Executive Engineering has been in business since 1994. The business was established when three ex-South African Railways (SAR) – as it was known then – employees had a vision to be recognised as the best engineering shop in the Western Cape. All three were qualified artisans and were tired of just punching the clock and doing their 40-hour weeks. They had spent over six years at SAR and during this period they had become close friends. After leaving the sheltered employment of SAR and briefly working at various large private engineering companies, they would eventually end up working together again at a precision CNC engineering company in Stellenbosch, Western Cape that specialised in joint replacement components.
“We wanted to build a company that had a reputation for quality products and services and this reputation would spread by word of mouth. I know that this sounds very cliquish but there are lots of companies out there who will promise the moon and not deliver. We were determined not to go this route and still today we operate on this principle,” said Willie Conradie, one of the two remaining Directors of the original partnership. Executive Engineering is now owned and managed by Conradie and fellow Director Francois Langenhoven.
The most recent of Executive Engineering’s Okuma machines to be installed is the LT2000-EX, an 11-axis universal CNC lathe that has been designed for turn milling chuck, bar and shaft parts in medium to large batches. The twin-spindle turning center in the 8-inch chuck class has the ability to combine the upper and lower turrets with either spindle. Maximum turning diameter is 210mm and maximum turning length is 550mm. The machine was supplied by F&H Machine Tools
Executive Engineering have recently purchased two Citizen CNC machines from the Japanese manufacturer. The Citizen L20XII LFV (Low Frequency Vibration cutting) and a Citizen L12VII LFV were installed earlier this year. The machines were supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
“To accomplish this vision of ours we knew from the beginning that we could not accomplish it just through our own technical expertise. Rather, we also needed to have the most advanced machining tools at our disposal. The result is that today our advanced technical capability enables us to manufacture complex components while consistently adhering to strict quality and customer requirements. This is a big factor in the success of our growth over the years,” explained Conradie.
“Just as technology has affected the company in good ways so too have the staff that we have employed over the years. People are a business’s number one resource, and when a business is able to find the right people and place them in the right positions, adversity is just a challenge, not a killer. They can be very big influencers in the success or not of a company. The same is true for your suppliers.”
“One very big influencer in the beginning for Executive Engineering was Dennis Rutter of Forest Engineering. He is now retired but he showed faith in us and as a result we were able to purchase our first Okuma CNC machine.”
The working end of one of the Citizen machines
Executive Engineering installed three Hardinge machines this year, supplied by F&H Machine Tools
“Through his trust in us we have remained loyal to the brands of equipment that Dennis’ company represented and today we have 21 Okuma machines on our machine shop floor, with the latest Okuma machine installed in May this year. But it was not only through his trust that we have purchased so many Okuma CNC machine tools. We love the brand and the high quality components that the machines ultimately deliver. Like most Japanese and European manufactured machines they are not cheap assets to purchase, but the end result is what counts to us and our customers.”
With a healthy combination of courage and financing the partners set out to turn their idea into reality. It depended, they knew, not just on building a good attitude toward customer service, but also on building the kind of machining capabilities that would be flexible and efficient enough to deliver the performance of the quality and service-oriented business model that they demanded. They did not want to compete with low-overhead small machine shops. Indeed, they knew that they could not remain competitive with garage operations; No one can. But they would also have to offer the flexibility those shops delivered coupled with supplying consistently high quality components.
Memories are still clear in the minds of the partners of the workload required to meet the delivery deadline on their first job, which was to produce nine rollers for Vynide in Somerset West. The rollers were 2.5m long by 180mm diameter and were manufactured in mild steel. They worked solidly for two weeks, day and night, between taking short naps on the machine shop floor. It was a make or break period in their careers. They then went on to buy their first Okuma CNC machine, through Forest Engineering. With no additional work, Conradie took on the task of sourcing more and so approached a company in the Western Cape that sells premium branded products to the automotive aftermarket. The timing was perfect as an existing supplier to this company was having difficulty meeting capacity and delivery and Executive Engineering’s quote to produce between 20 000 and 50 000 components per month was accepted. Once again the partners slept on the floor while they ran production day and night to meet delivery requirements over the next six months.
