A model of cooperation wins international orders‬ for local informal cluster

Three fixtures delivered on time to prestigious, high end automotive OEM based in the north of England.

“The interaction between machine, control system, process, tool and workpiece in machining operations is vital for manufacturing a component, no matter if the component has tight tolerances or not. So why should this synergistic approach and cooperation not exist between designer, manufacturer and your freight forwarding and logistics service provider?”

These are the words of Jim Plester, who has been working in the automotive and aerospace industry for over 25 years as a designer within the manufacturing processes, both locally and internationally. His last position in the UK before immigrating to South Africa in 2005 was Planning Manager at Bentley Motors Ltd, which at the time produced Rolls-Royce and Bentley branded cars, where he spent eight years. Prior to that he was with Fascia Systems for seven years and is now the owner of TDM Solutions, approved resellers of CAD/CAM software, CNC simulation and optimisation software and NC post processors.


Jim Plester of TDM Solutions, Joel Molo and Mark van Zijl, both of Feltra, Henk Snyman of TASA, Masande Dlulisa of CSIR and Markus Funk of UTP, with the three fixtures before they were shipped to a high end automotive OEM based in the north of England

“Too often we’re just not trusting enough to nurture such interdependent business relationships. Shops don’t want to be dominated by a single customer that can’t seem to resist making the shop do things that are bad for its business. Customers just can’t believe they’ll get the best deal overall without the constant threat of competition. Image is everything and egos are big. And so we waste precious resources keeping each other “honest.”

“I can take it further. Do you want to help your competition succeed? Do you want to task the best minds in your company with helping to resolve a tolerance issue or make a decision about materials for the shop across town? The natural reaction to these questions is typically an emphatic “no!” However, what if the reward is that your closest competitors do the same for you? And, by joining forces each partnering company continues to become better at what they do, and develops a stronger reputation for quality products and services and better prices. Therefore, business tends to be drawn to these companies, reducing the amount of work lost to overseas competition and paving the way to continued growth. As a result, increased work leads to greater success for all.”

Tool Die and Mould (TDM) Solutions – the design company, UTP Rosslyn – the machine shop and Feltra – the freight forwarding and logistics service provider, teamed up to form an informal cluster to insure that their first engagement with a prestigious, high end automotive OEM based in the north of England was a success for all involved, and could lead to future contracts.


Rear door capping machining fixture

“We believe that locally we have the skills and knowledge to be competitive on the world stage. But to achieve recognition abroad and win orders criteria such as quality should not be emphasised in the equation, it is a must. Price pressure and service delivery are more critical, especially when you are competing against China and India, for example, and industrialised countries that are closer to the client.”

From design to delivery
“This is why the three key companies in the chain collaborated to win this order of three fixtures. From design concept to delivery it took us six weeks, although negotiations had been over an 18 month period. From initial feedback from the client we should be able to win more contracts in the future.”

“The three fixtures are to be used for the CNC manufacture of interior trim and pressed aluminium for the rear door capping (waist rail) and left and right door pads on an extended wheel base limousine that the OEM manufactures.”

“Machining is only one of many production stages prior to assembly for most automotive components. A number of secondary processes, including cleaning for example, are required before assembly can ensue. Improper part cleaning can adversely affect downstream processes such as heat treating and plating. It can also lead to powertrain failures if debris is released into an engine, transmission, fuel delivery system or steering assembly.”

“My past experience with Bentley allowed me to anticipate the vagaries that are encountered when CNC machining of OEM components takes place, and I incorporated these into the fixtures at the design stage.”

“There are 100s of various fixtures and jigs that are used for manufacturing automotive components and they all have some sort of special requirement. Additionally the fixtures or jigs do not last forever so the potential for us to compete, both locally and internationally is huge.”

UTP Rosslyn was the machine shop involved in the triumvirate of the informal cluster and MD Markus Funk takes up the story: “As we have said, costs and time were critical factors in this project. Although we thought we had covered all bases we still encountered some challenges that threatened to derail the project. Pre-machined plates are not available locally so we had to import these. Standard parts such as drill bushes and pneumatic fittings are not available off the shelf. We either had to manufacture these ourselves or again, import them. This all adds cost and potential time delays.”


Door pad machining fixture

“We have a well equipped CNC shop and these particular fixtures were machined on our 5-axis Breton Matrix. The material used was aluminium 6083 and each of the six or seven major components per fixture had to pass critical CMM inspection. Each component was then anodised before assembly. Our time allocation was three weeks and fortunately we could comply despite the setbacks,” continued Funk.

“Normally you would say that your freight forwarding and logistics service provider is not a critical element in the chain. However, too many times I have heard complaints from exporters and importers so it was important that we engaged a company that understood the complexity of the precious cargo and urgency of the safe delivery,” explained Plester who ultimately also acted as project manager.

“Two of the fixtures weigh in at 70 kilograms each and the third one at 50 kilograms. You can’t say these are unusually different in terms of weight but they are because of the importance of making sure they are packaged correctly for transporting, as they need to arrive at the client in spec because of the manufacturing situation that they will be used in,” said Mark van Zyl, MD of Feltra.

“In this case we custom built crates allowing for no movement during transportation even though they were airfreighted. We also realised that this is an important step forward, in a small way, for local manufacturing and as such we needed to deliver on time. We allowed three days for this and I can say we have achieved it,” said van Zyl proudly.

“With today’s ever tightening regulatory environment and time constraints, manufacturers are under greater pressure to modify and improve their products and facilities to come up to compliance. Good communication and planning can help to mitigate the potential effects of these new regulations and keep manufacturers on the road to profitable sales. In this case three diverse companies have teamed up to effectively deliver a contract on time in a very competitive environment,” concluded Plester.

For further details contact TDM Solutions on TEL: 011 234 6019 or visit www.tdmsolutions.co.za, or UTP Rosslyn on TEL: 011 664 6070 or visit www.utp.co.za, or Feltra on TEL: 011 974 8228 or visit www.feltra.co.za