has upheld these principals.
For further details contact Retecon on TEL: 011 976 8600 or visit www.retecon.co.za