Executive Engineering have also purchased two Vicivision MTL1 optical measuring machines. The MTL1 is an optical measuring machine for turned and ground parts capable of taking measurements on a piece profile in a matter of seconds. The machines were supplied by Retecon Machine Tools
Executive Engineering has two AgieCharmilles machines in the wire EDM department
With their reputation rapidly growing in the market, work continued to come their way and soon Executive Engineering was able to purchase two Okuma LB15 CNC lathes and an Okuma CNC milling machine. At this stage they did deviate and purchase a few other CNC machines that were not Okuma manufactured. However, these machines were not productive enough to offer the performance and quality the business needed and the company has since stuck with the policy of purchasing high-end, technologically advanced equipment, whether they are destined for the machine shop floor or for the other departments in the company.
While building up their CNC machine inventory and capabilities, client portfolio and reputation, the partners did not neglect other aspects of the company such as expansion/growth plans, inspection and quality control and diversification.
Executive Engineering’s first factory was a 300m² building in Kuils River, Western Cape before they moved to a 1 650m² building Saxenburg Park, Blackheath in 2001. This floor space doubled four years later when the company added a further 1 650m² in 2005.
The exponential growth in the company necessitated an expansion in floor space and this took place in 2010. Executive Engineering expanded by building across the road from its existing 3 300m² facility in Saxenburg Park, Blackheath, Western Cape. This added a further 1 260m² of production space and a 400m² stores facility.
What this helped to achieve was to allow the company to create three divisions. The existing facility focussed on CNC operations and the necessary related procedures. While building the business the company had built up an impressive array of conventional equipment that, for example, included a TOS lathe with a 1.4m swing, a 5m Butler milling machine, a number of different gear cutting equipment and a lineboring and metal spray facility.
In total the company has 21 Okuma CNC machines on the floor
A view of the turning department
“The new building was built especially to accommodate all of our conventional equipment. We moved 20 machines from the existing building over to the new one. We were not about to dispose of all of this conventional equipment because we still have plenty of components that we manufacture on these machines, and with the variety of them it offers us the diversification that we need to offer,” explained Conradie.
“However, it did free up plenty of space in our original building which allowed us to purchase more CNC turning and milling equipment, as well as wire cutting equipment such as two AgieCharmilles and a Fanuc Robocut EDM wire cutters. We also have an ONA spark eroder, which is housed in the conventional building. So we are very diversified in the number of machining operations that we can offer.”
Expansion of CNC capacity and capabilities
Executive Engineering has continued to expand CNC capacity and capabilities as it acquired more clients. Most of its clients are major companies that operate in the petrochemical, railway, automotive, wine industry, canning industry, agriculture, marine, general engineering, industrial and other sectors of the economy. More recently the company has acquired clients in the medical industry – machining orthopaedic implants for them.
The CNC turning department is equipped with 14 Okumas, four Doosan Lynx lathes, one Takisawa, three Hardinges and three Citizens. On the CNC milling side, Executive Engineering has seven Okumas, one Kitamura, two Deckel Mahos and two Quasers.
The company also has a lineboring and metal spray facility
Executive Engineering have recently invested in an EOS M 290 metal sintering machine, supplied by Rapid 3D. The EOS M 290 is based on the DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) 3D printing technology developed by EOS. This 3D printing technique uses a fiber laser to melt and fuse fine metal powder. Layer after layer the 3D object is built. This 3D printing method allows the company to create 3D printed products with complex geometries including elements such as freeform surfaces, deep slots and/or coolant ducts
“Since November last year we have installed nine additional CNC machines. The most recent of our Okuma machines to be installed is the LT2000-EX, an 11-axis universal CNC lathe that has been designed for turn milling chuck, bar and shaft parts in medium to large batches. The twin-spindle turning center in the 8-inch chuck class has the ability to combine the upper and lower turrets with either spindle. Maximum turning diameter is 210mm and maximum turning length is 550mm.”
Introduction of Citizen machines – Handling all small-diameter work with 5-axis control
“We recently introduced a top of the range Citizen M32VIII, a14-axis sliding head Swiss turn-mill center with 35mm bar capacity up to 145mm in length for the handling of all our small-diameter work. The M32 is renowned for its capability for 3-tool simultaneous machining in a compact floor space. The other advanced function includes a B axis on the gang tool post.”
Two further Citizen machines
“We have been very successful in cranking out some high volume orders on this machine so we have purchased two more from the Japanese manufacturer. The Citizen L20XII LFV (Low Frequency Vibration cutting) and a Citizen L12VII LFV were installed earlier this year.”
