Cannon Precision Engineering proves you can start in a garage!
Machining bigger components was always on the horizon when Juan le Roux embarked on his own venture 20 years ago. But getting to that stage was not always an easy ride for this hands-on jobbing shop owner. However, Le Roux owes more than open capacity and capable equipment for his ability to transition. In addition to pushing the size of its work envelope, the shop had also pushed its way into other capabilities and disciplines that have ultimately made it well-prepared to serve different markets.
“Running your own business is always a challenge, and even more so if you are not based in the heart of an industrial metropolis or one of the main centres,” said this Uitenhage, Eastern Cape based engineer/entrepreneur.
“I am not saying that Uitenhage is in the middle of the bush or in some remote corner of South Africa, but it is just sufficiently ‘out of town’ to present obstacles which require more than the usual forward planning. But this has not deterred us, and in fact it has forced us to become more focused,” continued Le Roux.
Cannon Precision Engineering has recently installed a Hartford HSA536 CNC double column bridge type machining centre, also with a multi-angular milling head, supplied by Redman Engineering Supplies. The machine has a working surface of 5000 x 3600mm and can take a load of up to 21 000 kilograms. The XYZ travels are 5000 x 3600 x 1500mm
Juan Le Roux, owner of Cannon Precision Engineering
The new Hartford HSA536 CNC double column bridge type machining centre allows Cannon Precision Engineering to machine large components up to 21 tons
Life in the metal working engineering world began shortly after Le Roux left school. One of the largest automotive OEMs in South Africa based in Port Elizabeth, 35 kilometres away from Uitenhage, employed Le Roux as an apprentice.
“VWSA took me on as a trainee press toolmaker which I thoroughly enjoyed. The trade gave me an insight into machining, which has subsequently become my business life. Once qualified, I moved on because at that time there was an excess of qualified apprentices at VWSA, and in the region. How we would love to say that today!”
“My father Vic, who is still involved in the business on the design side, had a small conventional lathe and a milling machine in his garage at home. This motivated me to start from scratch as a one-man operation.”
“Initially I started machining components for SKF, but I soon realised that if I wanted to grow I would have to obtain bigger machines and possibly go the CNC route. This presented another obstacle – the garage did not have 3-phase electricity supply. After organising a loan to install the necessary electricity I then drove up to Johannesburg to look at a machine I was interested in.”
“This was not a pleasant experience. I found a 1972 Deckel FP3 universal tool room milling machine and treasure chest of milling tools. I organised for the machine to be shipped to Uitenhage and loaded up my car with all the tooling. Unfortunately the car and all the tooling were stolen before I even left Johannesburg, and before I had even had time to insure everything.”
“This set me back but I was determined to succeed. Two years after I started my business I was able to move from my father’s garage into a factory in the heart of Uitenhage’s industrial area, which I subsequently purchased. I increased the under roof area by another 600m² three years ago.”
“The machine opened up doors for me at the automotive OEMs and with the component manufacturers situated in the Port Elizabeth area. The 43 year old Deckel is still a workhorse on the floor for specific operations.”
“The increased workload presented new problems, but problems that I was happy to encounter and could quickly find solutions for. Realising the advantages that CNC machining technology offered it led to me purchasing my first CNC machine in 1999, a C-Tek Cinch Mill from MJH Machine Tools.”
The new Hartford HSA536 CNC double column bridge type machining centre has a multi-angular milling head fitted
The second large machine Cannon Precision Engineering purchased was a Hartford HSA326 CNC double column bridge type machining centre with a multi-angular milling head from Redman Engineering Supplies. The machine has a working surface of 3000 x 2600mm and can take a load of 8000 kilograms. The XYZ travels are 3000 x 2600 x 1200mm
Cannon Precision Engineering can now machine components and workpieces such as large platens and bases for presses and press tools, structures for overhead robot systems, large moulds and mould bases and large welded structures for the shipping, earth moving, construction and automotive industries
“I have subsequently purchased a new CNC machine on virtually a yearly basis, and I now have a broad selection of lathes, machining centres and milling machines. We have even diversified our service offerings and now have three EDM machines as part of our mix. The latest EDM machine, which was purchased from EDM Shop and was installed last year, is an Accutex AU-600iA. The machine caters for a maximum work piece size of L x W x H – 990 x 620 x 295mm, a maximum work piece weight of 600 kilograms and a XY stroke of 600 x 400mm.”
Bigger machines, bigger components and workpieces
“Our customers were looking for companies with large-machining capacity. To satisfy their demands and our needs we needed machines with not only component size capacity, but also flexibility and the capability to reach all of a large component’s surfaces that need to be machined, using the least amount of machine setups to do so.”
