Scaw Metals upgrades McKinnon Chain factory

Expands chain-making capacity with R110 million investment in automated plant.

Specialist steel products manufacturer Scaw Metals has invested R110 million to expand and modernise the production of large diameter chain and masterlink components at its McKinnon Chain factory in Vereeniging, Gauteng.

Large diameter chains are used in various industries for lifting applications, while the masterlink and subassemblies are sold mostly into the international offshore oil and gas sector. Specialising in high-grade chains, McKinnon produces all grades of welded chain including lifting, transportation tie down chains, several types of hardware chain, coal conveyor chain, kibble and mining chain.

The investment raises McKinnon Chain’s capacity to 10 000 tons per year of chain and 2 000 tons per year of masterlinks.

“The revamp of the plant, the only one of its kind in Africa, is in line with Scaw’s strategy of focusing on value-added products. Despite the difficult economic climate and Scaw’s recent restructuring, the company has invested R1.4 billion in projects aimed at improving the competitiveness and capacity of its four business units.” said CEO Markus Hannemann.

McKinnon Chain, which was founded in 1934 and moved to its current location 70km south of Johannesburg in 1984, forms part of the group’s wire rod products division. Scaw also produces grinding media, as well as cast and rolled steel products for use in the mining, rail, power, offshore oil and gas, construction, commercial and industrial sectors.

Housed in a new factory building adjoining the original plant, the investment comprises fit for purpose robotic machines, additional heat treatment capacity and a new long bed tester.
The fully automated facility is capable of producing up to four times faster than has hitherto been possible using the manual flash butt weld methodology. However, this manual process has been retained, together with the plant’s 262 employees.

The new equipment will be used to complement the existing capacity, providing both economies of scale and agility to manufacture masterlink products respectively.

“The new facility consists of four ABB robot arms, each with a reach of 2.1 metres and several process points, including a resistance furnace, former, welder, trimmer and press. During a production sequence three links can be produced simultaneously, making it possible to manufacture 80 links an hour, a production rate that is considerably faster than the manual flash butt weld methodology currently employed,” said Wire Rod Products executive head George Katergarakis.

“The process begins with the first robot picking up precut bar lengths from the magazine and loading them into a 500kVA resistance heater. Once the bar is heated to 760 degree C it is transferred to the bending machine, capable of forming links from 20mm to 50mm in diameter. The links are then moved to a 500kVA resistance welder before entering a trimmer to shave off the weld flash. A robot then transfers the link to a 16 ton press for levelling ahead of heat treatment. Proof testing of the links is conducted in a new 500 ton long bed tester,”

Hannemann describes the chain-manufacturing investment as a milestone for Scaw and a sign of the company’s commitment to local beneficiation, a stated industrial-policy goal of the South African government. Scaw is 74% owned by the Industrial Development Corporation, a State owned development finance institution.