“Building a successful and competitive business sometimes requires you to purposefully broaden your manufacturing processes and knowledge as well as install the appropriate technology. There is always the temptation not to branch out beyond your traditional comfort zone, especially when your core business slows down.”
“We have done this by introducing the Citizen machines. Another area is the medical component machining industry. Although our machining of medical components has risen in recent years it still only accounts for 10% of our production figures. We want to increase our position in this industry and have taken the appropriate steps.”
Nabertherm heat treatment
An example of what can be printed on the new EOS M 290 metal sintering machine
“Implants and the manufacture of replacement parts have been performed for some time now. This has led to the development of a subspecialty field within orthopaedic surgery. The traditional manufacturing of components used in hip replacement, for example, will continue. But this form of medicine is taken further these days with the emergence of orthopaedic oncologist specialists concentrating purely on limb salvage. Management of complex limb injuries and defects are no longer the unusual anymore but are rather becoming the norm. Each present different challenges in terms of biological, mechanical and host issues and individualised treatment strategies are required to tackle each case as it involves in-depth understanding of a complex three-dimensional structure.”
“Advances in medical imaging and rapid prototyping have produced planning and operative tools with which surgeons are able to solve complex problems safely and with good results. This technology has widespread use not only in orthopaedics but in other surgical disciplines too, and with increasing availability and improved cost effectiveness will be used more frequently in the future.”
“Manufacturers such as ourselves have to adapt to present custom jigs and orthopaedic implants to make this type of surgery manageable.”
Additive manufacturing in orthopaedics
“We have been encouraged by our client LRS Implants, a Cape Town company that specialises in limb salvage implants and in finding solutions for orthopaedic ideas and problems. LRS provides a full suite of solutions for both upper and lower-limb salvage scenarios.”
“As a result we have strengthened our prototyping and manufacturing capabilities by investing in an EOS M 290 metal sintering machine, supplied by Rapid 3D. The EOS M 290 is based on the DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) 3D printing technology developed by EOS. This 3D printing technique uses a fiber laser to melt and fuse fine metal powder. Layer after layer the 3D object is built. This 3D printing method allows us to create 3D printed products with complex geometries including elements such as freeform surfaces, deep slots and/or coolant ducts.”
A general look at the conventional machines department
Surface grinding is also offered by Executive Engineering
“The substantial value of this investment reflects our confidence in this new technology and demonstrates our commitment to staying at the forefront of innovation in this fast-moving industry. More importantly we resonate with LRS’s Neil Campbell’s statement of: “The most fulfilling part of my job is seeing a design move from computer, to machine, to patient, knowing that we have made a difference in that patient’s life.” Previously LRS were having to work with international partners. But what many don’t realise is that machining still needs to take place once the 3D object is built. Logistically it was becoming a nightmare for LRS and they now have a local partner that can provide them with a full service.”
3D printing for aerospace and the motor industry
“By leveraging the EOS M 290 we will also be targeting industries like aerospace, the motor industry and other markets looking towards metal 3D printing to transform their manufacturing processes. The M 290 was developed by EOS to enable users to print high-quality metal parts directly from CAD data. It has a build volume of 250 x 250 x 325mm, a powerful 400-watt fiber laser, and can support a wide range of validated materials and processes.”
Components machined by Executive Engineering for Rhomberg Instruments, an associated company that designs, manufactures and supplies pressure and temperature measuring instruments
Temperature measuring instruments being assembled at Rhomberg Instruments
You can’t point to just one or two things to explain Executive Engineering’s success because there’s so much this shop does well. Superb process engineering, a meticulously organised and efficient shop, an IATF 16949, ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 certified company, very special relationships with the engineering function at key customers, rapidly acquired product design expertise and a highly skilled and engaged workforce (166 staff). What these things all contribute to, however, is the ability to rapidly mobilise the sum total of this business’s formidable resources to the net gain of its customers.
The conventional equipment includes a TOS lathe with a 1.4m swing, a 5m Butler milling machine and a number of different gear cutting equipment
Executive Engineering has quickly transformed itself from a small machine shop to a high value-added supplier largely through the purposeful broadening of its manufacturing process knowledge. The trick was matching company resources with customer needs.
For further information contact Executive Engineering on TEL: 021 905 7544 or visit www.execeng.co.za