“Machining bigger components has always been an ambition of mine. This would allow us to do more than just take on a broader range of machining work. Machining the larger components would let the shop go from making some of the components for OEM and component suppliers, as well as the tooling, to making all of the machined components for some of these tools. Serving as a one-stop resource for machining in this way would make the shop a logical choice for assembling those components as well.”
“You obviously also have a competitive advantage when you can machine components that others can’t. A big machine tool gives the shop that owns it more flexibility than a small machine does. You can run a small part on a big machine, but you can’t run a big part on a small machine,” said Le Roux plainly.
“Thus, when we purchased our first big machining centre, the shop did more than just expand its envelope – it also expanded its range of services.”
“However, making this change took more than installing a new machine. Anyone can buy a big machine tool and machine large components. The challenge was assuring the quality of those components. When machining large components, it’s not just turnaround time that’s important. Delivering an accurate component or workpiece to the customer is equally important.”
Other large components that Cannon Precision Engineering can machine are gear box housings and wind turbine housings
Cannon Precision Engineering purchases a new CNC machine on virtually a yearly basis, and now has a broad selection of lathes, machining centres and milling machines. They have even diversified their service offerings and now have three EDM machines as part of the mix. The latest EDM machine, which was purchased from EDM Shop and was installed last year, is an Accutex AU-600iA
Cannon Precision Engineering specialises in the manufacture of precision complex parts, tooling, jigs and fixtures and is able to offer milling, turning and grinding, machining with EdgeCam and FutureCam, as well as welded construction
“In 2004 we purchased our first large machine, a Microcut Challenger MCV 2000 double column machining centre from MJH Machine Tools. We already had five C-Tek CNC milling machines on the floor which we had purchased from MJH Machine Tools, and we were very happy with their backup service so it made sense to approach them.”
“The machine has a capacity of XYZ stroke axis of 2000 x 1200 x 800mm, a table size of 2400 x 900mm and can take a workpiece load of maximum 4000 kilograms.
“However, we soon realised that we needed bigger machines if we really wanted to participate in the large component machining arena. This led to us purchasing a new Hartford HSA326 CNC double column bridge type machining centre with a multi-angular milling head from Redman Engineering Supplies. The machine has a working surface of 3000 x 2600mm and can take a load of 8000 kilograms. The XYZ travels are 3000 x 2600 x 1200mm.”
“We could now machine components and workpieces such as large platens and bases for presses and press tools, structures for overhead robot systems, large moulds and mould bases and large welded structures for the shipping, earth moving, construction and automotive industries.”
“These are just some examples and we are not limited to them. Gear box housings and wind turbine housings are others that I can mention.”
“The news that we had larger capacity soon spread and last year we purchased our second Hartford machine from Redmans. We went even bigger on this one. It is a Hartford HSA536 CNC double column bridge type machining centre, also with a multi-angular milling head. The machine has a working surface of 5000 x 3600mm and can take a load of up to 21 000 kilograms. The XYZ travels are 5000 x 3600 x 1500mm.”
The mix of metals includes aluminium
Cannon Precision Engineering’s CNC lathe inventory includes a Doosan Puma 280 CNC turning centre purchased from Puma Machine Tools
In 2004 Cannon Precision Engineering purchased its first large machine, a Microcut Challenger MCV 2000 double column machining centre from MJH Machine Tools
Cannon Precision Engineering is not limited to large components. The company also machines a variety of smaller components
“We understand that these are not ‘monster’ machines but they do give us capabilities that many shops in the area do not have. For example one of our clients Xmeco has large machining capacity but even they are limited in certain times. They recently had to send a three metre diametre pump casing to us for machining, so yes we will work with other shops in the area.”
From one-offs to high-precision production
Today, Cannon Precision Engineering boasts high-performance vertical machining centres, both large and medium sized, CNC lathes, EDM capabilities and milling operations. The company specialises in the manufacture of precision complex parts, tooling, jigs and fixtures and is able to offer milling, turning and grinding, machining with EdgeCam and FutureCam, as well as welded construction.
Design facilities are offered and Le Roux’s father Vic, a self-taught high-end propriety software user, takes care of this aspect. The company has been ISO 9001 certified since 2005, employs 34 staff and mostly has a double shift working.
Today the company can boast about having Jendamark, Faurecia, Ford, VW Motor Sport, Xmeco, MA Automotive Tool and Die, Transwerk and Tenneco on their books. Notable projects include manufacturing the tooling for the Maserati sunroof, amongst others.
Le Roux takes staff training seriously and over the years has mentored and qualified 16 apprentices.
For further details contact Cannon Precision Engineering on TEL: 041 992 3700