A precision machine shop with extensive additional metalworking capability.
True to its Swiss heritage, Ulrich Engineering makes money the old fashioned way: By earning it. This shop does so by manufacturing many different, some being complex parts, on its various CNC machines smarter and efficiently. The company also does not specialise in manufacturing components for any particular industry or machining a specific material.
On arrival I was met by Jason White who introduced me to his father Gareth, one of the original founders of the company. There were no fancy offices or boardroom to sit in nor the frills that are normally associated with a successful business. As Jason said: “We put our resources into design and making sure there are no costly errors that occur for ourselves or our clients.”
Ulrich Engineering was founded in 1981 by Jason’s grandfather Francis Ulrich and his father, who is also qualified as a fitter and turner. Born in Switzerland, Francis Ulrich qualified as a fitter and turner before emigrating to South Africa in 1949. Engineering and design was his life and along with his son-in-law Gareth they developed and manufactured the Natex fire extinguisher, a well-known dry chemical product. They subsequently sold the company and started Ulrich Engineering.
Jason White with his father Gareth
Like so many successful shop owners I’ve had the pleasure to learn from, this father and son team possesses similar traits: a passion for the work they do and a pragmatic willingness to revise their comfort zone as customer needs change. Jason says, “Basically, what drives us is having fun, exploring new stuff and giving our employees the opportunity to work on interesting projects. We stay competitive that way. It’s what drives all of us.”
In the early days of Ulrich Engineering the company teamed up with a fledgling company that manufactured lawnmowers. This company is still very much in business today and Ulrich Engineering remains one of their main suppliers of machined components.
“We supply in the region of 250 different components of differing volumes to this South African company. As they have grown over the years so have we. It is a relationship that has been cemented with time and the willingness of both companies to explore new designs and opportunities.”
The latest capital equipment purchase made by Ulrich Engineering was a Hartford LG 1000 vertical machining centre supplied by Cutts Machine Tools, the Gauteng agent for Redman Engineering
“Initially the company’s machine inventory comprised a number of CAM automatics that churned out the smaller components. However these have now been replaced with several different CNC turning and milling machines. The one lathe is fitted with a bar feeder and that now accounts for most of the bar work that used to be done on the CAM automatics. However we still have one left for a specific component.”
“Our goal here is to make our client comfortable with the shop’s ability to not only make one component for them, but realise our capability to make many other parts for them that they may otherwise source elsewhere,” Jason explains.
“While some shops push their core competency—describing themselves as a Swiss shop or a milling shop—we were founded as a precision machine shop and have grown the business with extensive additional metalworking capability. My dad and I believe you have to do a lot of different things and service many different industries to survive in this business.”
Ulrich Engineering utilises two production band saws
“Our manufacturing costing is quantity based. Therefore the larger the volume, the better the cost effectiveness of the item. However, a large proportion of our business is made up of smaller volumes where we remain competitive regardless of quantity.”
Industries that the company does serve and components that it manufactures include pump shafts, impellors, bearing housings and pedestals, chrome iron flingers for pump manufacturers, patient circuit arms (ventilation equipment), flow meters, regulators, photo lamps humidifier and slide brackets for the medical equipment manufacturers, bumper spray nozzles, primer pumps, norvent nozzles and venturi assemblies for the fire and forestry equipment industry, alternator pins, wheel nuts and studs pulleys for the automotive component manufacturers, slack adjusters, tube adjusters, sand valves and assemblies for the railway industry, drilling rig components, shafting, pulleys, wheels, bearing housings, light housing assemblies and electrical signaling components for mining, fan and adaptor hubs, tow ball hitches, engine mountings and swivel cups for the transport industry, fire hydrant securing devices, electrical box and water meter anti-tampering components and guard monitoring batons for the security industry, precast sockets and concrete inserts, ferrule jacks, lifting equipment components, pipe fittings, joining equipment and aesthetic bathroom and housing fittings for the construction industry.
Other components include water flow control devices, valve adaptations, restriction devices and cut off and reconnection tooling and assemblies.
Initially the company’s machine inventory comprised a number of CAM automatics that churned out the smaller components. However these have now been replaced with several different CNC turning and milling machines. The one lathe is fitted with a bar feeder and that now accounts for most of the bar work that used to be done on the CAM automatics
“Our strongest attribute is our diversity. Through years of experience we are able to tackle most opportunities, and indeed it is this challenge and the challenge of new work that maintains our enthusiasm. Our product development “faculty” combines all staff members and we would like to think that through this collaboration we can provide our customers with a service that is distinguishable.”
Concept to production
“Often a client approaches us with a vague idea or concept that would require long term development and research. Ulrich Engineering’s largest clients have resulted from this long-term co-operation between the client and ourselves. We have the ability to take an idea and make it tangible for our clients. Often this is the first step required to begin real time development on their product or idea.”
Sketch and sample
“Once a concept or general idea has been realised, we begin with sample initiation. The greatest amount of progress on a product design is made during this phase as we build on the concept idea and adapt the idea to suit cost and manufacturing situations.”
“We then do a costing, final drawings and once approved production starts.”
Although Jason holds a B.Com Business Management degree he has been on numerous design, production, project management and engineering related courses since he joined his father in 1999. Autocad is his choice of design software.
Pedestal drills still have their place on the shopfloor
Jason was directly involved in the design and development of an instant hot water unit. The unit was designed for low cost users who required water at point of use. The concept was to allow the user to have hot water at very minimal input costs and with maximising water savings. The units were designed in conjunction with a company called Ezee Hot Water who marketed the product throughout Gauteng and parts of the Free State using plumbing distribution stores. A total of approximately 4000 units were sold during the product life cycle and the experience gained through this project led Jason to begin designing solar hot water units that Ulrich Engineering manufactured at one stage.
In early 2000 a utility management company approached Ulrich Engineering with a rudimentary design for managing water control in the municipalities. After a period of understanding the industry and understanding the scope of work, Jason and Ulrich Engineering designed a number of alternative, more effective methods for controlling, cutting, and reconnecting water to households.
The results achieved a dramatic decrease in water consumption and wastage, and payments to the municipalities increased dramatically. The largest end users of the products are UMS who supply the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, Randfontein Local Municipality and Richards Bay Municipality.
A product designed and manufactured for a utility management company
A Water Flow Control Device (WFCD) has seen over 350 000 units installed in the field (refurbishable device). The biggest concern with the end users and installer of water management systems was that there was a large variation in the number of devices to be controlled in the field. Jason developed a generic unit that was able to cover the vast majority of the devices in the field allowing the installers to cut and reconnect faster, and more efficiently.
Jason also designed and began patent procedures on a unique magnetic locking device that was used in multiple security conscious industries.
Currently the company has six CNC lathes, four CNC milling machines (2 vertical and 2 horizontal), two turret lathes, two production band saws and various bending and rolling capabilities, two eccentric presses, one hydraulic press, polishing and grinding machines, welding machinery (ARC, C02, spot, MIG and TIG) and various tool room machinery.
Hartford LG 1000 vertical machining centre
The latest capital equipment purchase made by Ulrich Engineering was a Hartford LG 1000 vertical machining centre supplied by Cutts Machine Tools, the Gauteng agent for Redman Engineering.
Another product designed and manufactured for a utility management company allowing the installers to cut and reconnect water meters faster and more efficiently
Machined brass components
Components for the transport and railway industry
“This was a bit of a hard luck, good luck, bad luck story. We quoted on machining a component for a client that is supplying the railway industry. He was not happy with the amount we could deliver daily so we decided to invest in a new machine specifically to accommodate his requirements. We needed a machine quickly and Redman’s had the machine that we were looking for and no sooner had we installed the machine when our client told us that his order had been put on hold. Fortunately we have other work that will keep the machine busy,” said Jason.
The Hartford has XYZ travels of 1000 x 500 x 630mm and comes with a 24 Tool ATC.
Down the road
Ulrich Engineering’s owners believe that the company’s growth is predicated on anticipating change through communication with its customers, thereby identifying opportunity, and then developing a partnership around a new process that satisfies the opportunity. They are not afraid to invest in new machines or processes to keep the business moving forward
Currently they employ 12 staff and operate from a 1200m² unit in Roodepoort Gauteng.
For further details contact Ulrich Engineering on TEL: +27 (11) 763 1944 or visit www.ulricheng.co.za